excerpt from 'Beginnings and Endings' pp. 23-26 (611 words)

excerpt from 'Beginnings and Endings' pp. 23-26 (611 words)

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Beginnings and Endings

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There is a well-known work by Schumann which exemplifies this continuity of experience over the years - his Op 73 Phantasiestücke, three beautifully contrasted pieces which are known to every clarinettist but not really performed as often as they ought to be in recitals. The reason is that they are exhausting rather than difficult, and not really technically showy... My earliest memory of these is a mixture of triumph and doubt as to who I could possibly have played them at all at the time. I was again, at the age of thirteen, faced with the dilemma of a choice of high or low pitch... but one night I saw in the local paper that entrants for the North of England Musical Festival were invited....The Schumann pieces were the clarinet test-piece, and were completely unknown to me; but the local library had a battered clarinet copy, minus its piano accompaniment - and who cared about a few notes on the piano? It happened that this particular piano part contains some of the finest of all Schumann's piano writing, but that merely came as a delightful surprise to me when I first heard it at the competition itself. It was such a lovely support to the sound of the clarinet, and made it all easier, especially played as it was by a promising and quite famous young pianist called Ernest Lush, who accompanied us all with charm and ease. The one trouble with the library copy was that it was clearly marked 'Clarinette in La'... I did not, of course, possess such an instrument. But wait a bit - wasn't Black Beauty such a clarinet, albeit in high pitch, before its trip to the woodwork room for its operation and rehabilitation? And the brochure did say one could choose to play with a high- or low-pitched piano. It might just work; so back to the woodwork lathe we went... and the thing became a high-pitched A clarinet once more, pretty imperfect but playable and good enough to fool most people. Not everyone, though, because the adjudicator at the Festival was Charles Woodhouse, and he really had an ear for that sort of thing. He needed it, because in addition to being a violinist of the necessary skills to lead the Proms for Henry Wood for many years, he did much rehearsing for 'Timber' when the pressure got too much for even that fantastic workman of a conductor. ... After I played, his opening remark was simple and direct. It I wanted to get anywhere on the clarinet - if I had any professional future at all - I must get myself a decent clarinet, and that right soon. As I had no intention of ever entering the world of music at all, I never even considered this as a possibility.... So I just kept on playing my Black Beauty for eight years more... Charles Woodhouse was quite kind in his other remarks, happily, and presented me with a little oval silver trophy and the custody of the magnificent Brackenbury Trophy, a handsome silver cup, for a year.... Another service Woodhouse did for me was to arrange for me to attend the BBC studio the next day and play my Schumann again in what was the 'Children's Hour'. The incredible fact is that once more there was nothing difficult in all this' got a very positive enjoyment from both my competition and broadcast performance, because for the first time I heard the missing piano part, and it is not only superb writing, but gives a really restful sense of support to the solo line, especially as it was played then by Ernest Lush.

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excerpt from 'Beginnings and Endings' pp. 23-26 (611 words)


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