Legato, getting even; the how

December 23, 2014

I have always considered the Debussy Rhapsody, for clarinet and piano to be one of the most challenging of the repertoire, even though the Mozart is more difficult; total transparency for the entire half hour of performance. And it must all be beautiful, from beginning to end. I have played it many more times than the Debussy, but never perfectly.There is always something about which I am not happy. Sometimes one note out of place. And you remember that one note forever.

After playing our clarinet for over 60 years or more, i have come to the conclusion that there but three notes on the instrument that pose the most problems in all of its considerable repertoire. Only three notes. Those three are heard at the very beginning of the Debussy Rhapsody for clarinet, written in 1909. You see, I had previously selected the three notes, and then came to the rhapsody, thinking to myself, Why did Debussy choose those three notes to begin this gorgeous little work? (Which,incidentally, nobody plays perfectly.) Virtually nobody, I only wish I could hear Harold Wright do it, for I consider him to be the finest musician clarinetist of my lifetime. But, I never heard him perform the work.

We know that as the new president of the Conservatory, Debussy was asked, by Gabriel Faure, to compose two works for the prize consideration, and the two were the Rhapsody, and Petite Piece.  Did he know the clarinet intimately? No, he did not, but somehow chose those three notes, open g, throat Bb and C to begin the piece. And I have come to the conclusion that the three comprise the most difficult problems of the learning of the instrument, especially in the delicate context in which they appear.”piano, reveusement”(quietly, dreamlike) And that context is legato, with small “crescendi and diminuendi”. How did he know? He didn’t ,I reasoned; but, my friends, I do know, and indeed, so do you.
The open g on the horn is the very first note one learns. It comes out sounding either as a noise or a thin sharp note similar to an open string on the violin. I am sure you all remember, and some, like myself, will never forget . It becomes easy and later becomes the note you try your reeds with. toot toot toot on that first Van Doren,or Rico, or who only knows what. That is the note upon which you will gauge your progress. Your embouchure will form itself around tempering that thin sound and blending it with all of the other notes you will learn. And you will determine that going from that open g to all of the following notes will be the most difficult, the first note to  travel to and from is the thin sharp g,to the throat Bb. Easy enough to approach ,like holding a chicken wing with the left hand. Easy to make, but comes out sounding like a chicken wing , or even worse. First, it is by its very nature a bad thin and sharp note and not even the correct fingering, but an incorrect fingering. It uses the register key which makes for the tuning, and so, depending upon our ability to hear, or perhaps our talent, we learn to negotiate that very difficult incorrect fingering. And the first giant problem with which you are confronted is moving from the throat Bb to the clarion C on the third space. Easy enough to finger, but going back and forth is almost impossible. Unless, of course, you try a gimmick or two or three, like holding all of your fingers down as you move from the Bb to the C. It seems to work or to make it easier, but it makes it impossible, because the tuning of the Bb is changed as you hold everything down  in trying to make actual legato. What you are doing by holding extra fingers down Becomes your undoing, and most,or many do it. (which makes their Debussy clumsy sounding).

We spend so much of our time looking at every instrument made, any way of moving the toungue or the fingers faster, choosing ligatures and barrels and all matter of ways to achieve  an imagined technic, always having to do with speed, that we neglect the basic reason for the clarinet, a single line instrument which emulates the voice. We see our teachers moving back and forth during lessons, always encouraging the students to “sing”, to bring something special to the music, to make it sing means to achieve a quality of sensitivity in our playing.

And the word that helps to define this sensitivity is seldom found. It is most difficult to achieve, and there are no words to sing. We have to play a melody seamlessly, smoothly, with understanding and direction. Legato is the most important way in which we express the intent of the music. Much of legato is written into the music: forte, piano, pianissimo , sforzando, and all combinations thereof.

Getting back to the Rhapsody, how do we learn to play those three initial notes? We make a musical context by making the three notes blend with one another: the g must be in perfect context with the Bb, and the next clarion c is the most difficult note. Not to just play, but to play so that the three sound totally connected, exact same timbre, quality and dynamic. In listening to the many fine players who have recorded the work, few do it with absolute seamlessness. Perhaps they may have been nervous, spending more time encountering the actual difficulties which abound in this little 9 minute work, but they seem distracted enough to almost ignore this first measure, which actually sets the context for the entire work. Legato is its secret, stage presence is also part of the mix and control of these difficult moving notes. To take the audience with you as you open the piece becomes the whole work. And so, while not being g, Bb, and c, it is the way we from one note to the next: the same sound as we move from and to each note.
There are a myriad of ways to achieve a seamless and beautiful legato, including by rote, actually copying what you hear , or are made aware of, listening to those around you, but copying is what should come naturally, though not completely.

You must choose the note on the clarinet that gives you most pleasure to simply play and hear. Perhaps it may be f on the 5th line of the staff, Is it your best quality of sound? Your very best. Play it, listen to it and enjoy the pleasure it gives you. When you know f is the note, carefully go up one half step to f#. Carefully duplicate the same quality of sound. It must be perfectly the same, save for the pitch. Then, connect the two notes noticing no difference whatever in the quality of the two. If you use the fork f#, there may be a slightly more brilliant quality. Try to make the sound, the timbre, exactly the same, even. Here is where you begin to strengthen your embouchure, your actual perception of the sound you are making. Now, for this apparently simple process, much time may be needed, listening, before you begin to notice the results. No movement of your mouth should be seen. (yes, keep a mirror on the stand). While any music book can help, the Gaston Hamelin Study of Scales can be one of the better. Somehow I feel that the French legato is more preferable.Or perhaps it is Hamelin nimself, who is considered to be the father of the so-called American School. This is the same Hamelin who was Principal Clarinet of the Boston Symphony, who happened to play a Selmer clarinet made of metal, a full-boehm instrument. His contract was not renewed by Serge Koussevitsky. conductor of the BSO, so, he returned to France, and happened to take a few students with him, among whom was Ralph McClane, who became Principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was the beginning of the so-caled american tradition of clarinet playing. *(the story goes that there was a standing ovation given the BSO, and when Hamelin stood, he waved his clarinet, and when Koussy saw the photo, he took offense)
Back to “getting even”. this comparing of each note as you slowly go up and down in half steps is part of the process of developing a perfectly even legato. This becomes more difficult when encountering notes that are more difficult to connect smoothly.
It may be news to some, but pianists have the very same problem, as the keys can be terribly uneven as played. Many concertizing pianists have their own piano, which they simply play at every concert. Horowitz was one, who also would only play at 4:00 PM on a Sunday. Perhaps that can be called an eccentricity, however here was aplayer who still dominates the world of piano, even though he has been gone for several years.
Most other pianists simply have to deal with different actions with totally different timbres.
As the sound of a soprano has to have an even sounding range, so too, does the clarinet/It is one of the facets we look for when acquiring a new instrument.
This kind of evenness throughout the clarinet is the thing for which we strive.
Getting even, is developing a totally smooth production of sound. HAMELINS scales can help, though your ear is the final judge before you audition.

