Clarinets, the CLEX and Saxophones

Innovative and historical instruments

Why should we use electronics to help play a clarinet? And may we play historical instruments?
Research projects at the Bern University of the Arts HKB have been addressing issues like this with woodwind instruments.

The Contrabass Clarinet Extended CLEX

The new “Contrabass Clarinet extended”, CLEX, is both archaic and futuristic at the same time. The way it’s played is archaic, because it has a mouthpiece with a reed like any other clarinet. Its mechanics, however, are futuristic, for its keys are connected to a computer via sensors, with little motors that open and close the key holes. This mechatronic solution is necessary so that the holes and keys can be placed optimally on the long body of the instrument.

The CLEX was developed by a research group led by Ernesto Molinari (clarinet professor at HKB), Jochen Seggelke (clarinet-maker) and Daniel Debrunner (mechatronics). (more...)

This technology also opens up innovative musical possibilities, as is demonstrated by compositions written for Molinari and his CLEX (see following video).

Trio of contrabass clarinets, in the foreground the prototype I of CLEX, which is now exhibited in FRESH WIND
Trio of contrabass clarinets, in the foreground the prototype I of CLEX, which is now exhibited in FRESH WIND
Every key on the CLEX has its own fan so that it cannot overheat.
Every key on the CLEX has its own fan so that it cannot overheat.

Interview with Ernesto Molinari and excerpts from the world première of “Convert Ego”

Saxophone

The youngest instrument in the wind family – invented in ca 1840 – already has a varied history behind it. The Klingendes Museum Bern has documented this history by means of saxophone prototypes by Adolphe Sax himself (top left in the picture) and other manufacturers.

One research project has also involved restoring an alto saxophone by Edouard Sax, the son of Adolphe, dated ca 1900. It is now available for musicians to play (see the following videos).

Exhibition of the saxophones in the Klingendes Museum Bern: From the sopranino tu the contrabass saxophone
Exhibition of the saxophones in the Klingendes Museum Bern: From the sopranino tu the contrabass saxophone

The saxophone by Adolphe Sax fils in the hands of the multi-instrumentalist James Morrison

The multi-instrumentalist James Morrison played this 120-year-old saxophone in 2018 at a concert in the Klingendes Museum Bern.

Demian Kammer plays the “Valse vanité” on the instrument by Adolphe Sax fils.

Taragot, the wooden saxophone

Gerrit Boeschoten plays the restored Stowasser taragot of the Klingendes Museum Bern.

Restored woodwind instruments

Wind instruments are especially fragile when made of wood. If we play a historical instrument, it can split the wood. Its mechanism is also subject to wear and tear. This is why historical wind instruments are generally not played. In order to make it nevertheless possible in exceptional instances, we have had individual woodwind instruments restored. (more...)

These include three clarinets, a saxophone and a taragot:

  • Bb clarinet by Sauerhering, German system, Magdeburg 1913, traditional German mouthpiece
    suitable for playing Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, for example
  • Bb clarinet by Gautrot, French “treize clefs” system, Paris mid-19th century
    suitable for playing French music of this time, including military music
  • Bb clarinet by Clementi, typical English clarinet, London ca 1825
  • Alto saxophone by Adolphe Sax fils, Paris ca 1900
    suitable for playing classical saxophone music and wind music of the time
  • Taragot by Stowasser, Budapest 20th century