During a lifetime of playing, most serious wind players develop some interest in organology, which is the science of musical instruments and their classification. Some contemporary players - Colin Lawson, Alan Hacker and Antony Pay come to mind - elevate their personal interest to the level of actually giving brilliant concert performances on early clarinets. At least one dealer, Tony Bingham, specialises in old wind instruments, and many of us have a small collection of old clarinets in yellow wood, saxophones in white plastic, or clarinets with arcane fingering systems, tucked away in the loft or under the bed.
Besides his professional achievements in the field of climate science, the late Sir Nicholas Shackleton (1937-2006) also made significant contributions to the study of the development of the clarinet. He, too, assembled a collection of old instruments. In his case the collection was superb, amounting to some 800 carefully-chosen clarinets and other woodwind instruments, now bequeathed to the University of Edinburgh. The University will continue Sir Nicholas's use of the collection to support learning and research.
In an event organised by Professor Arnold Myers, Director of the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, on 22-24 June 2007 at Reid Concert Hall, Bristo Square Edinburgh, a new display of this collection was inaugurated. In conjunction with this event, the University of Edinburgh hosted an ambitious and varied clarinet and woodwind colloquium. Preparation was professional: the programme for the colloquium was available in advance on the internet, along with joining instructions and maps, and on the day helpful university postgraduate students were around to issue name badges, offer light refreshments, and generally make delegates feel at home.
Reid Concert Hall is a tiered 600-seat room adjacent to the University's impressive collection of musical instruments. A small group of enthusiasts (I counted 56) assembled there on Friday morning to hear the first of a wide-ranging three-day programme of presentations. In the audience were several well-known experts and enthusiasts, including Robert Axtens of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Victoria (Australia), Daniel Bangham of Wood, Wind and Reed, Cambridge, Jane Booth, first clarinet of the Orchestre des Champs Elysées (which devotes itself to the performance of classical and romantic repertoire on period instruments), Michael Bryant, Beatrix Darmstädter (curator at the Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente, Vienna), Satoshi Kaneko from Tokyo, Andrew Lyle, Ian Mitchell (head of wind, brass and percussion at Trinity College of Music), Ingrid Pearson (Royal College of Music), Deborah Check Reeves (National Music Museum, University of South Dakota), and the virtuoso woodwind players Keith Puddy, Luigi Magistrelli and William Waterhouse.
Thus, speakers came from across the globe. Their presentations varied from the intellectually dishevelled to the exemplary. David Ross of the University of Texas spoke about clarinets made by the Denner family of Nuremburg. The Australian Melanie Piddocke, currently an Edinburgh PhD student, talked about the Viennese maker Theodor Lotz. Other Edinburgh Students included Eugenia Mittroulia, from Greece, and Eleanor Smith, the recent winner of the Pamela Weston scholarship. Smith brought a nicely relevant touch to her presentation by discussing three German instruments in the Shackleton collection. Indeed, links to Shackleton's work were made several times during the talks; William Peatman even treated us to a picture of Shackleton's cat! And in the adjacent instrument room one could view a video recording of Nick Shackleton talking about his collection.
During his own talk on the origins of French and German clarinets, Eric Hoeprich (from The Hague) played a few notes on both types, and then asked, 'which was which?' A plea for the retention of national differences followed. Who could disagree? That all clarinettists tend to sound the same is not necessarily good. In this respect one was heartened to learn that in orchestras in Boston and Chicago, clarinettists are now tending to use a German clarinet in performances of Haydn, Mozart and Mahler.
Actually hearing the clarinet being played, however briefly, made a welcome contrast to consecutive speech-only presentations, particularly as the colloquium took place in such a difficult acoustic. How wise of Colin Lawson then, in the preface to his lecture Historical Music, to quote Daniel Gottlob Türk in saying: 'Certain subtleties of expression cannot really be described; they must be heard.' A colloquium talk is commonly a single lecture offered to an audience broader than the audience of a specialist seminar. Colloquium attendees are not automatically expected to have detailed specialist knowledge of the subject matter. In the majority of these talks the speakers clearly assumed that their audience possessed much prior knowledge of the clarinet's history and construction, which wasn't entirely true. To hear the instruments played was therefore helpful. As ever, a demonstration is worth a thousand words.
Much of the fascination in the papers lay in the detail and the references that one was moved to pursue later: the Seggelke clarinets mention by John Playfair; J.C. Bach's Temistocle overture of 1772 mentioned by Jean Jeltsch, scored for a trio of basset horns in the second movement; the concept of morphogenetic field theory, concerning ring keys, unattributed (alas) in my hastily scrawled notes, and the revelation that curved Basset horns were frequently made in two halves, then glued together to achieve the characteristic shape.