stay well,


Starving Music, by cutting Music Education

September 29, 2013

Starving Music by Cutting Music Education.
For the past several years symphony Orchestras in North American have been disappearing or diminishing in size or in some unusual cases, actually going bankrupt, which is my understanding of the Philadelphia Orchestra. To me, this is the strangest thing, for I grew up listening to this orchestra’s many recordings, getting to know each of the woodwinds by name. We all had our opinions, but knew only the hearsay spoken by young students to one another. We could identify their sounds easily, their style, knew their instruments, and could probably pick out who was playing what part in a particular recorded work. But, I have never been to Philadelphia, never heard the orchestra in person,except once when they came to play in Symphony Hall in Boston. That was particularly memorable because the second clarinetist(Serpentini) developed food poisoning. The work for the evening was Ein Heldenleben. by Richard Strauss. A dear friend, the late Phil Viscuglia was called at the last minute to play the solo second part and sight read it flawlessly.

To learn that the Philadelphia Orchestra has filed for bankruptcy is unimaginable. But, it is only the mere tip of the iceberg. The diminution of orchestras, salaries, and season seems epidemic throughout North America. Musicians discuss this endlessly, usually accompanied by a wringing of hands, and a discussion as to what is happening to create tis collapsing of more than an entire industry, an actual end of classical music. It is very true, actually happening, and has been a case of self mutilation, for, are we creating our own ending?
There are many responses to the question. Due to factors inside and out of our industry, we have stopped feeding classical music. In the US and in Canada, so-called Classical Music has been an acquired discipline.
As a young high school student, we had chamber music concerts several times a year during classes. Yes, we called it Gas Chamber Music, but, at the very least we were given time in the auditorium to actually see and hear music. There was usually an explanation by one of the musicians, and then, we would hear the music. Personally, I remember a great event: The head of Music in the town of Brookline, Mass, was named Luther Burbank, (believe it or not.)(The other Luther Burbank, was a famous botanist).
Back to Mr. Burbank,. head of music in Brookline. He came in to the auditorium one day. There was long black and shiny piano on the stage. I had never seen a piano that large. He sat down and played the most beautiful thng I had ever heard. He played Clair de Lune,by Claude Debussy. It was my first time, and I still remember getting dizzy as he played. In retrospect, it seemed like a beautiful drug, and I just closed my eyes and was swept away.In our school, our city was constantly being fed classical music on a regular basis. Not just those afflicted with its love, but those halls were filled with young students. It was well known that this kind of music was not liked by all, but , it was considered as being something very good. An enrichment.
To begin with, the above is no longer the case. And, because of increased costs, music has been the first to go, replaced by any number of other less costly “enrichments”. Fewer students hearing good music means fewer parents attending concerts. Diminishing attendance means less money coming in and less of an incentive for the yearly donations that help keep the symphonic industry alive and well.As costs have risen, budgets are cut as well, and because of less interest in music, it became ideal to cut music.And it was and is.
Adding to fewer students attending concerts,one of the most important factors in a consideration of the diminishing orchestra, is the competition between recorded and live music. The recording industry has improved exponentially. In the beginning there was one recording of each Beethoven symphony and many other works of Classical Music. Then came stereophonic sound, then the long playing record and then tape and the arrival of digital recording, These superb recordings and the technology that produced them, meant for a severe and increasing competition between live and recorded music. Why buy an expensive concert ticket to hear a program of Richard Strauss and Stravinsky when you can purchase a beautiful recording of the same music. And the recording themselves sound so much better on that wonderful setup for which you have paid a fortune. And it sounds better in your own living room than it does in the Hall. The reason for this is that the recording emphasizes the major parts of the work and that clarinet solo sound so much purer and present in your riving room. No driving and no parking either. In the days past, the only way you could get a season ticket for the Boston Symphony was , to inherit one/the concerts were completely sold out.
During a professional recording of an orchestra, a great deal of mixing , both electronically and physically is achieved through the manipulation of the various electronic controls and the actual separation of the players. In a typical Boston Symphony recording, the audience seats are removed and the players are widely separated in pairs of like instruments and in sections. Each of the various small groupings has one or several microphones. This is precisely the reason that the clarinet solo on a particular recording is so much more vibrant and even present than when heard in the hall itself. One may ask oneself, “why is the clarinet , (or whatever instrument “, so much more present on the recording than in the concert hall? It is the recording and the various methods as mentioned above. This is competition with oneself. The performance competes with the recorded session.
If one is presented with a choice or a recoding or a performance , this choice diminishes the audience, certainly proven by the disappointing statistics in the numbers of those buying concert tickets/ Of course, the cutting of music classes in the K through 12 grades is pure starvation for Classical or any kind of Art Music. Continuing in the saga of the practice of performance, one must consider the practice of sampling, in which musicians record their instrumental sounds for a fee. These samples are then juxtaposed by synthesizer and any sound produced by any instrument can be reproduced easily. It is virtually the same as the competition presented by recordings, but even more pronounced. If I permit recorded samples of my playing, that sound can be reproduced rather easily on a keyboard of a “synth” as they are called.
We are subjected to examples of this competition with ourselves on a daily , almost continuous basis. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain what one is listening to, a player or a synthesizer.
The Concertmaster of a major symphony actually could not understand how a player could play pizzicato as fast as he heard it on a recording, until he was told that it was , in fact , a” synth”.
I played the Bavicchi Clarinet Concerto with a regional symphony Orchestra near Chicago. Included with the Concerto was the Overture to Donna Diana, first on the program. Just about everyone in he orchestra called that work the “parking Lot Overture”. Certainly that Overture which we all recognize as the theme music for the very popular “Sargent Preston”. by Emil Nickolaus Von Reznicek, composed in 1894. It is somehow hurtful to think of that piece, or the show or VON Reznicek as the “Parking Lot Overture”. But, it is commentary on this world, Classical Music and the state of the art.
Does one need any further proof as to why concert audiences, symphony orchestras are smaller and smaller and are disappearing? It is above. It is here. Can it be fixed? It has been most of my life, the lives of countless others who play, and (formerly) millions of avid anxious excited listeners. It is and has never been a case of what is good and what is less good  in the composition. If our children cannot hear and be taught music, the cutting of Music Education is the source of its ending.


