Why do people hate the Alto Clarinet?

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G Clarinet

The Clarinet in G is an interesting possibility.  It is a large clarinet pitched a fourth below the written note.  This instrument is most commonly associated with Turkish and Balkan ethnic and jazz music.  Historically, this instrument was called a “Clarinet d’Amore” being pitched a minor third below the standard B-flat Clarinet.  Most original d’Amores had a bulb bell like the lower oboes.  Modern instruments do not have this feature.

All G Clarinets (save for those custom made by makers like Stephen Fox) are in the Albert system.  This means that most clarinetists will have to learn a new fingering system in order to play the instrument.  I myself have recently picked up the instrument and am facing those challenges currently.  That said, once the challenge of learning the new system is in place, the instrument can be a valuable asset.

The True Alto Clarinet

Being exactly midway between the B-flat Clarinet and the E-flat Alto Clarinet, the nomenclature of the instrument can be somewhat ambiguous.  In all honesty, the G feels like a true alto voice.  It’s a bit huskier than the B-flat, but not as much as the E-flat Alto.  Due to it’s small bore, the same as the B-flat, it feels and plays almost like a true, small-bore Basset Horn.  In fact,  at one time Basset Horns were pitched in G as well as F.  The original draft of the Mozart Concerto was for Basset Horn in G.

If we call this an Alto Clarinet, then I really feel that the current E-flat Alto Clarinet should be renamed as the Tenor Clarinet (which is its old English name).

Usage

The G Clarinet can have several uses.  One, it can bolster or replace the lowest B-flat/A Clarinet parts.  I can also serve as an independent solo voice.  When a composer wants the darker sound of the A Clarinet, use the G instead.  There is minimal to no difference between the B-flat and the A, but there is a substantial difference between the B-flat and the G.

The added range to a sounding B2 gives a few extra notes that are not available to either the B-flat or the A.

Below are a few videos of myself fumbling around in my new Chinese-made G Clarinet.  These should not be taken as professional playing, but as a rough outline.  Note, I am still struggling with the instrument.

Mahler and the Bass Clarinet in A

The Symphonies of Gustav Mahler are some of the greatest pinnacles in the symphonic literature.  They are exquisitely orchestrated.  Mahler was one of the first composers to include long, detailed notes about performance practices in his scores.  As one of the preeminent conductors of his day, we know that he was intimately familiar with every aspect of the orchestra and its instruments.

For clarinetists, the symphonies of Mahler offer some of the biggest challenges in the entire literature.   Continue reading “Mahler and the Bass Clarinet in A”