Author Topic: Clarinets  (Read 3560 times)

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MikeL

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Clarinets
« on: January 22, 2016, 02:40:11 PM »
OK so I have been told a few times by people I respect not to write for A clarinets.

I was always led to believe that you use Bb for flat keys and A for sharp keys.

Even had someone tell me to change my piece in E major to F so i can use Bb's

We must be a rich nation here in Oz because all of the players I have met carry both and have played in several pieces (Rossini/Respighi Boutique Fantastique for ex) where we have to pause to allow clarinets to swap over.

Also understand that for jazz/band that Bb is the norm (can't swap while marching I suppose).

Any thoughts?
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Ron

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2016, 04:30:44 PM »
I don't know many, but all the clarinet players I've met have a Bb. A few might have an A, but Bb seems to be the norm where I roam.
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RJB54

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2016, 10:26:38 PM »
As a woodwind player, including the clarinet, the Bb is universal below professional level and it is rare for a non-professional to own an A. Professionals are expected to own, and perform using, both, as appropriate.

In terms of orchestrating, the classic view is that the A has a slightly darker, more mellow, tone, it's transposition gives it a reach below the Bb, and, as was mentioned, the Bb is better for flat keys while the A is better for sharp keys.

Nowadays, the skill of the player is such that the key relationship is not really relevant, the player is expected to be able to play in any key regardless of which instrument is used.
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flint

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2016, 09:38:54 AM »
I am a professional clarinetist. The A Clarinet is only used in orchestral music or in chamber works - never in bands. The availability of the A Clarinet is variable, but in general it can be expected to be available in most orchestral settings if the clarinetists are of a professional or near-professional quality (or aspirations).

During the 20th century, many composers, even those still writing tonal music, effectively ignored the A Clarinet, even when it would clearly be superior for the player. One example, in Copland's Rodeo, "Hoe-down," the music is written for Bb Clarinet, playing E major instead of for A Clarinet in F major. Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite is another work where only the Bb Clarinet is used, even though many sections of the part would be much simpler on A Clarinet. In both cases, I suspect the reason the Bb Clarinet is used was to make the work more available to non-professionals by not requiring the A Clarinet. Additionally, the Grofé was originally written for a jazz orchestra, where only the Bb was expected.


The classical train of thought is: "In general, the Bb Clarinet is better in flat keys, while the A Clarinet works best in sharp keys." This is a simplification, but it is arguably correct.

Because the clarinet overblows at the twelfth rather than the octave (like most other woodwinds), it has more keys to cover and its fingering system is more complex. As a result, the clarinet, while certainly fully chromatic and capable of any figurations in the hands of a professional, nonetheless is easier to play and more facile in keys closely related to it's home key of (written) C major.

Hence, the Bb Clarinet sounds best in Bb major (ie., written C major), and Bb's closely related keys - Eb major (written F), F major (written G), C major (written D), and the related minor keys to those keys. Likewise, the A Clarinet sounds best in A major (written C), D major (written F), E major (written G), B major (written D), and the related minor keys to those keys.

This does not necessarily mean you have to follow this line of reasoning. The best time to rely on the above guidelines is when the clarinet has fast-moving runs; ie., when the clarinet is actually playing fast scales/arpeggios within the traditional key format. If the part is mostly slow-moving, or otherwise not particularly agile, there's no harm in using whichever clarinet you wish (even the "wrong" clarinet).


Another reason to choose the A Clarinet over the Bb Clarinet is tone quality. In the most general sense, the A Clarinet has a more "mellow" (or perhaps a less "forward" than the Bb) timbre. However, there is sufficient variation in the instruments, and in the players themselves, to potentially make the difference minor to inaudible at best.

One final reason to choose the A Clarinet over the Bb Clarinet is to facilitate a specific figuration, or even a specific trill. If one passage is easier or more effective on A, the A may be used, even if the passage isn't in one of the A Clarinet's "easy" keys.