Schumann “Fairy Tales” in concert

August 26, 2013

Etude2thumbrest(With T. Kooimann Etude 2 thumb rest)

Several months ago, I had posted news about this thumb rest. My reason was simple: severe pain in my right thumb after playing for even one hour. I had forgotten how painful this could be. It simply makes you cringe as you hold and play the clarinet, which ,of course, disturbs virtually everything.
I had simply put off the thumb rest, mostly because I found that lack of practice resulted in no pain. No practice, no pain, right?
Wrong. Initially, practicing went fine, but as the hours passed, the pain increased reminding me of my original article, and ensuing discomfort.
Practicing a bit may have helped, but since “between engagements” ,( retired.) I did not.
So, when my friends,extraordinary musicans,Sara an Donald Pistolesi came for our rehearsals and concert, the pain returned, and was even more severe. (Sara, Violin and Viola, Donald, Cello and Piano, retaining their virtuosity and youthful enthusiasm)

Here is the very good news. I attached the thumb rest myself, with no assistance, and with only one screw, and it held perfectly . It was a very easy change to make. It must be removed when putting the clainet in the case, but it simply slides on and off, easily.
I had read several reviews of this thumb rest, and was taken by one which said the thing just snapped off after ten minutes. This is not the case, and only one of the supplied screws was used.
The pupose of this thumb rest is to shift the weight of the clarinet from the first joint of the thumb to the joint closest to the palm, which completely eliminates the pain because this part of thumb can sustain so much more weight. The thumb rest itself swivels to adjust to many positions. The big news is that it is a very simple installation, and I used only one of the three screws provided.

I paid about 25 dollars several years ago, and the thing just laid in the drawer. So, with such a simple procedure, taking less than a few minutes, I was playng without any pain in my thumb. Yes, I should have installed the thing several weeks in advance, bu ,frankly, I was reluctant. I needn’t have been, nor should any reader.

Here is what I did and used: I removed the thumb rest, which needed a jewelers  loup and a thin ,strong screwdriver. (eyes get weaker at 80 years) Indispensible was a small tool called the “Leatherman Squirt”, a tiny many- bladed thing which can be caried anywhere and has an actual miniature pliers, which fold out of the tool. This was used to unscreew the original thumb rest, and the short screwdriver, also in the tool, has enough strength to loosen and tighten screws. Amazingly useful, and small enough to keep on your key chain. I received mine as a gift from my nephew, Randy.

Here is my report: It is an easy installation, and I used it immediately after installing it. No practice, not a note. It worked, providing painless stability. Of course, I was fortunate.

The concert, which included works by Bruch , as well as the Schumann was successful. The FAiry Tales are his last published work, which was allowed to be published by his wife, Clara, and Johannes Brahms. A wonderfully strange work with a gorgeous lullaby, complete with contemporary sounding dissonances. All of Schumanns works for clarinet are either beautiful, playable , unusual, and effective for the audience. Because Schumann had not played the piano for 30 years or so, the piano writing, especially in the last movement is very awkward , and takes an extra rehearasal. Please ,do not rush. Slower is faster, and you know what I mean.

If you have discomfort in your right hand, here is a way to fix it, without any operation, save for your own installation of this thumb rest. Initially, I had this rather exquisite pain in my left thumb, but it was easily fixed with a simple day surgery at the Montreal General. I prefer the new thumb rest. Incidentally, they make a metal one, with many adjustments possible,(200$) but the less expensive one works just fine. If it breaks, I will get another.

Good luck, stay well, and keep practicing, and or playing.

Chamber music is always the most enjoyable thing one can do.


