1. Gervase de Peyer's Boosey & Hawkes instruments
For many years, Gervase played a pair of 1930s 1010s with an ebonite barrel. He was clearly using them throughout his prime, until at least 1968, when he recorded the Brahms Sonatas with Daniel Barenboim, the Bb instrument being pictured on the LP cover. After his passing, I asked Katia de Peyer about them. She was not sure but thinks that they might have gone to Geoffrey Acton. Sadly, we will never know. It would have been interesting to try them.
When my wife Joanna and I collected Gervase's instruments from Katia in April 2017, they all needed some degree of restoration and we concentrated on the Eaton clarinets initially. It was not until three years later, in March 2020, that I gave further thought to the B&H clarinets. There are two B-flat 1010s, an A 1010 and an Imperial E-flat. Margaret Birley, Keeper of the Musical Instrument collection at the Horniman Museum, has confirmed the dates of manufacture of all the B&H instruments mentioned in this piece.
B-flat Symphony 1010 serial number 293777 (finished in late 1967 or early 1968)
When we opened the case, we were horrified. The keywork had suffered badly, as had the wood. It was a very sorry sight indeed. I formed an impression that after Gervase played his last concert on it, probably around March 1985, he threw it back into the case, still damp from the performance, and never opened the case again. My first reaction was that it was not worth renovating, as the costs would be disproportionate to the value of the instrument, even considering the provenance. However, earlier this year, when we started to consider the B&H instruments, I managed to get it into playable order so that I could test it. I was immediately struck by its resonance. This is probably the finest 1010 I have ever played and certainly the finest Acton vent model I have played: a truly stunning instrument. I hope you will forgive the inevitable prejudice, but it compares favourably with our own Eaton clarinets, though a little lighter and brighter in sound. There are some inevitable 1010 tuning and evenness problems, though considerably fewer than on many 1010s. Some tone holes have had extensive undercutting after it was made, others having large amounts of wax added. These adjustments go far beyond anything applied to standard 1010s. I suspect that Gervase made numerous trips to the factory for adjustments, but it was clearly worth it for this result: this is an exceptionally fine example of the model and a truly unique one. The keywork has the usual de Peyer modifications, for example an extended left-hand E/B lever and a shortened, slightly twisted break A key.
I am certain that Gervase used this for his renowned 1982 recordings for the Chandos label. Incidentally, those recordings were not published until 1987, by which time he had changed to Eaton clarinets, so the instruments pictured with Gervase on the CD covers are all Eaton. Knowing that these recordings were made on this exceptional 1010, I am very happy for people to believe that they were recorded on ours! It has been fully renovated by my colleague and friend Graham Pinder and now looks splendid, almost as new, and as resonant as ever of course.
When I mentioned my feelings about this instrument to Katia, she felt that she would like to keep it, as a souvenir of her husband, perhaps parting with some of the others. It is very easy to sympathise with this of course, but I hope that she will allow me to hold on to it in the shorter term, so that some enthusiastic 1010 players will have the opportunity to try it.
Symphony 1010 in B-flat 456268 and Symphony 1010 in A 466181 (both finished in 1976)
These much later instruments have none of Gervase's keywork adjustments and none of the special undercutting and tuning that was applied to 293777. They have had little use. I assume that he used the A for the Chandos recordings that required an A unless his pre-war A was still available. This pair are very disappointing, rather dismal I’m afraid, especially in comparison to the earlier instrument. It is easy to understand why he never changed to this B-flat.
In 1963, Geoffrey Acton introduced some significant improvements to the 1950s 1010s and my first pair were of this vintage. I was delighted with them and told Geoffrey so when I visited him at his home in Framlingham, with Colin Bradbury, in February 2001. His first vent mechanism was added to the 1963 model in 1965. In 1967, the design of the vent mechanism was improved, and other significant developments were added, including a lowering of the break hole positions and the introduction of integral wooden bushes rather than ebonite inserts for the ring tone holes. The lowering of the break holes was particularly important, though not for the reasons that Geoffrey spoke about when I met him at the Edgware factory in August 1966. (I could expand on this point on another occasion). Tony Ward designed the vent mechanism, though I'm not sure if it was the first one, the second one or perhaps both. Tony told me that B&H gave him a £5 note for all his work and that he still has the letter to prove it.
2. Roy Jowitt's Boosey & Hawkes instruments
Firstly, Imperial 926 A clarinet serial number 120155 marked as made by Rudall Carte.
