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The Clarinet Choir

“If only we had clarinets!“

„Ach, wenn wir nur Clarinetti hätten!“

W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Friedrich K. Pfatschbacher

The Clarinet Choir

A special form of Ensemble conquers the world‘s concert platforms

© 2017 Friedrich K. Pfatschbacher

Cover design and illustration: Friedrich Pfatschbacher

Editor: Friedrich Pfatschbacher

Translation: Nicholas Cox

Publisher: tredition, Hamburg, Germany

ISBN Paperback: 978-3-7439-7412-8

ISBN Hardcover: 978-3-7439-7413-5

ISBN eBook: 978-3-7439-7414-2


Foreword to the first edition

Foreword to the second edition


1 The Clarinet Choir

1.1 The Development of the Clarinet Choir

1.2 Early Clarinet Choirs in the USA

1.3 The Balanced Clarinet Choir Movement in the USA

1.4 The Clarinet Choir in the 21st Century

1.5 Clarinet Choir Development since 2005

2 The Stylistic Development of Works for Clarinet Choir

2.1 Instrumentation, Scoring and Tonal Options

3 Context of Historical Genres

3.1 Does the Clarinet Choir constitute a Genre?

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

6 Repertoire Lists

6.1 Combined Repertoire List

6.2 Works with Clarinet Choir Accompaniment

6.3 Discography

Foreword to the first edition

Since the end of my musical studies in 1990, I have gained considerable experience both as a teacher at the Music School in Mautern and as a clarinettist in a wide range of different chamber music groups. The person who first inspired me to investigate the subject of this work was Prof Dr Wolfgang Suppan. His encouragement coupled with regular musical activity with my own Clarinet Ensemble led me to the decision to write about Clarinet Choirs. Initially, I had intended to tackle the entire repertoire from Duos up to the Clarinet Choir, but very soon I realised the repertoire of Clarinet Duos, Trios, Quartets and Quintets was so enormous, that I decided to limit the scope of the study to the Clarinet Choir itself.

I am particularly indebted to Prof Dr Wolfgang Suppan for his support and encouragement. He assumed the academic supervision in 1999. I would also like to thank my second supervisor Prof Dr Peter Revers for his constructive criticism. I am most grateful to the countless American universities who fielded my enquiries and enabled me to access a large amount of unpublished material. I am also very grateful to my family who have put up with so much!

Friedrich Pfatschbacher

Carinthia/Austria, December 2017

Foreword to the second edition

I am very pleased to present a new edition of this book first published in 2005. I have taken the opportunity to include various suggestions and developments in the last ten years. Many new clarinet choirs have been established around the world during this time both in the cultural sector and as training ensembles. This last fact should not however detract from the fact that the clarinet choir as a medium is generally becoming more popular and is emerging as a permanent feature of the concert life in many countries.

In the course of giving concerts at home and abroad with my own ensemble, the Austrian Clarinet Choir, I have had the opportunity of getting to know many new arrangements and original works, gaining new inspiration and learning to appreciate the rich possibilities the Clarinet Choir offers.

These days, its tonal palette is not only evident to us connoisseurs. In recent times, the public has started to appreciate the scoring of this unique ensemble ranging from the now well-known E flat clarinet down to the Contrabass Clarinet. While I have seen increased interest in the genre in the course of delivering lectures on the subject in Europe, the USA and South America, it has become apparent that there is hardly any literature on the subject, so it was obviously important to me to have the book translated into English and Spanish and to include as much new information and additional research as I could.

My only hope is that many of you will enjoy this new edition and that it will encourage the establishment of many more clarinet choirs throughout the world.


It was only in the last 30 years of the 18th Century that the clarinet attained its permanent position among the family of orchestral instruments. Even after its introduction, clarinet parts were played by oboists in many cases. However the new instrument soon found the wind players necessary to assume its rightful place and bring it to perfection, so that the clarinet's merits and tonal characteristics were quickly recognised. In the realm of military music, the place of the oboe was gradually supplanted by the clarinet. When the Paris Conservatoire was founded in 1795, twelve clarinet teachers were appointed to teach 104 clarinet students. Most of the musicians educated in Paris and elsewhere found posts in military music. Individual wind bands generally consisted of up to 20 clarinettists. According to an English statistic, there were 55,000 clarinettists employed in the regular armies in Europe around this time.1

The clarinet’s predominance in the period 1770-1830 was achieved as a result of its use as a solo and virtuoso instrument. Then from 1830 onwards, the instrument is mainly encountered in the orchestra and had attained equal status with other instruments. But this ‘coming of age’ only became apparent after the clarinet's many other merits and tonal possibilities had eclipsed and replaced its rather limited use as a trumpet-like instrument.