The Longest Agogic Accent (clarinet?) maybe

June 14, 2013

Having watched and listened to them all of our lives, we are children of the movies, . Along with  the beauty of Ingid Bergman and Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls, an intense adventure of beauty,sacrifice and death, (for a 14 year old impressionable kid), the movies have been the most vivid reflection of human emotions, especially, as expressed by their music. In conservatory and music schools, we learn of the incredibly sensitive and delicate art of word painting, expressing emotion through an interval, a suspension, a sequence of chords. appogiaturas and accents placed at crucial emotional points. While in the service, my friend asked me “what is an agogic accent? The answer was ,” an accent by delay”. He then asked me what is the longest agogic accent to be found in music? I didn’t know. He replied,”the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue”, the clarinet trill and cadenza a the very beginning of the work” Afte a moment of thought, the realization of the truth of his comment, and the power of accent, by stress or by delay, has simply never left my mind. All, every single one of this musical word painting has been present in music since the time of Gregorian Chant. The sudden drop within a a phrase of repeated notes, a drop of a minor third at the word “Pain” oe “sorrow” or “death” when studied and repeated brings to us the meaning of the words and how they underline and describe the emotions being expressed. An inexperienced musician will say that this Plain Song or gregorian Chant is nothing but boring and highly repetitive. And, at their level, they are correct. This is but the surface of the musc, no matter how simple, but further study allows us to witness the extraordinary creative process of word painting in music.
And so, listening to music and watching movies has become an almost lifelong quest of discovery. And it is almost all based on the music of Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Strauss and Debussy, to name ut a few. I can remember Dimitri Tionkin, a Bulgarian Jew, who was a composer of Hollywood film music. He won the Academy Award years ago, for the film “The High and the Mighty”. His acceptance speech went somethng like this, “I’m no Prokofiev, I’m no Stravinsky”and he went on with a few others), but what I do, I do pretty well. From Frank Skinner on and on to and through many film composers, nusic for the movies becomes almost a study in itself, its  content rich and expressive over and above  the film being shown on the screen.

So, last weekend, we saw a couple of films, one current horror movie called “the Purge”, a new release, and another movie made more than 60 years past called “Breakfast for Caesar” with Ronald Coleman and Celeste Holm and Vincent Price, made in 1950.
The first film, “The Purge”s perhaps the most disgusting presentation I have ever seen, concerning a world in which one day is set aside for crimes of all kinds, including murder, for which there are no penalities. While the premise may sound interesting, it was presented in the most disgusting way and was a film of gun death and repeated violence, done without an ounce of finesse opr understanding. Did I mention that it was disgusting? Curiously, it began with a badly canned version of Clair de Lune” by Debussy. That should have been the clue, as it was a terrible arrangement. No more need be said.
That morning, quite early, perhaps at 4AM, I happened to turn on the television, saw immediatey , part of a black and whie movie called Beakfast for Caeser, with the cast as noted above.
It was fluffy and fiftyish, a comedy from those years. Suddeny, I heard the most beautiful clarinet playing I have ever experienced. Gorgeous phrasing, perfect legato, sound, you name it, it was perfect. I wracked my mind ,trying to think of all of the clarinetists who were playing in the studios during that time, but could up with no name, and was left only with the players sound, his articulation and the beautfy of the sound. That is what I carried away . It is still there. The other movie “The Purge” was truly despicably insulting, expensive to see and containing nothing but gratuitous violence. Who would go to see such a horrible prsentation. Beats me. But, I will always remember that clarinetist, whomever it may have been.

stay well.


Alban Berg , Vier Stucke, and Anton Weberns works including clarinet

June 6, 2013

Alban Berg’s Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5 (1913) are the composer’s only true miniatures. Many musicologists and others date these pieces from the spring of 1913, but according to Berg’s wife, they were completed in June –an important distinction, since the latter was the month of Berg’s fateful meeting with his former teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. Berg’s trip to Berlin in 1913, included a traumatic encounter with Schoenberg. It is presumed that Schoenberg roundly criticized his former student and true desciple, attempting to discourage him from composing songs and small-scale works, and encouraging him toward extended instrumental composition.One musicologist has remarked that Schoenberg likely delivered some “strong criticism of Berg’s recent work, and even criticized his personality.”
Schoenberg’s harsh rebuke of Berg may indeed have been triggered by Berg’s Op. 5  ,clarinet  miniatures. The reader notes the irony in Schoenberg’s attack on Berg in light of the fact that Berg’s Four Pieces were strongly influenced by Schoenberg’s own set of miniatures, the Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 (1911). Berg’s fellowSchoenberg pupil, Anton Webern, also wrote a number of miniatures, and indeed his music became best-known for its concise expressivity, its cool character, angular melodies, and pointillistic texture.For the clarinet, Anton Webern,(1883-1945) another student of Schoenberg composed three works of important chamber music ,Five Canons for Soprano, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet ,  The Quartet for Clarinet Tenor Saxophone Violin, and piano, and Three Songs for Eb Clarinet , Soprano, and Guitar. 

On 15 September 1945, during the Allied occupation of Austria, hAnton Webern was shot and killed by an American Army soldier following the arrest of his son-in-law for  black market activities. This incident occurred when, three-quarters of an hour before a curfew was to have gone into effect, he stepped outside the house so as not to disturb his sleeping grandchildren, in order to enjoy a few draws on a cigar given him that evening by his son-in-law. The soldier responsible for his death was a US Army cook Pfc. Raymond Norwood Bell of North Carolina, who was overcome by remorse and died of alcoholism in 1955.. In contrast to Anton Webern, Berg’s miniatures — and indeed, his music in general — are decidedly more Romantic in gesture, texture, and timbre. The Four Pieces are very brief and complex; Berg abandons motivic connections in favor of deep structural relationships beneath a perpetually moving surface. As with most of Berg’s early works, there is a preponderance of quartal and whole-tone harmonies; like the String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910), the Four Pieces undergo constant changes in tempi, dynamics, and articulation according to Berg’s intricate instructions (which sometimes change from beat to beat). The first and last of the Four Pieces are the longest, flanking a slow second piece and a scherzo.The Four Pieces also specify that enough time be taken between each little piece.In my mind, these directions point toward music theater.
The Four Pieces were not performed until 1919, when they received their premier, despite Schoenberg’s earlier admonishments, at a meeting of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna, the Verein. Was there perhaps , a tiny bit of rivalry between the two , teacher and student? During a lengthy career of performing in all types of ensembles and venues, one of the strongest and perhaps strangest is the almost insane jealousy that exists within the profession and perhaps much more with composers than (even) performers.  . Just consider the competition within this area. There was a terrible relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, not performers, not composers, but even worse, the psychiatric profession. Read on:

In April of 1906, Freud began a correspondence with a young psychiatrist named Carl Gustav Jung They first met in person when Jung traveled to Vienna on February 27, 1907, and the two were fast friends. Jung later described his initial impressions of Freud as “…extremely intelligent, shrewd, and altogether remarkable.” They corresponded extensively over the next seven years, with Freud viewing Jung as protégé and heir to psychoanalysis.

