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Great Clarinets


Vox Humana
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Nineteenth-century English organs often had a Clarinet on the Great. The Father Willis I first learnt on had one and lots of others still survive. I suppose they are an evolution of the old Baroque Cremonas, but I have never understood the musical purpose of having a loud, unenclosed Clarinet. What exactly were they used for? Were they just for "giving out" psalm (and later hymn) tunes, or what?

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I find them curiously useful stops, especially on smaller organs around the 2 manual 10-20 stop mark. A common Victorian feature, as you say. They're quite different from the later, often capped, creamily smooth orchestral clarinets but that needn't confuse people. The things you can use them for:

  • Solo stop against the swell - very useful in psalms, choral accomp, etc.
  • Solo stops for baroque chorale preludes
  • Some attempt at French Classical music, which can be more or less successful, depending upon the organ
  • They also add to the great chorus as well, adding colour, brightness and energy, sometimes quite considerably and very successfully. Usually these organs will have a Clarinet but no Great mixture.
  • Quite often they turn into a passable trumpet with the addition of the 4' principal to fill in the missing harmonics - so you can use them for Baroque English trumpet voluntaries quite successfully - and possibly stuff like the Hollins Trumpet minuet and Lang Tuba tune!

I've come across Willises and Walkers with them and smaller local builders around here with them and invariably found them useful. Usually, they're a well-judged compromise to fulfill lots of roles.

 

From a technical point of view, they don't take up as much space as a Trumpet, which really needs 6-8 inches depth on the soundboard. So very handy on a smaller organ where there isn't quite space or the need for the power of a full-length trumpet. A combination of an Oboe on the swell and a great clarinet is usually very happy - this organ was a very successful example, with a typically fizzy little cremona on the great, sadly now in bits outside Odiham:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N12696

 

It was largely untouched - the voicing hadn't been touched as the later builders only ever cleaned it or did the bare minimum, due to lack of funds. The loss of this super little organ is a deep shame. So a clarinet is a really useful stop on the Great Organ of smaller organs. I'd be very happy to see them make a re-appearance on smaller schemes for new organs - which, indeed, you sometimes see.

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Guest Roffensis

Well typically they appeared on 2 deckers, as a sort of solo reed. I have never seen one on a 3 decker placed on the Great. They were also often named as "Clarionet" and I think they were probably included for flexibility and colour on a economic specification? I prefer them enclosed even so.

 

R

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Well typically they appeared on 2 deckers, as a sort of solo reed. I have never seen one on a 3 decker placed on the Great. They were also often named as "Clarionet" and I think they were probably included for flexibility and colour on a economic specification? I prefer them enclosed even so.

 

R

 

Yes, agreed.

 

Although there is a discernable quality about them when they're not enclosed......

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  • 3 months later...

I had a (second-hand) Corno di Bassetto added to the G.O. at Saint Aldhelm's, Branksome, at the rebuild by Lance Foy, in 1995-6. It was also available on the Swell, by means of the transfer 'Great Reeds on Swell' (which also enabled the Orchestral Trumpet and Orchestral Clarion to be played from this clavier). However, I feel that the Corno di Bassetto is perhaps the only slightly unsuccessful 'new' stop, since it had an odd and prominent 2ft. harmonic, rather than that 'woody' timbre one associates with examples of this type of stop by FHW. However, it did have its uses, particularly on the Pedal Organ, where it was borrowed at 4ft. pitch - specifically for the Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le thème du "Veni Creator", by Duruflé.

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