This was initially purchased by the great English player Reginald Kell on behalf of his young student Roy Jowitt at the Royal Academy of Music, in 1956. It was intended to be played with a 926-model mouthpiece, which has a large conical bore. Since Roy always used a B&H model 1010 as his B-flat clarinet, he would have played this A with a 1010 bore mouthpiece, with its very large cylindrical bore. This works satisfactorily, although the twelfths at the top end of the tube, for example E/B and F/C would be wider than ideal but a gifted player like Roy would have had no problems in coping with that. Roy was always extremely proud that Kell chose this instrument for him, but the document that Roy's son Mark obtained from the Horniman Museum in November 2019, proves that Kell simply purchased it for Roy and did not choose it from a batch of such instruments. Kell would have had a commission from B&H for this purchase. The Imperial 926 model requires a longer barrel than would be used on a 1010 and a barrel of appropriate length sits with the instrument. I can only assume that Roy moved just the mouthpiece, rather than mouthpiece and barrel, when changing from B-flat to A, because the barrel lengths are so different, though I never discussed that with him. This would have been Roy's A clarinet from the age of 18 until he changed to an Eaton A in April 1985.
Secondly, Symphony 1010 B-flat clarinet 458240.
Roy bought this instrument in 1976 when he was principal clarinettist with the London Symphony Orchestra. It is a standard 1010 of that period, complete with Acton vent mechanism. Roy played this until he changed to his first Eaton B-flat clarinet in July 1983. This is a fine 1010, though not in quite the same league as Gervase's favourite B-flat 293777.
I have no knowledge of the B-flat clarinet that he used before this one. I helped to sell this set of B&H instruments to Roy’s enthusiastic Spanish pupil José Antonio Millán García in early 2020, on behalf of Roy's son Mark.
3. Roy Jowitt's first Peter Eaton/Ward & Winterbourn B-flat
Roy's first Eaton B-flat, serial number 06, was from the very first batch of six instruments made to my exact specifications by Derek Winterbourn, of Ward & Winterbourn, in 1983. When Roy purchased his second Bb, paired with an A, in March 1985, I sold this Bb to local clarinet teacher Audrey Podmore, on behalf of Roy. Many years ago, without any prompting from me, she bought an Elite bell for it. She was in contact recently for a long overdue overhaul of the instrument but that was at the very beginning of this awful lockdown and so she will get in touch again later. It will be interesting to play it again and compare it with others.
I first started producing clarinets in conjunction with my good friends Tony Ward and Derek Winterbourn in 1982. I gave them the exact specifications of tone hole positions and sizes etc. as well as the external dimensions of the joints, bell and barrels. When the instruments were passed to me, I cut the bores to finish size, undercut the tone holes and fine-tuned them. We made three prototypes, two Bb and one A, all three being bought by Hale Hambleton, and then a first batch of six produced in London by Derek Winterbourn in 1983. Instruments from that first batch went to Emma Johnson, my wife Joanna, and Richard Hosford as well as Roy. 1983 was the year that Tony Ward decided to emigrate to Australia, to everyone's astonishment. This was still early days for my clarinet production and at that the time I thought that Tony would make enough instruments for me without the need to involve Derek, who was still working in London of course, principally as an oboe maker.
As soon as Tony had set up his production system out in Adelaide, he started sending instruments to me, producing 10 in 1984. In early 1985 he sent over three pairs, of which one pair went to Gervase and another pair to Roy. I cannot remember for sure who had first choice. It is perhaps more likely to have been Roy because he was in regular contact with me for mouthpieces as well as clarinets. I became reacquainted with Gervase in 1984 when he gave a masterclass at Sevenoaks School organised by John Brightwell. He was spending much of his time in the United States but was very keen indeed for me to contact him as soon as I had instruments available for him to try. That’s perhaps the reason why I took just one pair of instruments to his home in Highgate. Gervase took B-flat serial number 23 along with A 28, Roy taking B-flat 24 with A 26.
4. Gervase and Roy's pairs of Peter Eaton/Tony Ward clarinets, March 1985
I will consider these two pairs together.