 This relationship and collaboration began to deteriorate as the years went on. While Freud had viewed Jung as the most innovative and original of his followers, he was unhappy with Jung’s disagreement with some of the basic tenets of Freudian theory. For example, Jung believed that Freud was too focused on sexuality as a motivating force. He also felt that Freud’s concept of the unconscious was limited and overly negative. Instead of simply being a reservoir of repressed thoughts and motivations, as Freud believed, Jung argued that the unconscious could also be a source of creativity.

While the official break from Freud came when Jung resigned from the International Psychoanalytic Congress, the hostility growing between the two was readily apparent in the letters they exchanged. At one point, Jung scathingly wrote, “…your technique of treating your pupils like patients is a blunder. In that way you produce either slavish sons or impudent puppies… I am objective enough to see through your little trick”

While the theoretical differences between the two men marked the end of their friendship, their collaboration had a lasting influence on the further development of their respective theories. Jung went on to form his own influential school of thought known as analytical psychology. Freud’s reaction to the defection of Jung, and later that of Alfred Adler, was to close ranks and further guard his theories. Eventually, an inner-circle of only the most devoted followers was formed. Often referred to as “the Committee,” the group included Freud,  and Otto Rank. These differences between various schools of though in psychoanalyses are still in existence today. Instead of Freud and Jung we have talk therapy versus medication. I have seen this vehemence. It is much better to practice, and never stop playing.

  I have been told that when Freud and Jung met following their disagreement, Jung would become faint.
 Or , maybe it was Freud. The internal chaos those two caused since their visions of  therapy came into fruition, seems a thousand times worse than the ego of any composer.

stay well,


Neglected Masterpieces with Clarinets

May 29, 2013

“Do you have suggestions for inclusion on my concert”?. Usually pleasant sounding works of either French or US composers, a smattering of composers from everywhere, but sadly, one wonders about the very function of any kind of school recital, certainly one of which being the demonstration of increased knowledge of repertoire and especially important repertoire that serves the large purpose of widening the parameters of the performers experience. One sees and hears popular and/or pleasant sounding works designed to please an audience, while frequently avoiding works which are of great importance to the performer. If a work which is regarded as important to the repertoire of the clarinetist, in that it serves to instruct the performer, and, by extension, the audience ,of technics not usually presented, the work deserves inclusion on a serious concert.

One of the finest works within the repertoire of the clarinetist was composed 100 years ago in 1913, by one if the more impoitant composers of his time and Century, Alban Berg.
I speak of Vier Stucke,Opus 5 by Alban Berg, for Clarinet and Piano, composed exactly one hundred years ago.

There are two major works that illustrate 20th century performance practrices for the Clarinet, one being Pierrot Lunaire,Opus 21 by Arnold Schoenberg. (“Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud’s ‘Pierrot lunaire'”), commonly known simply as Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21(“Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight”), is a melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg. It is a setting of twenty-one selected poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems of the same name.
The narrator (voice-type unspecified in the score, but traditionally performed by a soprano) delivers the poems in the Sprechstimme style. Schoenberg had previously used a combination of spoken text with instrumental accompaniment, called “melodrama”, and it was a genre much in vogue at the end of the nineteenth century.The work is atonal but does not use the twelve-tone technique that Schoenberg would devise eight years later.
This work, which dates from 1912 was composed For voice, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano. The parts are divided in the following manner: Flute doubles on Piccolo, Clarinet doubles on Bass clarinet. For the clarinetist it is a superb exposure to the rigors of playing difficult 20th century repertoire and a challenge exists in the Bass Clarinet part, as the registration is extreme in some instances. Pierrot Lunaire is a big work, gigantic by comparison to the Four Pieces by Berg, requiring  multiple rehearsals, very complicated in composition and in performance. For me personally, the two works seemed the equivlent of an advanced degree.

Personally the opportunities to perform this work with Lukas Foss and all the others of the group called The Creative Associates was one of the most educative experiences . My mind was opened during those rehearsals and the subsequent performances. I had never really performed music with this most contemporary setting, and I learned more from Pierrot than almost any other music from the 20th Century. Brahms is Brtahms, And Weber is weber, and all the rest of it, but I found nothing to be like Pierrot Lunaire, or for that matter The Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, written during the same period by Alban Berg, who ws Schoenbergs student at the time. ActuallySchoenberg did not favor the Four Pieces by Berg and there was some disparaging comments by Schoenberg made to his student. The four Pieces were not performed until 1921, eight years later at the Verein.

Verein, for those who are not familiar with the word, was a private group of composers and performers who performed each others music. Music Critics were not allowed to attend.

The Society for Private Musical Performances was an organization founded inVienna in the Autumn of 1918 by Arnold Schoenberg with the intention of making carefully rehearsed and comprehensible performances of modern music  available to genuinely interested members of the musical public. In the three years between February 1919 and 5 December 1921 (when the Verein had to cease its activities due to Austrian hyperinflation), the organisation gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts.
Circumstances permitting, concerts were given at the rate of one per week, with each programme consisting entirely of modern works. The range of music included was very wide, the ‘allowable’ composers not being confined to the ‘Schoenberg circle’ but drawn from all those who had (as he himself put it) a real face or name. During the Society’s first two years, in fact, Schoenberg did not allow any of his own music to be performed; instead, the programmes included works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, and many others, including Busoni and Max Reger.
The players at these events were chosen from among the most gifted young musicians available, and each work was rehearsed intensively, either under Schoenberg himself or by a  Performance Director specifically appointed by him. Clarity and comprehensibility of the musical presentation was the over-riding aim, with audiences sometimes being permitted to hear ‘open rehearsals’, and complex works sometimes being played more than once in the same concert.
Only those who had joined the organisation were admitted to the events: the intention was to exclude ‘sensation-seeking’ members of the Viennese public (who would often attend concerts with the express intention of whistling derisively at ‘modern’ works by blowing across their house-keys) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications: a sign displayed on the door – in the manner of a police notice – would state that   (‘Critics are forbidden entry’). Applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program.