Orchestral clarinetists are adept at instrument changes, and if necessary can swap back and forth within a work at will. As long as the composer gives enough time to make the change, I wouldn't worry about changing during a work. Also, be aware that clarinetists have been known to retranscribe works when a composer has made (in their estimation) a poor choice... so even the most well-considered part may be ignored by a player.
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MikeL

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2016, 11:21:03 PM »
Thanks for these responses.

Has clarified a lot of what I thought I understood.

I have been asked to supply both Bb and A parts for a piece in E major so they can take their pick :)
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sandalwood

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2016, 09:38:51 AM »
A silly question: If, on the Bb clarinet, when you play a G (by not manipulating any keys or holes) it sounds (concert) F, why call that note G in the first place?

I would find that reasonable had one of the (existing or extinct ancestral) clarinet types been non-transposing; or am I missing or overlooking something?

flint

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2016, 09:56:46 AM »
It's so you don't have to learn an entirely new set of fingerings for each size of clarinet.

If you look at recorders, the tenor (for instance) is in C, while the alto is in F. When you cover the thumb hole and first three fingers, the tenor will play a G4 and the alto will play a C5. However, the recorder is considered a non-transposing instrument. This means you must learn two completely separate fingering systems in order to play the whole family of recorders, or you are left with only being able to play half of them.

On any size clarinet, written C4 (middle C) is played by covering the thumb hole and the first three fingers of the left hand. It would be absolutely unthinkably unwieldy to call that note C4 on a C Clarinet (a non-transposing instrument, by the way...), Bb3 on a Bb Clarinet, A3 on an A Clarinet, Eb4 on a Eb Clarinet, Bb2 on a Bb Bass Clarinet, etc.

So the upshot is that the player learns ONE fingering system, and the composer then decides which clarinet to use (based on pitch, timbre, etc.), and transposes the part appropriately.
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sandalwood

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2016, 10:10:06 AM »
Thanks for your reply, Flint :)  I can, of course, see that the "Fingering System" which remains unchanged among various clarinets is the whole point. I was not, on the other hand, aware of the now obsolete but once prevalent  C-Clarinet*, which suddenly makes everything look very reasonable.

I should've given it a google before asking the question.

Thanks again!

* even knowing the G one I thought I knew them all :)
« Last Edit: August 18, 2016, 10:14:36 AM by sandalwood »

tbmartin

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2016, 06:16:38 AM »
Saxophones have the same transposing issue as the clarinets. However, there are not two instruments that are close to interchangeable like the Bb/A clarinets. They are all separated by a 4th or 5th.

...With one exception: Back in the 1920 saxophone craze, The C Melody sax (slightly smaller than the Bb tenor and non-transposing) was popular because the sax player could read from the same music as a piano player. You can still find C Melody tenors on e-bay for about $200. A New Zealand company, Aquilla, started making modern C-melodies, but they went out of business recently.
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MikeL

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2016, 10:37:32 PM »
Just played a piece in C# major (seven sharps courtesy of Mr Lloyd Weber).

Knew the clarinets were Bb players so had a look at their parts.

In Eb Major!

What goes around comes around I guess.
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sandalwood

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2019, 06:31:44 PM »
From what I've been reading and listening to about the Bb clarinet I'm a bit anxious about the advice to avoid the (concert pitch) F4-Ab4 zone (some call them throat tones). Radical change in fingering especially moving from Ab to A and beyond and hence the warning against the considerable  difficulty to provide smooth transitions even in slower tempos is rather disheartening. I tried to find and listen to relevant  passages of repertoire works but failed to hear anything to really justify such caveat. The players seem to be finding ways to overcome the hurdles.

The attached transposed passage for Bb clarinet, for instance, moves in and out of the said zone from both directions. Do you think a competent player will have any difficulty in performing it without any glitch in tempo, intonation, phrasing, articulation...?
« Last Edit: December 26, 2019, 08:44:50 PM by sandalwood »

flint

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #11 on: December 27, 2019, 07:11:46 PM »
There’s nothing challenging in that sample. The proscription about the “break” is really only an issue for beginners.
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sandalwood

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Re: Clarinets
« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2019, 09:22:32 PM »
Thanks :)