I was fascinated to hear about a basset horn that can be played with left or right hand uppermost; to learn from Thomas Reil (Uhigen, Germany) of a walking-stick clarinet made by Adolphe Sax and, during the presentation by Jean Jeltsch (Lille), to see a basset horn where the box (Kasten) has a hole that acts as a tone-changing mute without altering the pitch. Monsieur Jeltsch also told us that Quinze-Vingts was the part of Paris where instrument makers worked. On subsequently investigation I discovered that the name Quinze-Vingts (15 X 20), meaning 'three hundred', is relevant because the famous old people's home in that district (L'hôpital des Quinze-Vingts) included three hundred beds. Amazing, isn't it, what one finds out because of an interest in the clarinet?
James Joseph, formerly Director of Music at Newcastle College of Arts & Technology, and the possessor of his own collection of historic instruments, spoke authoritatively about Arthur Clinton and his two sons George and James. All three Clintons also came from Newcastle. One intriguing Clinton invention was a clarinet that could be converted from A to Bb simply by twisting the body. I'm sure I wasn't alone in wanting answers to a host of questions about such a fascinating instrument.
Of more than thirty papers presented I have only mentioned a small proportion, as I couldn't attend the whole of the colloquium. Of the delights that I missed, my colleague John Playfair praised the lovely playing by three of Eric Hoeprich's young students on Lotz-copy basset horns, enjoyed the sublime performance of Ian Mitchell playing freakish sounds on two halves of his Buffet (simultaneously), and described the paper of the Australian Simon Purtell - about how Dame Nellie Melba got the pitch changed in Melbourne - as 'brilliant'. John also reported that the display on tables of all 800 instruments of Nick Shackleton's was - as you might expect - well worth mentioning. "My chief lasting memory of the whole meeting," he said.
Not every presentation was brilliant. Those chairing the sessions were often slow to rescue a speaker from a technical glitch such as a microphone failure. A couple of speakers failed to look at their audience at all. Some spoke too quickly. Some spoke too quietly. Clearly, teacher training, or presentation training, is still lacking in some quarters! One paper was delivered in Italian.
Nevertheless, the conclusion that I reached as I enjoyed these various presentations was that the papers heard on this occasion would be of interest to all CASS members. To that end, several conference speakers have promised to share their thoughts and discoveries. If you would like to submit a CASS Magazine version of your paper, please contact Richard Edwards for guidelines and word counts. Who knows, perhaps someone can tell us about morphogenetic field theory as applied to organology? I hope so.
And should you seek a special treat, the catalogue of the Shackleton collection is now available from the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, University of Edinburgh, Reid Concert Hall, Bristo Square, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK, at £50 plus packing and postage. At 809 pages, with 1024 full colour illustrations, it contains detailed descriptions of more than 900 instruments, the main emphasis being on clarinets.
The Director of the Edinburgh Collection, Professor Arnold Myers, knew Nicholas Shackleton over a 20-year period. "My own input to editing the catalogue and organising the meeting was a personal tribute to a departed friend," he said. "But the catalogue and the meeting were also an appropriate institutional response to the bequest of a magnificent collection. Presenting the collection to the world of clarinet research was the most immediate response to the bequest."
HISTORIC MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS IN THE EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY COLLECTION
CATALOGUE OF THE SIR NICHOLAS SHACKLETON COLLECTION
This catalogue documents the achievement of the late Sir Nicholas
Shackleton (1937 - 2006) in assembling one of the world's finest
collections of musical instruments. The Sir Nicholas Shackleton
Collection, brought together over a 40-year period, was bequeathed to
the University of Edinburgh where it is maintained as resource for
learning and research. The purpose of this catalogue is to summarise
the research resource provided by the Collection. The publication gives
detailed descriptions of 880 instruments: 817 clarinets and basset
horns, 42 flutes, 6 oboes, 4 bassoons 3 French horns and eight other
instruments, plus numerous parts of instruments including important
early reeds. The instruction books collected to support study of the
instruments are listed. The clarinets in the collection span a 250-year
period and range from contrabasses up to the smallest regularly-used
clarinets (in high A). All the major instrument-making regions of the
world are represented. A major strength of the Collection is the
comprehensive coverage of the amazing variety of keywork systems
invented to address the problems in clarinet design.
The text has been prepared by a team of authors, the principal author,
Heike Fricke, having written the descriptions of the clarinet family
instruments. The book is lavishly illustrated by photographs taken
specifically by Dr Raymond Parks, Honorary Curator of the Edinburgh
University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.