In retrospect, one has to realize that the concerts performed at the Verein were very similar to the  inclinations of many composers and performers in todays world of music. How we all wish for enough rehearsals, with enough time to really and thoroughly learn the new works, or even the more standard works. In a long performance career, more time for rehearsal seems to be the most difficult  thing to achieve.

To be continued

Robert Schumann(1810-1856) Märchenerzä0hlungen (Fairy tales), Op. 132, for Viola, Clarinet, and piano

April 16, 2013


We performed this strangely prescient work last Sunday, along with works by Mozart, Beethoven and CPE Bach. While Ihave performed the Fairy Tales of Schumann several times, performing it in the light of certain facts concerning the composer really brought to mind new observations and even sensations regarding both Schumann and this work. It is well known that Schumann is both regarded as the very soul of the Romantic Period, but in addition he published Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik.  about music and musicians, which as the first journal to recognize both Chopin, Mendelssohn ,and the young Brahms, whom he called a genius He was also a  pianist, who ruined his performing career by a device to stretch one of his fingers, a device which spoiled his career. Not only was he a composer of a tremendous body of music, for Piano, song cycles, (some of the most beautiful every written) 4 very important symphonies, and many other compositions for literally every conceivable combination of performers.For the clarinet, he gave us the Fantasy Pieces, Opus 73, and the Opus 94, also called Three Romances, for oboe, but frequently played by clarinetists.The Three Romances are very beautiful, but for the clarinetist, it will be helpful if you can circular breathe, which I never developed.The late Ken Wolf re-arranged ome of the Romances, playing one phras,while I got my breath.
Robert Schumann also was married to a great pianist, Clara Wieck, despite the protestations of her father. Schumann had actually studied with Claras Father.

In October 1835, Schumann met Felix Mendelssohn at Wieck’s house in Leipzig, and his enthusiastic appreciation of that artist was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished his acknowledgement of Chopin’s greatness and most of his other colleagues, and which later prompted him to publicly pronounce the then-unknown Johannes Brahms a genius.The sad tale of Schumann’s later life is well-known; at the time of Märchenerzählungen, or Fairy Tales, Op. 132, 1853, his bouts of sleeplessness, hesitancy of speech and movement, and deepening depression were getting worse. A temporary ray of light, in the form of a visit by the young 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, gave him one last creative outburst.

The Fairy Tales were composed during this all-too brief Indian summer with the youthful genius of Brahms. Clearly, none of Schumann’s difficulties with larger forces are evident here. In the Fairy Tales, he draws closer and closer to his solo pianistic roots. Schumann cleverly links each movement, unifying them with subtle thematic references. The more intimate Trio setting allows his subtle harmonies, such as passing augmented sixth chords, and intricate melodic passages to be thrown into high relief. These figurations do not lose their effect, even when the clarinet or the viola doubles the piano line, which is far from the case in the crowded over-orchestrations of his symphonic works and concertos.

Despite the opposition of Clara’s father, she and Robert continued a clandestine relationship which matured into a full-blown romance. In 1837, he asked her father’s consent to their marriage, but was refused. Wieck ridiculed his daughter’s wish to “throw herself away on a penniless composer Early in their relationship, her father forbid them from marriage, however they persisted and spent their lives together until Schumann was committed to an asylum after several attempted suicides. He continued to compose, and, when he passed away , it was left to Clara his wife, assisted by Brahms to arrange his music, allow certain of the works to be published and edited. The other works were destroyed. The very last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published was the Opus 132, the Fairy Tales. For all clarinetists , it is a must for a recital and is one pf the more beautiful and difficult (for the piano) of all of his works. The clarinet and viola parts ae of medium difficulty, but the piano part is quite difficult, written very awkwardly for the fingers/ut, within the slow movement can be found dissonances which are strangely beautiful and resolved in unusual ways. These dissonance passage lie within a peacefully calm moveent, whicn I found to be incredibly surprising even yesterday. There are some performers who do not allow these passages and /pr dissonant note to be played in performance, howeverwhat you may think about changing notes should recall that the work is the last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published.

Works following Opus 132 were disposed of.These facts, I found fascinating. I had always been concernd about the “strange” dissonant passages found within an otherwise calm and peaceful movement. As mentioned above, there are some who leave out the dissonant passages and their resolutions , ss being mistakes or perhaps the products of a person who was considered as being insane, and who had tried to commit suicide several times. But then again, deeply respectful of both Clara Schumann and Brahms, both of whom had edited this work and had allowed publication, I found myself intent on both listening and performing these unusual dissonant passages. They are really quite lovely, regardless of how they resolve, and should be given special attention. Rather than demented, I think that Schumannws Fairy Tales, looks into the future.
Stay well, and get a good pianist for a performance of this. It lies awkwardly for the pianists fingers, so, take goodcare.


