Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clarinets in 1805

According to two experts, very few amateurs would have had a clarinet in 1805. They were very costly, and not many had the free time to practice. It was suggested by one that a stringed instrument would have been more likely.

Professor Arnold Myers, Chairman, Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, suggested the possibility a flute would have been more likely than a clarinet. He agreed, however, that if the gentleman in my book were to play Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major, Second Movement, that he would, indeed, have to play a clarinet in A, although the B-flat was the more common size even then.

Luckily, my character has the time to practice, and the money to purchase the instrument.

There were six key instruments in 1805, but the more common clarinet would have been a five key.

Notice the ivory rings? All three of the above instruments were made in London, c 1790, c 1770 and c 1805. I wonder if they had connections to the ivory trade? The wood is boxwood.

I also heard from a clarinetist by the name of Tom, who told me of Richard Stoltzman. Mr. Stoltzman has numerous CDs and, of course, I've purchased one. Mr. Stoltzman breathes life into the clarinet, and reduced me to tears when I heard him play "Innisfree." Tom also took the time to tell me what it is like to play the clarinet, capturing my heart and making me regret a decision I made in second grade. My piano teacher told my mother that she had a waiting list and that I obviously did not have my heart in learning the piano. Would it be all right for her to drop me and take on someone who actually wanted to play. When my mother approached me and asked if I wanted to continue with the lessons or not, I shrugged and said, "not really."

Years later I realized it was a stupid decision. If only we could know the importance of things at a very early age, we wouldn't have to live with regrets later. I'm grateful that Tom, and Richard Stoltzman did not make the same mistake.

If you would care to hear one of the most beautifully played clarinet pieces I've ever heard, may I suggest you listen to "Innisfree" on the Open Sky CD.

Editor's Note: Photographs of the above instruments from the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments used by permission.


  1. I'm enjoying reading about your research, Melanie.

  2. Thanks Jewell. I'm looking forward to my first lesson.

  3. Hi Melanie,

    The Mozart concerto was actually written for basset clarinet, which is a longer version of the normal A clarinet. Check out this Youtube video of Eric Hoeprich. It is probably pretty close, historically speaking, to what a performace might have sounded like in Mozart's day:

    Hoeprich has a good book that provides a lot of background on the classical clarinet:

    Also, Albert Rice's book:

    Good luck!

  4. Dan,

    Thank you so much. After reading your blog, and knowing you had played an old, 1790's clarinet, I knew you'd know just the type of thing I wanted to know. This is fabulous and I very much appreciate your time.

    The youtube piece is awesome. I think I saw Mozart sitting in the background. :)

  5. As a former clarinet and bass clarinet player I thoroughly enjoyed this post and all the comments and links.

  6. Linda,

    Where can I find a movie on Youtube of you playing? :)


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