Jean Xavier Lefévre, clarinetist, teacher and composer, was born on March 6, 1763, in Lausanne, Switzerland and died on November 9, 1829 in Paris, France. His name often appears without the Jean and with a variety of spelling for his last name.
He was principal clarinetist in major orchestras in Paris (Opéra Orchestra 1791-1817; Imperial Chapel Orchestra from 1807), taught clarinet at the Paris Conservatory (from its founding in 1795 to 1824) and wrote a Clarinet Method which was translated into German and Italian, but he is probably best remembered for adding a 6th key (C#/G#) to the “standard” (5 key) clarinet about 1790.
Lefévre composed 7 Clarinet Concertos, 2 Symphonies Concertante (for Clarinet and Bassoon), 1 Symphonie Concertante (for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon), various (wind) band works, 3 Clarinet Quartets (for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Bass), 6 Trios (for 2 Clarinets and Bassoon), 48 Duos (for 2 Clarinets) and 7 Sonatas (for Clarinet and Keyboard), in additions to a Clarinet Method (Méthode de Clarinette), which included 12 Sonatas.
Lefévre lived in Paris during an exciting time in both French and world History: the French Revolution (1789-1815) and the Napoleonic Wars (1801-1815); and Music History: the Classical Period in Music (1750-1825) with composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Beethoven dedicated his 3rd Symphony (“The Eroica”) to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) but crossed out the dedication when Napoleon crowned himself “Emperor” in 1804 (Beethoven later substituted “to the memory of a great man” as the dedication).
We often think that all clarinets are the same and always were - neither is correct. Johann Christoph Denner (1655-1707) is usually credited with the ”invention” of the clarinet around 1700, when he added a key (the register key) to the Chalumeau (the low register of the clarinet is still referred to as the chalumeau register and the second register as the clarion register - the name clarinet comes from this register).
Denner’s clarinet was basically a tube with holes (the first key was his register key). Over the next 90 years various other keys were added so that by 1790 the standard clarinet had 5 keys: the register key; throat A; low E(/B), low F(/C) and low F#(/C#) - Lefévre added the 6th key - C#(/G#).
Most clarinetists in North America, as well as Great Britain, France and Italy, play Boehm (fingering) System clarinets. Although named after German flautist Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) in the 1860’s, the system was developed by French clarinetist Hyacinthe Eléonore Klosé (1808-1880) along with French instrument manufacturer Louis-Auguste Buffet (1789-1885), first exhibited in 1839 and patented in 1844 - Boehm did develope the modern fingering system for the flute, but had absolutely nothing to do with the clarinet fingering system.
The standard Boehm System has 17 keys and 6 rings (there are various extended Boehm Systems with up to 19 keys and 7 rings); however, there are other clarinet fingering systems. Most clarinetists in Germany, as well as Austria and the Netherlands, use a fingering system developed by Oskar Oehler (1858-1936) and further perfected by instrument manufacturer Fritz Wurlitzer using up to 22 keys, 5 rings and 1 finger plate.
Both the Boehm and Oehler systems replaced the Albert system - a fingering system developed from the “simple” system (13 keys, 1809) by Iwan Müller (1784-1854) and manufactured in Brussels from 1846, by instrument maker Eugéne Albert (1816-1890); Müller also invented the metal thumb rest and metal ligature in 1817. In an illustration from Lefévre’s Méthode de Clarinette, the clarinet has no thumb rest and the reed is attached to the mouthpiece with string.
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