first entrance

April 6, 2013

For many years, I have been fielding questions from students of the clarinet on virtually all levels of accessibility and ability. Iniitially ,I was advised as to repertoire by my teachers. I knew no repertoire, had a pleasant enough sound, could play all of the notes on the clarinet with a reasonably good sound, and I b elieved that the sound of the clarinet was and is the most beautiful aspect of the instrument. Of course, making a beautiful sound is quite important, the ability to weave your sound in with the flow of the music is more crucial and, it is at this point that the art of the clarinet and the artist himself begin to join together in the making of the music itself.It is actually when you experience the first real joy of making music, when your sound and pitch and abilities to ebb and flow with the phrase and to feel that visceral quality of being an integral part of the music itself . I can remember quite clearly first joining in on a musical line while being a member of an ensemble playing chamber music. It was a piece by Mozart, an arrangement of one of the divertimenti, for five or six clarinets. The conductor brought us in, gave us the tempi and I was suddenly drawn into a hypnotic flow of notes and rhythms, which gave me an absolutely unique feeling. I was for the first time, an actual part of a piece of living music. I cannot remember ever being so excited and aroused in an artisitc way. Part of something musical, having to do with a group all having the same goal of playing a single piece together. The music came to a halt, then repeated itself and I found myself playing a series of connecting notes which seemed to join the two parts together. There were shivers running up and down my spine as I realised I had played my part as written and that my part connected the two sections of the piece. Can anyone reading this remember s similar experience, the first time being an integral part of a piece of music. a live player, playing a written part in a piece of chamber music, a few solo notes which connected two parts of the work. If you do, and I do hope there are many, you remember what sheer excitement and pleasure in music was and is. Playing chamber music becomes a great gift, a blessing, if you will.

(to be continued.)

John A Bavicchi, composer of many works for clarinet, died on December 9, 2012

December 22, 2012

Bavicchi died in bed on December 9, 2012. The obit says that he died peacefully after three or four months of deterioration. He was 90 years old and he surprised many people by leaving us.He had said in the last few years that “death was unacceptable” As some readers of this and other sites are aware, he was a composer of many works for the clarinet, among which are several Sonatas for Clarinet, a several solo clarinet works, a Quintet for woodwinds, composed for The Milwaukee Symphony Woodwind Quintet, which we premiered sometime during the 60s, duets for flute and clarinet, trios for clarinet, viola, clarinet and cello, and many others. They are of considerable interest and difficulty. I have recorded his Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. the First Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, the Canto #1 for clarinet alone. They are all on The Concordia Commissions. They are still available in some collections. interest to anyone who plays the clarinet and/or who performs contemporary works. He wrote symphonic works for Concert Band, all of which were written for the MIT Concert Band, John D. Corley, director. They toured for 35 years ,probably performing in most universities and many schools nationwide, and several here in Canada, in Montreal. That Band played mostly contemporary works of great difficulty, many of them composed by Mr. Bavicchi for Corley and the MIT Band. In 1989, I toured as soloist with them, performing his clarinet Concerto, dedicated to me. We flew to Florida and played the first performance of that Concerto at Astronaught High School, which was located in Titusville ,Florida. That was a cold February, there was a coating of ice on all the orange groves as they had been sprayed with water to hopefully prevent ruination of the crop. On the way to the city, there were a line of cars along the side of the highway, a two lane highway on the way to Titusville, which is near the Kennedy Space Center. Everyone was out of their cars looking up at the sky, where there was a great amount of white smoke . The shuttle with 8 astronaughts, had just blown up.All were instantly lost. It was a shock for us, and for seemingly the whole world. After a while ,we continued on our way to Titusville, and I guess there was a decision to be made whether or not to perform the premiers of the Concerto for Clarinet and Concert Band, and indeed the entire concert. There was rubble all over the roof of the motel at which the band was housed for that night. Corley made the decision to perform the concert. It was attended by a large, largely silent audience, and I think it went well, though it was a bizarre evening to be sure. We played the entire tour in Florida and it was a mixed bag, as they say. Playing music has been my occupation, and my love, but this was a terribly shocking situation. As some may remember, there was a woman astronaught, who happened to have been an accomplished amateur pianist. The eight deaths and the explosion was felt by the entire world, similar to the Kennedy Assassination. I remember thinking that many people were dying throughout the workd from starvation without so much as a murmur by most. Why was there such a clamor over the explosion of the Shuttle on that February Day?

Actually, I no longer remember some of the comments made by members of the audience, many of whom worked in that industry. I doubt if Astronught High School still exists,(it does, and has about 1200 students)

I played Bavicchis music for about 50 years at least, the last time being a concert at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2006. I premiered two works, one by Thomas McGah, a member of the Faculty, for Clarinet and piano. It had some kind of title with Italien musical expressions , and I lterally slaughtered the performance. It may have been passable, but I remember it as an abject failure. I never ever make a foreign noise on a concert and I did in thie performance, which means to me abject failure. If you are a player, do you feel those failure feelings, ever? The other work was the last work John ever wrote for me, called Six for Two, six short pieces of medium difficulty. Except for one note, which I swore he wrote knowing I would remember forever, and that was a pianissimo high A, with not one note of preparation. Just there, to be played softly. It went, but I was not happy with the quality, and I hated John for writing that A. I should have played it down two octaves. It would have been the same contrasting color and played without worry. Having performed in so many hundreds of concerts or contemporary music, one would think it didn’t matter, but it did to me. And of course, the kindly Bavicchi mentioned that the first three movements were played to perfection. How come that comment stung and has stayed with me to this very day?

I met John Bavicchi in the Cafeteris of the New England Conservatory of Music in 1957, upon being discharged from the US Army, and was attending NEC. I had heard that this person was a composer and I approached him . We had a coffee and I asked if I could buy some of his music for clarinet? He was amazed, truly amazed. He said, you want to buy my music? I thought one paid when one bought or received a piece of music. I imagine that was the thing that interested him, but he was always intensely interested in those who would perform his music.

John Bavicchi wrote the most difficult music for the clarinet as existed at the time. It was not like the Donald Martino “Set for Clarinet”, then considered the most difficult work for clarinet. It was more difficult, always totally driving fast and with unmusical leaps and awkward countertpoint, and always always dissonant.At that time, it was mostly in manuscript, Johns own, quite legible as he frequently worked as a copyist for many composers. He worked fast and was very accurate. Of course, now manuscript is seldom seen as there are all kinds of programs which will print out the parts beautifully; desktop publishing, it was first called, and programs like “Finale” were truly incrdible back in the 60s and 70s, and are still. There are even some apps which will write the music for you. Could that be correct?I do think so,but I cannot attest to the quality.