Whenever the Clarinet Choir is written about or discussed, the most common observation concerns the limited number of compositions. While this reservation may well be justified, as the extensive repertoire for Clarinet Quartet (3 B flat clarinets and a Bass Clarinet) and Quintet (3 B flat clarinets, Alto and Bass Clarinet) can easily eclipse that of the Clarinet Choir, it was only in the 1920s that the Clarinet Choir itself really emerged in the USA, where its first proper repertoire originated. Even in Europe, it is only since the 1980s that we have been able to observe an increase in the number of new compositions.

In the study of sources, the International Clarinet Association (ICA) Research Center2 at the University of Maryland, USA deserves a special mention. This library's help was irreplaceable.

Clarinet Choir - News International a trade journal edited by Norman Heim was a true treasure trove of original compositions and arrangements. This trade magazine (of which only seven editions ever appeared)3 is an important source particularly of contemporary content. Articles that appeared mainly in the magazine The Instrumentalist were also very useful.

In the study of sources, the Simeon Bellison Archive at the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance4 in Jerusalem also deserves a special mention. Bellison was one of the pioneers to address the Clarinet Choir seriously. Furthermore, he directed the Simeon Bellison Clarinet Ensemble from 1927 – 1938, one of the most enterprising and important Clarinet Choirs active in the USA before 1940. Bellison arranged and composed all of the works for his Choir himself.

Translator’s Note

In translating the German word ‘Orchester’, I have generally added the word [wind] to clarify instances where the writer is specifically referring to ‘wind orchestras’. Where symphony orchestras are implied I have made this clear in the text.

Nicholas Cox

1The Clarinet Choir

1.1Development of the Clarinet Choir

The Clarinet Choir’s development should be viewed within the broader context of the large clarinet sections in military bands and professional orchestras in Europe, as well as in college and high school bands in the USA. Compositions for Clarinet Choir need to be understood within the narrow context of the clarinet choir’s history and its status at that time.

‘Harmonie music’ emerged in the transitional period from the Baroque to the Viennese Classical when the Baroque Orchestra’s complete wind section formed itself into its own ensemble, specifically called the ‘Harmonie’.The Viennese royal court laid aside the ceremonial pomp of the Spanish royal household adopted by Maria Theresa. Under Joseph II, in place of the Court Orchestra, the ‘Royal Chamber Harmonie’ appeared, an ensemble of 2 oboes, 2 horns and 2 bassoons, later including 2 clarinets. This group performed a repertoire of original pieces and arrangements and was to become the fashionable ensemble of the day providing entertainment for, as well as representing the aristocracy of central Europe in the last two decades of the 18th Century.5

Initially, we encounter this development in the classical Harmonie Music from the second half of the 18th Century. Composed in 1781/82, Mozart’s Serenade in B flat KV 370a (KV 360 Gran Partita) was written for an ensemble of 13 instruments (not 13 Wind Instruments as is commonly claimed) comprising 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 4 horns and Double Bass (Movements: Largo–Molto Allegro, Menuetto, Menuetto, Romanze, Thema und Variationen, Finale). With this work Mozart‘s output of wind music unquestionably reached its apogee.