Gervase took his back to New York and must have played them heavily, because he cracked both B-flat and A, which I later pinned. The repairs have held up well over the years. He was never as happy with the B-flat as he was with the A, and rightly so. The A was and still is an astonishing instrument but the B-flat paled in comparison. The A has wonderful subtlety and flexibility of sound which can be manipulated to produce a variety of tone qualities, making it an intensely musical instrument. That's my feeling anyway, though I asked a few leading professionals to try it in the last two or three years, comparing it with their much newer Eaton Elite As. In all cases they preferred their newer instruments, which surprised me a little. They might have been influenced by the fact that Gervase's A was not in the best condition, not sealing perfectly, with the keywork a little noisy. The player who wholeheartedly agreed with me was Mark Simpson, who is now delighted to have this instrument on loan from Katia, following our complete renovation. Mark is just as pleased with the sheer volume that this instrument can produce as well as the subtlety and wrote a clarinet concerto especially for it. Joanna and I, along with Katia and her sister Delphine, went up to Manchester for the first performance in the Bridgewater Hall in June 2019. The original bells made for Gervase's 1985 instruments are missing. He acquired Elite bells from me at some point, which have a very positive impact.
In March 2020, I had the opportunity to buy back Roy's 1985 Eaton/Ward B-flat from his son Mark. Gervase's B-flat is still with me, so I was able to compare them. There is no question that Roy's is better, though the original Tony Ward bell on Roy's instrument is weak and the instrument is greatly improved by the addition of an Elite bell. I have not had the opportunity to play Roy's A recently because after he died, his widow Chen gave it to Roy's favourite Spanish pupil Juan Esteban Romero Gimeno, along with Roy's third and last Eaton B-flat, an Elite, serial number E24. I would love to compare the two A instruments, though it is unlikely that I will ever be able to do so because Roy's is in Spain with Juan Romero and Gervase's is with Mark Simpson. Since I wrote this, Juan Romero has offered to come over from Spain as soon as circumstances allow and I hope that Mark Simpson will be able to join us, to compare a few instruments.
5. The Peter Eaton Elite B-flat clarinets of Gervase and Roy
Following my acquisition of parts, equipment etc. from Boosey & Hawkes in 1986, I was able to set up my own clarinet production and my regular clarinet-making relationship with Tony Ward came to an end, though with immense gratitude to him and also to Derek Winterbourn for setting me on this road. However, Tony and I worked together again in 1998 to make a bassett clarinet for Emma Johnson and, a few years later, we collaborated again to make more bassett clarinets for Michael Collins, Katherine Lacy, Anna Hashimoto, Mark Simpson and Jordan Black.
It is interesting that both Gervase and Roy never bought an Elite A, both remaining faithful to their Peter Eaton/Tony Ward instruments, but both bought Elite B-flats.
B-flat Elite clarinet serial number E29. Gervase bought this, his first Elite B-flat instrument, in 1990. We have fully restored this splendid instrument, which is a very fine example of our earliest Elite instruments.
B-flat Elite clarinet serial number E218. During the early 1990s, when we developed our small-bore model, the International, my understanding of clarinet design increased significantly and I applied some of that knowledge to our large bore model, the Elite. This instrument was finished and bought by Gervase in 1994 and incorporated those new ideas. Sadly, when Katia gathered together his instruments after she lost Gervase, this one was not amongst them and its loss remains a mystery.
B-flat Elite clarinet serial number E24.
Roy bought this clarinet at around the same time as Gervase also bought his first Elite B-flat. I have not been able to play it recently, because Roy’s widow Chen passed it to Roy's favourite Spanish pupil Juan Esteban Romero Gimeno, along with Roy's Eaton/Ward A. I wrote about Roy’s 1985 Eaton/Ward B-flat clarinet earlier in this piece, mentioning that it was greatly improved by the addition of an Elite bell and it certainly sounds wonderful with that bell. It makes me wonder if that earlier instrument is just as good as this Elite, the bell making all the difference between the two. When I next see Roy's pupil Juan Romero, I hope to be able to play those two instruments again and make some comparisons.
6. Other clarinets owned by these two great players.
In the late 1980s, Gervase briefly became a "Yamaha artist". He was loaned a pair of Yamaha clarinets and there were other financial inducements. We heard him play two or three concerts on them, but this agreement was short-lived, and he soon reverted to our instruments. I assume that Yamaha asked for the instruments back, the only evidence remaining being a collection of Eaton 926 bore mouthpieces that he used with them. Oh, and the case.
Gervase bought a pair of Luis Rossi clarinets in the late 1990s and played them enthusiastically for a while. They were amongst the clarinets that we picked up from Katia in 2017 and, following the necessary renovation, she asked me to sell them for her, which I did.
