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The Clarinet
with Richard Stoltzman

On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium, renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman discusses the inspirational qualities and historical development of the clarinet, demonstrating the instrumentís versatility by performing compositions from Mozart to Bernstein. We learn that the soulful eloquence and chameleon-like abilities of the clarinet so inspired Johannes Brahms that he came out of retirement to write his clarinet sonatas, and that Aaron Copland brought the "rhythmically naughty" sounds of South American music into the clarinet concerto he wrote especially for Benny Goodman. Join Richard Stoltzman and host Lisa Simeone in Studio 4A for a fascinating look at this relative "newcomer" to the orchestra--the clarinet.

We hear the vocal qualities of this instrument as Stoltzman plays opera arias transcribed for the clarinet. He demonstrates the playful and, at times, hauntingly sad sounds the clarinet can make as he plays the Recitative and Gavotte from the opera "Manon," written by Jules Massenet.

The clarinet has these "singing" qualities because of the way the musicianís breath travels through the bamboo reed used in the mouthpiece of the instrument. Bamboo is always used for this reed because itís pliable enough to vibrate at many different speeds, giving the clarinet its broad range of low and high notes. Stoltzman notes that the oboe, the saxophone, and the bassoon all use bamboo reeds for this reason.

But the clarinet did not always sound like it does today. Only on the orchestral scene for 200 to 300 years, the instrument originally looked like a recorder without keys, and was more limited in its sound, as Stoltzman demonstrates. In 1699, the "register key," or "speaker key," was added to the back of the instrument, making it sound more like a "little trumpet," expanding its range and giving it a dark, blues-like sound. It became known as the "clarino," and, later, the clarinet.

Mozart, one of the first composers to be inspired by the clarinet, wrote music that captured the "agility and sparkle" of the instrument, as well as its soulfulness. As an example, Stoltzman plays the slow movement of Mozartís Clarinet Quintet with the Tashi ensemble in a performance at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The playful qualities of the clarinet are brought out in the finale of Brahms's Clarinet Sonata No. 1, performed by Stoltzman and pianist David Deveau in the studio. The duo also shows the range of the clarinet by playing the slow, mournful aria "O mio babbino caro," from Pucciniís opera "Gianni Schicchi." But just when you are beginning to think the clarinet is used only for classical music, Stoltzman gives us the sounds of klezmer, and you realize how versatile this instrument really is!

Thanks to the inspiration and talent of clarinetists such as Benny Goodman, the clarinet claimed another realm entirely with the big band jazz sounds of the 20th Century. What may be less known is that Goodman also developed a classical repertoire for clarinet. Aaron Copland, who brought back interesting new musical rhythms from a South American tour, collaborated closely with Goodman in creating his Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, part of which we hear.

The use of the clarinet in both classical and jazz is indicative of the "crossover" influences in world music, a development that is not only exciting but almost necessary for musicians today. These influences, however, are not really new; Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms were all "crossover" artists because they took the pop music of their day and used it in their compositions. The clarinet is an appealing instrument partly for this reason; it can transform itself into so many personas that it has been chosen by many performers and composers today as the "cutting edge" instrument that defines their music. As an example we hear some "nightmarish" clarinet sounds by John Corigliano, and part of "Fantasma Cantos" by Toru Takemitsu, a modern work commissioned by Stoltzman for a Vienna concert celebrating three centuries of the clarinet.

Finally, we hear a little bit of the music of West Side Story--long before it was written!--within Leonard Bernsteinís Clarinet Sonata. Stoltzman is again joined by David Deveau on piano as he plays Bernsteinís modern homage to the clarinet. (This stereo audio segment requires the free RealPlayer 5.0 or higher. You can also listen with a 14.4 connection)

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