The British clarinet school: legacy and legend

Lawson, C. (2011) The British clarinet school: legacy and legend. In: International Symposium on Performance Science 2011, 24-27 August 2011, Canada.


At the beginning of the 21st century, music surrounds us on a daily basis. Instant access to recordings and immediate comparisons of performances worldwide have become an integral part of our lives. Yet arguably there has been a heavy price to pay. In Mozart's day, major European cities such as Vienna and Prague boasted distinctive musical personalities; nowadays, even such a hitherto distinctive ensemble as the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra has assumed an international aura, with a less identifiable corporate sound. Opportunities provided by air travel have further encouraged such a process. Early recordings provide valuable evidence of what has been lost in terms of individuality and national styles, and these have increasingly been the subject of detailed research. A useful case study is provided by the British clarinet school. "The Clarinet has long been considered by the whole Musical Profession as the most beautiful of wind instruments," remarked the great English clarinetist Thomas Willman in 1826 (p.1). "That king of the reed instruments, the clarinet...," wrote his successor Henry Lazarus in 1881 (preface, p.1). Since 1900 or so there has been aural evidence for these assertions. As one of Mozart's contemporaries put it, some musical subtleties cannot really be described - they must be heard.

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