Gervase also owned a 1953 B&H Imperial E-flat, serial number 80006, now fully restored.
He owned a very fine Martel B-flat since his student days. I took detailed information from it years ago when I was developing our small-bore model, the International. After Roy's death, the only part remaining with his son Mark was a barrel. There was also a Selmer bass clarinet going down to E-flat, not C. This was also missing and I assume that he sold it, as well as the Martel.
7. Variations in the quality of instruments.
Throughout this piece, I have mentioned that some instruments are more resonant and so more exciting and attractive to play compared to others, so it's worth thinking about why. They can be the same model, the same age, made to the same standards, so why do we get these variations?
Ted Planas believed that these differences are simply down to how well the pads seal but surely there must be more to it than that. Others suggest that they result from minute differences in dimension. As a maker myself, our dimensional variations from one instrument to another are extremely small. The most common response I hear to an outstanding clarinet is that there must be something unusual, special, or even magical about the bore.
For me, the reason is simply the nature of each individual piece of wood. According to the theory of acoustics, only the air column inside the clarinet vibrates and the material from which the instrument is made can have no influence on the sound, but all musicians know that it does. Some makers keep back the wood with the most attractive looking grain for their highest-level instruments and yet some of the more resonant are sometimes the cheaper ones. I've often thought that it is about the density of the wood and that wood with small swirls of grain, where tiny branches came off the wood before it was cut into joints, give more density and therefore more resonance. There might well be something in that, but some of the best clarinets I have played do not follow that logic. In some ways, this is like judging a reed by its appearance. I have tried to do that in the past but without conspicuous success. The head of the design team at Yamaha visited us in January 1991 and revealed that they were trying an ultrasonic system to judge the quality of the wood. That sounds like an interesting idea if it works. When pairing upper and lower joints for our own clarinets, I enjoy trying to match the grain of the two pieces as far as possible though, to be honest, this is probably merely cosmetic.
The four individual pieces of wood that make up the clarinet, barrel, top joint, lower joint and bell, can be judged separately. It is very fortunate when all four pieces have that exceptional resonance. When it comes to the two joints, there is no choice, it beig fixed by the maker, but I'm always happy for players to select bells and barrels for their chosen instrument if they wish. I occasionally mention that my favourite task as a maker is when we have finished a batch of bells, and there might sometimes be as many as 50 available for me to try. I love going through them, playing each one for a few seconds and then grading them at one of three or four levels. I enjoy it so much, I usually play them again to see if I agree with myself. The bell is particularly significant because it affects the nature of the entire instrument, all the way through to the top of the upper joint. (I keep back the best bells for the professionals).
So, when it comes to evaluating the two joints, how can that judgement be made? Simply playing a few notes of an F major scale will give an overall and accurate impression in a few seconds. Then, when playing A, B-flat, B natural and C, at the top end of the top joint, I touch the lower joint E/B key up and down a few times, voicing the sound as fully as I can. The bigger the difference the E/B key makes, the more resonant the instrument. I would then do something similar around the break, playing open G, G sharp and A, quickly moving resonance fingerings on and off. Again, the bigger the difference with the fingerings, the more resonant the instrument.
Judging a bell is simple. I just play the lower half of the instrument quickly a few times, lower register and upper register, with each bell. The difference between bells will be immediately obvious. The finest players do not always find this easy, because they do what comes naturally to them, i.e. they make the instrument play, regardless of the quality of the bell.
When it comes to the barrels, I simply play around the break for three or four seconds and then move to another one. The difference, if there is any, should be clear.
Another factor is of course the playing-in of the instrument. Plenty of playing by anyone at all will improve a clarinet but no amount of playing will transform a weak instrument into a good one. The best instruments just seem to get better and better though it's a good idea to get them checked by the maker from time to time, in case there is excessive distortion of the bore. I've heard it suggested that the playing-in of an instrument by a great player can produce an extra impact. Gervase played B-flat 1010 293777 for many years and also played his Eaton/Ward A clarinet a similar amount. I wonder if something extra special has been added by their being played by Gervase rather than by a less gifted player. I don't know.
293777 was one of a batch of twelve 1010s finished at around the same time, a mixture of B-flats and As, serial numbers 293773 to 293784. Does anyone out there know the whereabouts of any of the others? It might be interesting to try them.