On April 8 and 10, H+H concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky leads Mozart and Beethoven, an intimate chamber program featuring several of H+H’s principal players. Among the musicians is Eric Hoeprich–one of the leading period clarinetists in the world today. He will perform in Beethoven’s Septet and and in an arrangement of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat for clarinet and string trio.
Q: When and how did you become a performer on historical clarinets? How different is it for a player coming from the modern instrument?
Eric Hoeprich: I started playing historical clarinets in the late 1970s, when I came to the Netherlands to study at the Royal Conservatory. The Classical-period instrument is made of boxwood instead of ebony, and has far fewer keys than the modern instrument. The basic approach to making a sound is the same as on the modern, but the lack of a modern key mechanism means that there is more variety in the sound going from note to note—something we enjoy.
Q: In addition to performing, you are also an instrument builder. Why did you start making your own clarinets?
EH: When I started playing period clarinets, there weren’t many instruments around. It was possible to buy originals, but they were usually not in very good condition and as a result, not in tune. As with all the period woodwinds, it is generally preferable to play a copy. Since no one was making them at the time, I had no choice but to make my own, based on originals I found in museums and private collections.
Q: What kinds of skills and tools does it take to build a clarinet?
EH: When I arrived in The Netherlands, there was actually a class in making flutes and recorders. So I took that and learned the basics. You really just need a lathe, a drill press and some hand tools. After that it’s a matter of making some really terrible instruments until you start to improve. Like doing anything well, it takes diligence and repetition. And a lot of boxwood. And maybe some innate skill.
Q: On this upcoming program, you’re playing Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat: in an unusual 18th-century arrangement for clarinet and string trio. How did you come across this version of the piece?
EH: I found an edition with of these three quartets, based on original chamber works by Mozart, in the Royal Music Library in Stockholm. The publisher, Johann André was a friend of Mozart, and also probably the arranger. The arrangement is superb and works very well with these forces.
Q: The clarinet became a standard orchestral instrument quite a bit later than the other members of the woodwind family. In fact, it would have been quite new around the time Mozart and Beethoven were writing. Why did it gain so much popularity in the late-18th and early-19th centuries?
EH: The development of the clarinet in the 18th century is one of my favorite topics. My book on the clarinet (see below) describes this in detail. The clarinet did indeed develop quickly, becoming an essential part of the orchestra in less than a century. The main factors were its relative simplicity, resilience and ability to function well outdoors.
To hear Eric Hoeprich perform with Aisslinn Nosky and other principal players from H+H, buy tickets now to Mozart and Beethoven!
The Clarinet by Eric Hoeprich