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Pearson, Ingrid Elizabeth

Clarinet Embouchure in Theory and Practice: The Forgotten Art of Reed-Above

Ph.D. University of Sheffield, 2001

This thesis examines clarinet embouchure during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Developed in Johann Christoph Denner's workshop at the end of the seventeenth century, the clarinet was played with the reed under the upper lip, reed-above[1], almost exclusively for the first sixty or so years of its existence. Players from the Hapsburg empire were the first to adopt the now universal practice of placing the reed on the lower lip, reed-below.[2] Champions of the reed-below embouchure, such as François-Joseph Fétis, indicated a shift away from technical flamboyance towards an appreciation of sonority and timbre. By the mid-nineteenth century, reed-above clarinettists were found only in certain parts of Italy; Milan in the north, and Naples in the south, where the technique became known as la scuola Napoletana.[3]

This study is divided into three sections: 1) documentary sources, 2) organological specimens and iconographical works and 3) music. Part One consists of three chapters examining eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century primary and secondary source materials. The first two chapters of Part Two discuss extant chalumeaux and two- to fourteen-keyed clarinets. A third chapter examines eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of art which depict the clarinet. Part Three investigates music by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reed-above virtuosos from Germany, France and Italy, and a selection of contemporary works by non-clarinettist composers. Three appendices provide photographs of organological specimens, reproductions of iconographical sources and musical examples. Material discussed here for the first time includes documents and music of Italian origin as well as several iconographical sources.

Until its decline during the nineteenth century, the reed-above embouchure was certainly the more prevalent, particularly amongst non-Teutonic players. Extant clarinets imply the use of the reed-above embouchure with less progressive models. Although no single style of reed-above composition exists, certain works indicate a high level of articulatory dexterity amongst such players.


[1] For a description of various terms adopted by previous writers to describe reed-position, see Albert R. Rice, A History of the Clarinet to 1820, Ph.D. Claremont Graduate School, 1987, pp. 108-9.

[2] See David Charlton, 'Classical clarinet technique: documentary approaches', Early Music 16/3 (1988), pp. 396-406.

[3] Rey M. Longyear, 'Clarinet Sonorities in Early Romantic Music', The Musical Times 124 (1983). p. 225.