The clarinet is a versatile instrument. Originatingfrom the single-reed chalumeau, its name now adopted for the lower register ofthe modern clarinet, it was developed by the Nuremberg maker Johann ChristophDenner at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The change he or perhaps hisson Jacob made allowed the earlier instrument an upper register previouslyvir1ually denied it. The Denners made both chalumeaux and clarinets, the formerat first more proficient in their true register and the clarinet better aboveit. Fur1her technical changes continued during the century and in the yearsthat followed, with extensions of the range of the instrument and with theaddition of keys that facilitated its use.
The clarinet only gradually found a place in theorchestra, where it was at first sometimes only an optional alternative to theoboe. Mozar1, through his friendship with the clarinettist Anton Stadler, wrotetellingly for the instrument, or rather for the so-called basset-clarinet, withits extended lower range, that Stadler had invented. The Stadler brothers werethe first clarinettists to be employed, in 1787, in the Vienna Cour1 Orchestra,while Haydn first used the instrument in a symphony in 1794, when he waswriting for Salomon's orchestra in London. The new century brought clarinet vir1uosi of a highorder, reflected in the concer1os for the instrument by Weber and by Spohr,with technical improvements answering the musical challenges proposed by thesecomposers and their successors.
In the twentieth century the clarinet has assumed anadditional identity, typified by the inspired opening of George Gershwin's Rhapsodyin Blue, a jazz glissando suggested by Paul Whiteman's clarinettist RossGorman. The clarinet and that other single-reed instrument, the saxophone, havea strong association with jazz and, in consequence, in the work by othercomposers that has reflected jazz practice in one way or another. The sound ofthe clarinet remains thoroughly distinctive, with its rich lower register, itsflute-like upper register and its fur1her, experimental possibilities.
The Budapest Clarinet Quintet, led by Bela Kovacs,makes additional use of the basset-horn, with its extended lower range, and ofthe bass-clarinet, pitched an octave lower than the normal B flat instrumentand developed in the nineteenth century by Adolphe Sax, eponymous inventor ofthe saxophone. This gives the quintet a wide range and with the versatility ofthe instrument allows a very varied reperloire of arrangements.
The present release includes music from Mozart toScott Joplin, most of it very familiar, in one form or another. While the MozartRomance is arranged from a work for other instruments, the Menuett fromBeethoven's popular Septet made use of the clarinet in its originalscoring. Historically the three Songs without Words by Mendelssohn andSchumann's Traumerei (Dreaming) belong to the next generation, all fourworks originally for piano. Mendelssohn's title for these pieces, now veryfamiliar, was unusual in its day: songs, after all, were settings of words, sothat one could not properly exist without the other. The short piano piecesunder this title, however, have all the qualities of songs in their form andconcept, lacking only verbal elements. Words were important for RobertSchumann, whose short pieces often have a literary inspiration.
Musical nationalism, which developed even more rapidlywith the political movements of the mid-nineteenth century, is echoed in thework of the Russian naval-officer-turned-composer Rimsky-Korsakov. His Flightof the Bumble-Bee has appeared in arrangement after arrangement, but hasits original place in the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, where the hero,in the guise of a bee, deals very properly with his wicked aunts. Antonrn Dvofakis the epitome of Czech nationalism, although his well known Humoresque seems,through its familiarity, to have no specifically Bohemian connection. The workof the Spanish pianist-composer Isaac Albeniz, however, and in particular themusic he wrote for the piano, often breathes the very spirit of Spain.
The spirit of nineteenth century Vienna ispreserved in the rich repertoire of waltzes, quadrilles, marches and polkasfrom the Strauss family. The dynasty began with the older Johann Strauss andcontinued with his three sons, of which the eldest, Johann, and the second,Josef, wrote together the famous Pizzicato Polka.
France at theturn of the century found its genius in Claude Debussy, followed,chronologically at least, by his younger contemporary Maurice Ravel. Debussy's Thelittle Negro, with its syncopations and changes of mood from the cheerful tothe gently meditative, is characteristic of the composer's piano writing, whileRavel's Pavane pour une Infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Infanta), itstitle apparently an afterthought, is an example of the composer's work inneo-classical style, evoking a world that has passed in its use of thetraditional dance-form. Both pieces were originally written for the piano.
Inevitably the clarinet must turn for a moment to therepertoire emanating from America, here represented by Scott Joplin and Erroll Garnerin characteristic pieces from North America, while Latin Americais heard in The Girl from Ipanema by the Brazilian composer CarlosAntonio Jobim. Equally inevitably a group of players from Hungary might beexpected to include music by that most essentially Hungarian of composers, ZoltanKodaly, whose wordless Epigrams form part of a programme that also findsa place for a piece by the Hungarian composer Le6 Weiner and ends with thatmost Hungarian of dances, the Csardas, here borrowed for Paris by theItalian-born violinist-composer Vittorio Monti.