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My teacher, Wolfgang Meyer

Trio di Clarone, from left: Reiner Wehle, Sabine Meyer, Wolfgang Meyer

After I finished my undergraduate music degree at Western Michigan University in the late 1990’s, I studied in Europe with German clarinetist Wolfgang Meyer. I had long enjoyed his recordings and desired to learn from his traditional German approach. It was a wonderful experience to be his student for nearly two years at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Karsruhe.

Professor Meyer was an inspiring teacher. He could always demonstrate whatever piece of music I was working on just as fluently as if he were to perform it that evening. Despite the fact that his career took him all over the world, he still was very available to his students. One way he achieved that was to teach performance practice by actually performing alongside his students. Professor Meyer regularly played the bass clarinet, together with me and some other students, in a clarinet sextet. He booked us all sorts of gigs, and we played in small castles and on the radio. Once we even performed on television at the German Supreme Court. This much access to my teacher was important for me as I learned the ropes as a young performer.

I will never forget the first time I had a concert with Professor Meyer. In fact, it happened by accident. It was my first performance in Germany, just a couple weeks after my arrival. Professor Meyer arranged a house concert and I was to perform some chamber music.

Professor Meyer drove the violist, the cellist, and me to the venue. There was no room in the car for the violinist, so he had to make the 30-mile trip by train. We waited for quite some time, but the violinist didn’t come. Later we learned he had actually traveled to the wrong town, one that happened to have the same name! I couldn’t believe what happened next. Wolfgang grabbed the violin part, tied a reed to his clarinet, and nodded toward stage, “OK, let’s go.” “Let’s go where?” I thought. Before I had time to process what was happening, he had given the cue to begin. He read at sight the violin part while transposing at the same time. I was beside myself. Not only did he perform beautifully, never missing a single note, he playfully tossed embellishments for me to mimic. The patrons were thrilled with the concert, having heard some beautiful pieces while hosting a celebrity performer in their home

Three basset horns.

Professor Meyer takes pleasure in playing different types of clarinets. Together with his sister, Sabine Meyer, and her husband Reiner Wehle, he performs basset horn music in Trio di Clarone. A modern basset horn looks like a little bass clarinet. It is a clarinet pitched in F, hence the word “horn” in its name. “Basset” means it has an extension that permits it to plunge deeply into the bass clef.

The basset horn was popular beginning in the late eighteenth century and was prominent for about a hundred years thereafter. Its melancholically vocal quality in the upper register, along with its throaty bass notes, made this instrument one of Mozart’s favorites. It is a critical instrument in his final, unfinished work, the Requiem. It would be hard to imagine this funereal music without the somber timbre of the basset horn. Mozart did explore the lighter side of the instrument, however, having written them prominently into the famous Gran Partita Serenade, K361. Other composers to write for the basset horn were Beethoven, Mendelsohn, and Richard Strauss.

Trio di Clarone has reintroduced the basset horn to the public, which rarely gets a chance to hear this difficult instrument performed with such refinement. Audiences are in for a real treat when Trio di Clarone performs in Ann Arbor’s Rackham Auditorium on Saturday, February 4th. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.