I am getting to the point where new musc is not as interesting as it once was. I still love the clarinet, and I shall always. It has been my life .

stay well.
RIP John A Bavicchi.

The duets for flute and clarinet are especially accessible , so too is the Second Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. His OPus 1 is a work for Clarinet Trombone and piano.Perhaps you may wish to avoid that one.

The Mozart Clarinet Concerto and the Basset Clarinet

August 21, 2012

K622 is one of Mozarts final completed works, and his final purely instrumental work (he died in the December following its completion). The concerto is notable for its delicate interplay between soloist and orchestra, and for the lack of overly extroverted display on the part of the soloist (no cadenzas are written out in the solo part).The Mozart Clarinet Concerto,K622 is considered to be the most beautiful expression of Classical thought in a concerto. Purity of form and of melody are the key to its transparency and to its universal reverence. . That first statement present a quick study of the players entire musical existance. It is the work that all clarinet auditions within symphony orchestra begin. All players auditioning will use the clarinet in A. It is a rather wonderful beginning for the committee hearing the auditions because the transparency of the melody reflects all of the highlights wanted by the committee. Any slight difference in articulation, any rhythmic deviation is immediately noted, whether outstanding or otherwize. Usually, the first complete statement of the main theme, up to the A Major Cadence is heard by the committee.
The Basset Clarinet is a clarinet, similar to the usual soprano clarinet but longer and with additional keys to enable playing several additional lower notes, actually, a major third lower.Typically a basset clarinet has keywork going to a low (written) C, as opposed to the standard clarinet’s E or E♭ (both written), and is most commonly a transposing instrument in A,. The similarly named basset horn is also a clarinet with extended lower range, but is in a lower pitch (typically F); the basset horn predates, and undoubtedly inspired, the basset clarinet.
The basset clarinet was most notably associated with the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753-1812), a contemporary and good friend of Mozart.( How much a friend I do not know.While I have heard that Stadler borrowed from Mozartwithout repayment, Stadler actually pawned the original autographed copy of the Concerto upon Mozarts death
Mozart wrote his Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581 and Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K622 for this instrument; the concerto is partly based on an earlier fragment of a Concerto for Basset Horn in G, K584b. The mezzosoprano Sesto’s aria (Parto, ma tu ben mio) from Act I of Mozart’s last opera, La clemenza di Tito, also features a basset clarinet obbligato. Franz Xaver Süßmayr(the very famous Sussmayer who completed the Requiem) also wrote a concerto movement for basset clarinet.
A basset clarinet is an A-clarinet with an extension of a major third It is in fact related to the basset horn in F or G. Because Mozart’s clarinet concerto is so important, the basset clarinet is quite an interesting instrument in spite of its small applicability. For the concert the extension must be chromatic and the shape of the Viennese bassethorn is not suitable for this. It has long been unclear how this instrument might have looked.
In a library in Riga in 1992 programmes were found of concerts which Anton Stadler (Mozart’s favorite clarinettist) has played there in 1784. Two of those programmes show an engraving of Stadler’s instrument. Presently, there are many basset clarinets available for those who wish to play the Mozart with the additional lower notes played as implied in the part. There are also additional extensions available for your A Clarinet. I am from an earlier time, during which the Mozart was just the Mozart, played on an ordinary clarinet in A. The only extension with which I have some familiarity is the Ridenour extension, available at this writing, as an extension to his A clarinet.
It is interesting that many are playing this Concerto on instruments or extensions that are contemporary in design and manufacture.I am also amused by the facts concerning sound and range. We are speaking of a major third, no other difference, but for some reason lots of folks are playing this instrument. To be seen with the Basset Clarinet? More gigs ? In order to play the concerto, only a slight octave displacement is necessary on an ordinary Clarinet in A.The story in this writing is the Mozart, and like any other clarinetist,it is a part of my life. I have played it with the Denver Symhony, Brian Priestman, conducting, with the Milwaukee Civic with Joseph Skornicka, The Westchester Chamber Orchestr, Jens Nygaard,with the Concordia Symphony, with John Corley, conductiinmg. (He was my first Music Director in Brookline High School between 1947 and 1951. He was a great musician, and director, taught us all good music). And I have taught the Mozart just as every other clarinetist has taught it to his students. What is absolutely outstanding about this writing is the Clarinet Concerto of Mozart. As I mention at the very end, to play just the first clarinet statement of the concerto with perfection and purity, every note perfect is the goal of a lifetime. Just think of Mozart, genius, God given to all of us and his piece. The Basset Clarinet? Buy ten or 20 , but play the opening and you will have made history.The photo in the upper part is the contemporary Lyrique Basset Clarinet, by Ridenour.
If you can play the first entrance of this Concerto with beauty of sound and excellent articulation, perfect length of notes, consider yourself gifted and blessed. Of course, the Concerto is written in three movements, and has no axctualy cadenza, and is also devoid of almost any ornamentation.
That’s is the thing, playing it absolutely intime, with lyric purity, each note its proper length, ends of phrases complete, never elongated, and in the best sense of your sound and the timbre of the instrument. I remember well Gino Cioffis performance of the Mozart with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as I was in the audience and at the time, a student of his. What I remember is his beauty of tone, his tuning, which was excellent, and the extreme length of the cadenza, which < it must be said, had nothing to do with Mozart. It was just quite long and very fast, having nothing to do with Mozart. I have searched for an air copy, as there was no recording and I cannot find one. Just as well.Not long after that performance, Cioffi was no longer permitted to record with the orchestra and was soon allowed to leave. In his time, I still feel him to be the fin est natural clarinetist, but not on that day. As far as a cadenza is concerned, Mozart did not write one. At the most, one usually plays the phrase from the second movement of the Clarinet Quintet. Of course, one can play what one wishes, but , just think of Mozart.

Stay well,