Gervase de Peyer, who died on Friday, 3rd February 2017, was one of the finest musical interpreters of the second half of the 20th century, on any instrument. In addition to performances and recordings of the standard clarinet repertoire, he has premiered at least ten concertos, some of which are dedicated to him, including works by Berthold Goldschmidt, Alun Hoddinott, Joseph Horovitz, William Mathias and Thea Musgrave. Gervase de Peyer has also premiered and recorded many other works such as the Francis Poulenc Sonata and the Joseph Horovitz Sonatina as well as chamber works by Robert Simpson, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Maw, Arnold Cooke and Elizabeth Maconchy. His recording awards include first prizes from the Academy Charles Gros (Spohr and Weber Concertos) and The Plaque of Honour from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Mozart Concerto). These are available on Decca/Polygram CD's.
Maestro Josef Kripps selected Gervase de Peyer as his principal clarinettist for the London Symphony Orchestra in 1956, a position he held for seventeen years whilst continuing an active solo and chamber music career. Several early chamber music tours for the Arts Council of Great Britain led to his leading role in the formation of the Melos Ensemble of London. Gervase directed the Melos Ensemble's extensive recording programme for EMI and these highly praised recordings are now happily available on CD.
Gervase de Peyer's American concerto debut was with Sir George Solti in a Weber concerto and he looks back on concerto performances with a long line of great musicians including Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Berthold Goldschmidt and conductors Antal Dorati, Pierre Monteux, Pierre Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Istvan Kertesz and Sir John Barbirolli, to name but a few.
From 1969, his LSO position and the success of the Melos Ensemble overlapped his engagements as a founder member of the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center, a group he performed with for twenty years. This engagement eventually resulted in his making New York his home. Amongst many distinguished colleagues were Jaime Laredo, Richard Goode, Paula Robison and a succession of guest artists including Itzhak Perlman, Andre Watts, Kyung-Wha Chung, Pierre Boulez and Leonard Bernstein.
Gervase de Peyer played Peter Eaton clarinets from 1985.
In a sleeve note for one of his recordings released on the Chandos label in 1987, Gervase wrote that on those recordings he used a wide bore clarinet and continued:
“The sound of this clarinet is indeed different from its brethren with smaller, narrower bores, since there is more scope for flexibility in the production of its sounds; for floating a pure, clear and light sound across a resonant space, and for varying the colour of the sound to enhance vivid and communicative phrasing in performance. Nothing is ever perfect, but this writer and performer is convinced that some of the finest artistic results in clarinet playing can be achieved with instruments of this type. Fine examples of a new range of such instruments can currently be found in London.”
If you'd like to read his article in full, here it is:
In these recordings, Gervase de Peyer uses a wide bore clarinet.
All musical instruments have evolved from sounds inherent in nature, such as animal and bird calls and the wind howling through trees and rocks during thunderstorms. Certainly, the human voice provided the most sophisticated model, particularly for wind instruments. Indeed, this most personal of instruments should be the model for all instrumental performers, who can increase the communicative power of their performance by emulating the subtle vocal resources of the finest singers.
Clarinets, like other wind instruments have developed over several centuries in different countries, and there are of course many differences in their manufacture, which accordingly affect their character. Such fundamentals as temperature and humidity have led talented players and manufacturers in particular acoustic directions. The need for particular and individual musical voices, stimulated variety of artistic purpose, which has also proved a strong influence. Performance of music in churches focused the need for clear and well-defined sounds such as those produced by flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets and of course the organ. This was because of very resonant and sometimes extremely muddled acoustics.
During the third decade of this century, a clarinet was designed in England with a larger bore than had formerly been found satisfactory. He meant the 1930s, though clarinets based on this concept had been made from the end of the 19th century. The sound of this clarinet was indeed different from its brethren with smaller, narrower bore, since there was more scope for flexibility in the production of its sounds; for floating a pure, clear and light sound across a resonant space, and for varying the colour of the sound to enhance vivid and communicative phrasing in performance.
Nothing is ever perfect, but this writer and performer is convinced that some of the finest artistic results in clarinet playing can be achieved with instruments of this type. Fine examples of a new range of such instruments can currently be found in London.
I have always sought, and continue to do so, an instrument that offers me the maximum artistic freedom: the means to vary and modulate tone, articulation, dynamics and colour, according to the subtlest demands of the finest composers. The use of subtle vibrato is also a helpful addition to clarinet tone, as indeed is the case with most voices and instruments. This is more practically produced in a musical manner, with a wide bore clarinet.
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