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Clarinet in Bach’s Vocal Works



A doubt

Mario Zama Escalante wrote (March 6, 2002):
I am new to Bach's music, and I state this because although I listened to my father's records, I didn't had the opportunity to have a communion with Herr JSB music. That was 30 years ago. Now that I can buy my own CD's, and although it is a pitty my father passed away in 1993, I am beginning to know these works.

There is something I would like to discuss:

It seems that Bach's research of new musical expressions led him to write works for instruments that were going through development processes. (pianoforte, etc). I have noticed that the clarinet was not a frequently used instrument during the 17th and 18th century, and it was a time for wind instruments to experiment changes. Don't you think Bach did write pieces for the clarinet?

I will be happy to hear your expert knowledge.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Mario Zama Escalante] I know nothing about the clarinet, but it seems that Bach wrote nothing for it. As for the pianoforte, he certainly had the chance to play them, but never wrote anything specifically for it, at least not as far as can be proved.

He also did not write for the harp, the glass harmonica, and many other instruments that other composers used. Partly because of his duties - he did not write for a prince or anyone who played them - but, perhaps, also because he did not like them.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Mario Zama Escalante] The clarinet (chalumeau) is a very old instrument and was certainly around in Bach's time. But neither he nor any other baroque composer to my knowledge wrote anything for single-reed instruments. (Mozart, of course, loved the clarinet and used it extensively.) It's always seemed to me that the less-pointed attacks of single-reeds makes them less suited to baroque than the double-reeds. But Bach and Vivaldi seem to have enjoyed writing for every oddball instrument they could find. Does anybody know why they didn't write for single-reeds?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Just a few days I heard one of those multiple instrument concertos by Vivaldi. It included a chalumeau.

Craig Schweicket wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Vivaldi wrote for the chalumeau, as did Graupner, Telemann, Handel and several other baroque composers. According to the Grove, the earliest extant reference to the clarinet was in 1710, and "Handel wrote at least twice for the instrument" (glancing through Handel's work list, I find only a single reference to the instrument: Overture [suite] in G for wind ensemble, c1742). However, clarinets weren't widespread until the mid-1700s and Bach, of course, went to his reward in 1750. The instrument was initally adopted by military bands and wind ensembles but only gradually by orchestras through the second half of the century.

Anthony Olszowy wrote (March 7, 2002):}
[To Thomas Braatz] Recorded on Archive, I believe, with Trevor Pinnock and his merry band. I have it on tape (remember those?) somewhere in the darker regions of my collection.

Barry Murray wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Vivaldi did include the chalumeau in some of his concerti. I have a recording featuring two of these by the King's Consort on a CD of Wind Concerti by Vivaldi and Albinoni.

I don't have the disc with me at present, but my recollection is that the concerti including the chalumeau are RV 559 and RV 560.

What's a clarinetist to do?

Davyd wrote (March 10, 2002):
As a clarinetist, I don't get to play much JSB; to be precise, I don't get to play any! The closest I've come is the very occasional oboe d'amore part (none of the oboists I know have one), which can be played on the "A" clarinet with no transposition needed.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not such substitution is a "good" idea: where can I get a list of all JSB's works that call for oboe d'amore?

Please advise. TIA!

AJN wrote (March 10, 2002):
[To Davyd] Handy place to ,look for such information is in

Werner Neumann, Handbuch der Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, 3rd ed, (Leipzig: B&H, 1967).

It has lists such as "Die Arien mit 1 oder 2 obligaten Instrumenten," "Das Instrumentarium der Kantaten," "Chralmelodien in den Kantaten," usw.

There are about 50 arias and duets that use oboe d'amore.

AJN (another clarinetist who regrets that JSB was born too soon.)

Davyd wrote (March 14, 2002):
[To AJN] Thanks for the tip. I'm sure my local university library has this text; it's also listed on Clarinets RULE!

Brian Link wrote (Maarch 10, 2002):
Also bear in mind that the clarinet was born partially as a replacement/alternative to the trumpet. Just having performed Cantata BWV 12, and being without either a natural or slide trumpet or cornetto for the tenor aria, we employed the oboist who was already sitting there catching his breath after "Kreuz und Krone". It occurs to me that a clarinet may have also been very pretty on that aria playing the cantus firmus.

So just a thought that you may scan the trumpet repertoire as well.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (March 10, 2002):
[To Brian Link] Sure. But our friend had better keep quiet about it or the HIP squad will be after him in full force. They're brutal.

Davyd wrote (March 14, 2002):
[To Brian Link] That's a good idea; I'll bear it in mind. However, Jim: I'm more afraid of my local trumpeters union than the HIP group.

Michael Pan wrote (March 10, 2002):
< Davyd wrote: [snip] Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not such substitution is a "good" idea: where can I get a list of all JSB's works that call for oboe d'amore? [snip] >
I was going to suggest the BWV Catalog; you'd probably have to look through a good part of it, checking instrumentation of individual pieces, though.

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Last update: żApril 23, 2005 ż08:40:29