Music Study – The Clarinet

The CLARINET may be begun without imprudence at a little earlier age, about ten, if the child is strongly constituted ; sooner than this, the respiration is not sufficiently long. No serious inconvenience would be incurred by beginning later, so long as the suppleness of the fingers was preserved. The conditions of conformation consist only in having good teeth and lungs. To obtain good results, four hours of regular work a day are necessary.

The clarinet, one of the most beautiful voices in the whole orchestra, is the richest in varied timbres of all the wind instruments. It possesses no less than four registers perfectly defined: the chalumeau, which contains the deepest notes and recalls the old rustic instrument of that name ; the medium, warm and expressive ; the sharp, brilliant and energetic ; and the super-sharp, biting and strident at need. Moreover, all these registers, thanks to the progress of manufacture, are able to melt into one another in the happiest manner possible, and furnish a perfectly homogeneous scale. Although possessing a predilection for certain forms of passages that specially belong to it, it accommodates itself to nearly all the vocal and instrumental formule, to which it lends its own peculiar richness of timbre.

I should not know how to say here, as I have said with regard to the flute and oboe, what sentiments the clarinet excels in expressing ; it can translate nearly all. Almost as agile as the flute, as tender as and more passionate than the oboe, the clarinet is infinitely more energetic and richer in colour, and for these reasons it offers to the pupil a more engaging and interesting field of study. But it can not be denied that it is a difficult instrument ; independently of the mechanism, which requires great development, the music written for the clarinet generally contains many rapid passages, and then there is also the question of the embouchure, which can be by no means mastered at the first attempt, and upon this the beauty of tone depends, for the clarinet, like the oboe, is subject to the unlucky couac.

In addition to the ordinary clarinet, there are many varieties of the same instrument : alto-clarinet, bass-clarinet, little clarinet, etc. . . . When we once master the handling and the embouchure of this type of instrument, it is very easy to become familiar with the use of any of the members, as the tablature is practically the same.

Even if one has already become a very good musician, it is almost impossible to learn the clarinet alone; without a master, certain fingerings and special manipulations, which are not indicated in any method, would always be unknown, and the execution of certain passages would be awkward.

An instrument with a double-reed, forming the bass of the oboe as well as that of the entire group of Wood-wind, the BASSOON very seldom appears as a soloist. In revenge, it is of extreme use in the orchestra and in chamber-music written for wind-instruments.

The principle for the emission of tone on the bassoon being the same as that for the oboe, it is natural to conclude that the conditions of physical conformation should be the same for each; always healthy lungs, and teeth in good condition, etc. However, the utility of thin lips is less felt here, the reed being larger and of greater resistance.

It is quite soon enough to devote yourself to the bassoon between the ages of sixteen and twenty years, as the chest is not strong enough during the period of growth, and also on account of the weight of the instrument, because work of about five or six hours a day is required in order to accomplish good results ; but understand that you must not wait until this age before acquiring any knowledge of music, and indeed it is very advantageous to have studied some other instrument previously. When all these requirements are fulfilled, it would seem that it is easier for a bassoon-player than any other to do without the help of a teacher; however, if real ability is required, it will always be infinitely surer to take a certain number of lessons at the beginning and towards the end of the studies.

Owing to its compass, the bassoon in its notation requires the use of two clefs, the bass and tenor.

I make only a note here of the contrabassoon, a very rare instrument, and difficult to handle, which, although figuring in quite a large number of scores, is nearly always replaced in actual use, whether at the theatre or concert, by another instrument that is more portable and of a more modern construction,–generally a Sarrusophone.