Instructions for the clarinet: an illumination of musical taste in Georgian London

Pearson, I. E. and Rice, A. R. (2024) Instructions for the clarinet: an illumination of musical taste in Georgian London. Ad Parnassum: A Journal of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Instrumental Music, 22 (43) ISSN 1722-3954 (print) 2421-6933 (online) (In Press)


The authors interrogate ten complete English-language clarinet tutors published in London between c. 1772 and c. 1803. As the largest collection of documentary sources pertaining to the clarinet printed at that time these sources reveal aspects of musical life in Georgian London. In stark contrast to more well-known Continental publications, they offer few details pertaining to the instrument and its performing practices, and only one is attributed to named individual. None the less, they allow us to trace the clarinet’s increasing popularity amidst a recognition of its musical versatility and the independence of a distinctive English design of instrument with five-keys. Issued to expedite the financial interests of publishers above those of composers and authors, the immense value of these English sources lies in the prevalence and breadth of music they contain. We examine how this repertoire confirms the popularity of music composed for the stage, the propensity for borrowing and authorial fluidity as well as modes of genre transformation undertaken by individual pieces which traversed time and geographical locations. The prevalence of authorial anonymity in late 18th-century London contrasts the priority and value with which we currently afford originality. An interrelationship between these ten sources manifests a process of updating, or modernisation facilitated by the available technology. Iconographical evidence allows us to assert that amongst the publications’ intended clientele were both gentlemen amateurs and musicians associated with a military band who wished to enhance their practical musical skills through attaining competence on the clarinet. Acknowledging the hybridity of these sources allows them to reveal much beyond their primary intention to capitalise on an increasing demand for printed music. The historiography of eighteenth and early nineteenth century music becomes richer and more representative when we recognise the diversity amidst extant source materials.

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