American early clarinetist Erich Hoeprich is recognized today as a champion of his instrument. He is also known as the leader of the wind ensemble Nachtmusique. In a recent interview, Eric told us how the group came to be formed:
"Nachtmusique started in the late eighties, not long after a tour of the wind section from the Orchestra of the Eighteenth century. We performed the Grand Partita throughout Europe and toured in Australia and [then] recorded it. [It was] a big project, and after that it occurred to some of us that it would be fun to do this more regularly, and I thought a sextet of just clarinets, bassoons, and horns would be small enough to be practical and to be able to tour with easily and inexpensively. And, of course, there's wonderful repertoire for it. That's basically how the group started, out of that larger organization."
The music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has become central to Nachtmusique's repertoire. This is mostly due to the amount of music left to us either originally by Mozart or in arrangement by contemporaries. The peak of his music for winds is known as the "Grand Partita." Eric explains the work's importance:
"The Grand Partita, as it's so called, actually it wasn't Mozart's name [because] he probably would have called it a serenade. In fact the manuscript has no title on it at all, other than "Gran Partita," which was written in a hand other than Mozart's. [The] work was commissioned by Anton Stadler in 1784, it is thought, because part of it was performed in a public concert then. Exactly when Mozart wrote the other movements isn't known, but it does seem clear that he wrote it as one large piece. Maybe they just didn't have time that day to perform all of the movements. It was advertised in the Wiener Zeitung as a work of a very special kind, which indeed it is, because, as Mozart's wont, he took a genre that was actually quite normal at the time called harmoniemusik (which would generally have been pairs of winds from a sextet or an octet formation). He increased these forces, and made it into kind of a super-harmoniemusik. It's a remarkable piece. He took the usual types of movements that you'd have in any piece of harmoniemusik and filled [them] with his genius. Probably the most famous movement of all in the work is the Adagio, and, as described by Salieri in the movie Amadeus, 'the winds have an ostinato bass that sounds like a squeezebox and over that floats an almost unbelieveably beautiful solo for oboe, taken up by the clarinet, taken up by the basset horn.' I was quite excited, actually, when I saw that film for the first time because, I thought, this must be the very first time anyone has ever said the word basset horn in a film of any sort."
For the past decade, Eric has devoted part of his life to writing a book on the history of the clarinet for Yale University Press. He explains how this commission came about:
"A lot of people in my generation migrated at some point to the Hague to study our particular instruments and our particular part of early music. There was a very exciting period in the late 70s and early 80s when people from all over the world were converging on Hague. It was a very exciting time. Among them was am English flute player named Ardal Powell, who I got to know. He had an opportunity to do a translation of Tromlitz' flute treatise. And I think that gave him a certain profile as a musicologist, and as a result he was invited to contribute to the new Yale University Press series on musical instruments. His book on the flute was one of the first that came out. He suggested to them that I might be a candidate for the clarinet book, which was very nice of him, and they asked me if I thought I could make that kind of commitment and I, maybe foolishly at the time, said yes. I thought I could do it in a couple of years and it actually took ten. It was a fascinating [decade]. I learned a lot and I'm pleased with the result."
Later in the show, Eric summed up his writing experience and a discovery, or two:
"I think anyone who writes an academic book would agree with me when I say that it's an amazing learning process. It's inevitable that you'll discover things when you put different types of information side by side or read things you hadn't read before and maybe you thought you'd read before. That was one of the huge pleasures of undertaking this project. One thing that I was quite interested in previously was the question of where the reed on the clarinet would have been placed in the 18th century. We're of course used to having the reed placed against the lower lip but by far the majority of clarinet players in the 18th century, and well into the 19th century played with the reed against the upper lip, which seems strange to us now because you can't reach the reed with the tongue and you can't articulate very clearly. And it must have had other problems because eventually people did switch. And there were big campaigns to do this. There was letter writing. There were bits in the treatises well into the second half of the 19th century saying "you've really got to stop playing with the reed on the top, because these are the advantages..." and so on and so [forth]. It was interesting to trace... there were still players in remote parts of Spain and Italy [in] the 20th century [that still] played with the reed on the top. So, it never really died out."
Our new release of the week features J.S. Bach's Art of the Fugue. Bradley Brookshire is the harpsichord soloist.
Here's a video of Eric Hoeprich and his ensemble The Stadler Trio performing a Mozart divertimento for three basset horns:
Here's a video of Eric Hoeprich as clarinet soloist performing the second movement from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with the Koelner Akademie (Michael alexander Willens, dir.):