Historical Instrument​s and Replica Models: Recapturing the 18th and 19th Century Sounds of the Clarinet by Thomas Carroll

CarrollThis lecture provided fascinating insight into the craftsmanship of period clarinets. Thomas Carroll is an expert in his field, talking quickly, precisely, and clearly, commanding knowledge of instrument makers, dates, museum collections, bore and tone hole millimeter measurements, and more.   Over the past five years he used this knowledge to build his own Replica Model clarinet.

First, some terminology is explained. The difference between a ‘historic’ and a ‘historical’ instrument.  Historic instruments were played by a famous artist (such as Anton Stadler or Benny Goodman) and thus is valuable as a museum piece, while a historical instrument could be the same model but wasn’t played by anyone noteworthy.

Similarly, there’s a difference between ‘historical performance’ and ‘historically informed performance:’ historical performances attempt to recapture the original sounds, but a historically informed performance involves research, such as reading treatises and letters relevant to the piece’s time period.  Currently, Mr. Carroll says there’s a trend toward historically informed performances.

Finally, a recording of Brahms’ Sonatas claiming to be on ‘original instruments’ would have to be recorded on Mühlfeld’s own clarinet.  ‘Authentic instruments’ would be the preferred term for a performance of Brahms on a similar instrument to Mühlfeld’s.

When creating copies, Mr. Carroll stresses the importance of not replicating a single instrument as all instruments have imperfections.  Instead, Mr. Carroll finds as many similar instruments as possible, meticulously measures them, and makes a replica that attempts to follow the general trends of that maker. For his B-flat replica, he studied three clarinets from 1777, 1785, and 1798.

Mr. Carroll’s musical demonstrations were the highlight of his lecture. He played an excerpt from the second movement of Mozart’s concerto, a fragment from Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito, and the solo from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, all with lovely sounds that are strikingly different from that of a modern A or B-flat clarinet.

Especially interesting was the use of spectrogram analysis to determine that two basset clarinets from Leipzig and Dresden had different harmonics resulting from their different bore diameters. The basset clarinet typically used by Anton Stadler for Mozart’s music had a wider bore, which favors the low notes of the instrument. In fact, Anton Stadler often preferred playing second clarinet as he enjoyed playing low notes!  Contrastingly, the basset clarinet used for Mendelssohn’s Concertpieces had a narrower bore, which favored the higher register of those works.

As the class came to an end, he briefly touched on several more relevant areas: intonation and pitch controversies, mouthpieces, ligatures, and reeds, and the differences between past and modern techniques for curing and staining the wood. He passes around his mouthpieces for the audience to examine saying, “Don’t drop them, but if you do I can always make more!” He invited the audience to come up and play the instruments after the talk ended. This fascinating lecture was surely only the tip of Mr. Carroll’s iceberg of knowledge; I feel confident he could have easily talked for many more hours on the subject!

–Notes by Sam Davies
Sam Davies recently completed his first year of DMA study with Dr. Guy Yehuda at Michigan State University. At MSU Davies can be heard performing with the Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, chamber ensembles, and new student compositions.
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