In the immediate context of the French Revolution, the Concertante Wind Orchestra grew out of the connection between military field music, Harmonie Music and Turkish music. This was marked by a variable ‘choral‘ scoring of woodwind and brass instruments with the addition of a percussion group.6

The scoring of the Garde Nationale Wind Orchestra led by Bernard Sarrette was to become the model of the future military and civil type of wind orchestra. Together with the members of his orchestra, Sarrette founded a music school in 1792. This was renamed the Institut National de Musique three years later and then promoted to become the Paris Conservatoire in 1795. At the same time a new type of democratic music school was also established – with pedagogical material produced by teachers which determined the didactics of future teaching based on so called Vocal and Instrumental Methods (which were also designed for private study).7

The close relationship established by leading composers and artists with the politicians at this time had made possible the re-organization of the Institute into a more disciplined and permanent institution under the name known today: the Conservatory of Music.8

In Germany, the Royal Prussian Guard‘s Music Director Wilhelm Wieprecht initiated important changes in the area of military music. In the 1830s, Wieprecht and the Austrian Army Kapellmeister Andreas Leonhard helped to develop valved brass instruments in the tenor baritone and bass registers (Tuba and Bombardon). In the first half of the 19th Century, Wieprecht organised the first international meeting of wind orchestras. At a large contest of military music in Paris in 1867, wind orchestras from France (2), Austria, Prussia, Belgium, Spain, Russia, Holland, Baden and Bavaria took part. Wieprecht‘s wind orchestra then comprised 85 members. Of the 43 wind players, half of them were clarinettists with the following instruments: 1 A flat clarinet, 4 E flat or F clarinets, 16 B flat clarinets (8 1sts and 8 2nds).9

It is revealing that Alto and Bass Clarinet are not regular member of the German band.

Table 1 : Military Band of the Royal Prussian Guard Scoring


In English wind orchestras at the beginning of the 19th Century, use of the lower clarinets was already commonplace. In his band of 57 musicians, Sir Daniel Godfrey, a graduate of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, regularly scored for 20 clarinets. The Clarinet section comprised 4 E flat clarinets, 14 B flat clarinets, 1 E flat Alto Clarinet and 1 Bass Clarinet.10

But available sources are less revealing about any standard wind orchestra scoring in the 19th Century:

Band instrumentation in the nineteenth century was in a state of flux. The size of the bands depended on many variable factors, including official regulations, the depth of the officers` or noblemen’s purses, availability of musicians, current fashion, and governmental funding. Bandmaster, especially in the amateur groups, had great freedom and were expected to make arrangements for their own instrumentation.11

Even by the early 1920s, it is still not possible to talk about a standard scoring. This is evident from the Ensemble list of the Kneller Hall Band under John Arthur Cowgill Sommerville (1872-1955).12 Even here there is no scoring for lower clarinets:13

Table 2: Kneller Hall Band Scoring List

Flutes and Piccolos 10
Oboes 6
E-Flat Clarinets 7
Solo B-flat Clarinets 13
Ripieno Clarinets 7
2nd B-Flat Clarinets 12
3rd B-Flat Clarinets 10
E-flat Alto Saxophones 4
B-Flat Tenor Saxophones 4
1st Bassoons 7
2nd Bassoons 5
1st Horns 6
2nd Horns 6
3rd Horns 5
4th Horns 4
1st B-Flat Cornets 14
2nd B-Flat Cornets 10
1st Trombones 7
2nd Trombones 6
Bass Trombones 1
Euphoniums 12
Basses 12
Tympani 2
Total 165

Gustave Holst’s Second Suite was also premiered in this scoring in 1922:

This was the size of the Kneller Hall Band that gave the premiere performance of Holst´s Second Suite in F for Military Band, Op. 28, No. 2, at Albert Hall on 30 June 1922.14

And without Alto and Bass Clarinets, the Saxophones assumed more responsibility.

Alto and bass clarinets were eliminated from standard instrumentation as was the B-flat baritone horn. This added a greater amount of responsibility to the saxophones, which were then relative newcomers to the military band.15

In the USA in the early 19th Century, the scoring for [military] orchestras [bands] generally only included brass instruments. E flat and B flat Soprano Clarinets were gradually added from about 1830. A recognised scoring with an exact number of clarinet parts wasn’t yet standard practice, even though the clarinet parts were increasingly important.16 One of the first bands which used clarinets independently was the United States Marine Band. The scoring of this band in 1856 comprised 2 E flat Soprano and 4 separate B Flat Soprano clarinet parts.

The expanded use of the soprano clarinets and the introduction and development of the complete clarinet family in ...

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