Brymer Burns ?

Celebrated English clarinetist Jack Brymer was not one to mince his words. While reading his book Clarinet, I’ve noted some of my favorite subtle critiques he offers, which I’ve dubbed “Brymer Burns.”


On the Bernstein Sonata: Possibly better to play than to hear, but makes its mark with audiences.

On the Brahms sonatas: Little needs to be said about these two masterpieces except that they do belong to the clarinet and not to the viola.

On the Antony Garlic Sonata for E flat clarinet: Modern, not difficult, and (dare one say?) highly flavoured.

On the Saint-Saens Sonata. Slow movement is weak.

On the Templeton Pocket Sized Sonatas: Should not be attempted without a proper knowledge of the idiom; otherwise it is embarrassing.

On the Carl Baermann Concerto Militaire: Not to be confused with his father Heinrich, whose melodic gifts were superior.

On the Francaix Concerto: A work for the future, possibly, when the instrument has developed further or the human hand has changed.

On the Hindemith Concerto: The orchestra must be kept at bay.

On the Kleinsinger Street Corner Concerto: As the title suggests, not a serious work.

On the Rossini Introduction, Theme and Variations: Brilliant. Probably not by Rossini.

On the Mozart Cassation: Not great Mozart, but good music.

On the Weber Introduction, Theme and Variations: The second work suffers from a surfeit of B flat major.

On wind quintets: A very short list of selected works. There is much rubbish in this medium.

On Reicha quintets: All well written, but best if taken in small doses.

On the Nielsen ‘Serenata in vano’: Pleasant music, and easy apart from the bass cadenza, which can lead to bathos.

On the Ravel Introduction and allegro: Really a harp concerto, but involving great intonation and ensemble problems for all.

On the Gounod Petite Symphonie: The parts are so badly arranged that two sets are needed.

Clarinets & Performers

On plastic reeds: The ‘feel’ is altogether different, so that although some players can produce a reasonable sound from the plastic reed, very few can enjoy the experience… A cynic might say that if a reed were required to trigger the H bomb, a perfect plastic product would be produced overnight by the millions of pounds or dollars lavished upon it. A still greater cynic would say that if this happened it would be such a perfect replica that among its other characteristics would be the cane reed’s lack of durability. Meanwhile the plastic reed remains one of fairly low potential for serious performance.

On lower lip position: This ‘squashiness’ is something which can be felt, and once felt it is not easily forgotten; but it must not be excessive because a tiring factor of this sort leads to headaches, fatigue, sore lips and general depression which are at any rate as serious in their artistic effects as the buzziness of the close facing, and much more distressing to the player himself.

On performers: Some of the greatest of them creep on and off like scared mice, trying their best to hide behind the music with which they are probably more familiar than almost anyone but the composer and giving the impression that this may not be the first recital they have ever given, but it is certainly the most difficult.

On clarinet recitals: Plainly there are times when it might be kinder to tell the assembled enthusiasts that they must ask for their money to be returned, and quietly creep away in to the night; for a clarinet recital, more than any other, can be rendered a travesty, a torment and an unmusical disaster…

On concert artists: Some of the world’s greatest concert personalities appear to be in agony most of the time, and several of them give the impression that they will strain themselves to death in a few years…

On vibrato: There are two additional types of vibrato – three, if one inclues the ‘nanny-goat’ dither of the intensity vibrato which is often give the blessing of extremely sophisticated clarinettists, but is clearly an abomination.

On vibrato, part two: It seems a shame that what is manifestly a useful addition to the armoury of expressive capabilities of the clarinet should have been the victim of the fact that it first appeared in an abused and somewhat sinister form.

On proper fundamentals: If things are impossible, is it correct for him to be fearlessly honest and just play out of tune when even his finger correction and his embouchure prove insufficient to take the strain? One may admire his courage, appreciate his integrity – but probably never forgive the suffering he is inflicting.

On mouthpiece mania: He is developing habits which become so much a part of his method of playing that he regards them as an essential part of his stock-in-trade, even as one of the fundamental reasons for his celebrity. The danger of the whole business of the Super-Mouthpiece is that he may try hard to hand on this tradition of approach and control to his pupils; he may supply them with the sort of mouthpiece he thinks they need (a copy of the Master) and so he may spread what can at best be described only as an addiction. Most pathetic is his condition when his addiction is far advanced, because then only one of two things can possibly happen. Either his mouthpiece becomes so worn as to be useless even to him, or it is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair. It is then he enters an underworld of torment, peopled by a multitude of new, glossy mouthpieces, good, bad and indifferent – but all utterly useless to him. The best one can then hope is that he has taken the precaution some time before to have a careful copy made of his late departed mouthpiece.  This is most unlikely to be an exact copy, since almost any mouthpiece maker will flinch from the final distortions which would be necessary for this; but if it is reasonably close, there is a hope that he may be able to recognise in it something he can bend to his will – if ever he can forget his lost love. Failing this, he is a Paolo looking for his Francesca in the wilds of Hades – lost forever. This is tragic – but from the point of view of the clarinet world, much less serious than what could happen if he could breed a whole new generation of false mouthpieces, spreading the dreaded disease from which he does not know he is suffering.

On the marvels of modern technology: …because often after the performer has played for a while in acute depression, he can scarcely believe the glossy and warm sound which greets him in the cubicle when his efforts are played back to him. This may give him cheer for the moment, but if he is to enjoy it for long he needs a very powerful imagination to translate mentally the starved and miserable sounds he hears himself producing into what he hopes they will be when polished and coloured by modern acoustic electronic magic. …he is unlikely to achieve anything like a thoughtful or balanced performance, from an emotional standpoint.

Leave a comment below with your favorite subtle (or not-so-subtle) burns used in clarinet literature!




  • Robert Monie

    Here’s my burn: Some players claim they “studied with” a long list of stellar performers when they actually did a 10 minute master class with or took one or two lessons with them.

    And my counter-burn to Brymer’s notion that “buzziness” results from a “close facing” (in his lower lip position remarks): Really?! Close facings result in a buzzy tone? So for the many years that Ricardo Morales played on a mouthpiece with a close facing of 0.99 mm, under a millimeter (a MoBa C), he had a “buzzy” tone??? If so, I’ll take that kind of buzzy tone any day!

    • jennymaclay

      Nice burn! And it’s interesting to read about different sound concepts from players of all nationalities – it’s such a subjective topic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.