Clarinet Tone Talk 2

clarinet tone talkContinuing from last week, I have included only one sample here: the first movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quinete in A, K 581.

This clarinetist's tone is lovely, a good example of what I like to call "international sound", based on the trends and homogenization or genericizing of tone the past few decades in the clarinet world.

Some would say this trend is regrettable, but that's a matter of opinion. The fact remains, with international instant access to recordings, that all clarinetists are making choices which lead in this direction.

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It is a delicate but round sound, which remains even throughout the range of the instrument and in all dynamics. Although the tone is pure, it is not bright. There is no edge.

This type of tone shows, in my opinion, a return to the way clarinet sounded before it became much brighter in order to project in large halls in the early to mid-20th century.

The only concern I would have is whether this tone would project in a large concert hall. This is not a criticism. This tone is perfect for this music of Mozart with strings. Perhaps the performer could create a larger more resonant tone for orchestra.

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11 comments for “Clarinet Tone Talk 2

  1. John Peacock
    September 27, 2010 at

    I wouldn't say this sounds very English. I think of (good) English playing as associated in part with a "big" sound – in the sense that you always feel the player has plenty of volume in reserve if they need it, and the ability to punch though a thick orchestral texture. Even when playing chamber music, I felt this quality was there in Brymer's playing, for example. The sound in this clip is very smooth, but rather restricted in feel – I'd be surprised if the player could sustain that quality at a much louder dynamic. In this sense, it sounds more Viennese: a sound I always admire very much for its purity at quiet dynamics, but which lacks power at times.

    For something with a similar tonal philosophy to your clip, but where I feel there is much more of a sense of resources in reserve, I'd recommend the recording by Pascual Moragues (I'll try to email a clip).

    • September 27, 2010 at

      Hello John. I don't know Pascal Moragues. I'd like to hear him. I agree w you that this clip is closer to Viennese or German sound. But with the color of a French instrument. (I am guessing he plays Buffet or the like, but I don't know. He's from Australia.)

      • John Peacock
        September 28, 2010 at

        Moragues is the principal of the Orchestre de Paris, but doesn't sound to me at all like a traditional French player. I believe he uses Toscas.

    • October 27, 2010 at

      Hello John. I don't know Pascal Moragues. I'd like to hear him. I agree w you that this clip is closer to Viennese or German sound. But with the color of a French instrument. (I am guessing he plays Buffet or the like, but I don't know. He's from Australia.)

  2. Chris
    September 26, 2010 at

    It has always seemed to me that, historically speaking, there were quite clear nationalistic tendencies in respect to the aesthetics of clarinet tone. I feel this is one of the main reasons why the Germans still prefer their Oehler and Werlitzer's, with their hard reed set-ups etc, to the Buffet's and Leblanc's. Incidentally, I once attended an orchestral audition in Spain where, on arrival, anyone who played German system clarinets was told to turn around and go home without being allowed to play a single note! I suppose the conductor was not a great lover of this sound but why didn’t they stipulate this before everyone set out instead of waiting until after they had all arrived? Luckily, playing on Buffet Prestige, I maintained my position in the very long queue.

    • September 26, 2010 at

      Ultimately it all comes down to a matter of personal taste. I hear a shrillness in the English sound at loud volumes.

      The story you recounted of the audition in Spain is a sad example of casual irresponsibility in the audition process. Shame on them.

      I think you may be on to something about the influence of the English tone on the International sound. I believe the American mouthpiece maker James Pyne headed in that direction, and a whole generation of players went there with him. The most notable example of a "Pyne" sound is the principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Frank Cohen.

      However, more recently, Richard Hawkins created a slightly different trend in clarinet tone. While he was influenced by Pyne's work with acoustics, he preferred the German sound of Sabina Meyer. (He told me this himself) Without copying the mouthpiece style of the German players Hawkins had that tone in mind when he created the very close and short facings on the now ubiquitous Zinner blanks.

  3. Chris
    September 26, 2010 at

    Yes David, the scripting will unfortunately only allow me to post relatively short comments. I would agree with you that there is a danger in the English tonal style of sounding 'hollow' in loud passages but, it seems to me, there is always some sort of trade-off in any tonal style of playing. The German style, as personified in the playing of Karl Leister and Sabine Meyer, while more penetrating in terms of sound projection, can sometimes also sound shrill, edgy and brittle in high passages. Again this is very much a generalisation but it seems to me that players in any tonal style are forced to compromise due to both the physics of sound and the physical characteristics of the clarinet itself.

  4. Chris
    September 21, 2010 at

    Descriptions of Richard Mühlfeld's playing suggest that his tone was not in the conventional German style of this period. I may be mistaken, but I seem to recall hearing an early gramaphone recording of Mühlfeld, but early sound technology was not really advanced enough to capture these aspects of his tone. The desciptions of his playing seem to suggest that his tone was more like the sound we have since come to know as the 'English' style. It was Mühlfeld's tone, it seems, that impressed Brahms so much that he came out of retirment to compose his two sonata's and the quintet for him. Perhaps Thurston was really following Mühlfeld's example?

    • September 21, 2010 at

      Hello Chris. I am guessing that the comment script won't allow you to compose one long comment. Am I right?

      Personally I do not aspire to the English sound, mostly because I feel it becomes hollow in loud passages. (I generalize for the sake of discussion.)

      The player in this clip is Australian, perhaps influenced by the English sound. But his tone stays quite balanced and ringing in the loud passages.

      Thank you for the background history of Mühlfeld's tone. I think the German tone in it's ideal form, perhaps exemplified by Karl Leister, has greatly influenced the "international sound".


      Anyway, these discussions will be ongoing, I am sure.

  5. Chris
    September 21, 2010 at

    I attended a Jack Brymer Master Class in the 1970's where he demonstrated how he used two different mouthpieces on his 10/10's, one for Orchestral playing and one for chamber music like the Mozart Quintet. He was then able to achieve less strident tone projection in chamber music while still maintaining his large, rounded and mellow sound. I would therefore describe the tone in your recording as following in this 'English tradition'. If this tone is becoming more the international 'norm' as you suggest, then I feel more people are essentially following the English/ Thurston style of playing.

  6. Chris
    September 21, 2010 at

    As a veteran clarinettist and teacher I follow your excellent bog with much interest. I am intrigued with your comments regarding trends in clarinet tone "the international sound" and the "homogenization or genericizing of tone". You don't say who is actually playing this clip or what their nationality is and, while I would not disagree with your comments per se, it seems to me that this person is playing much more in the 'English' style. The 'father' of this English style was Frederick 'Jack' Thurston who, during the war years, championed the development of the large bore Boosey & Hawkes Symphony 10/10 clarinet. A 'tradition' which Jack Brymer continued after WWII.

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