The Rosario Mazzeo Clarinet Collection
Highlights of the Collection...
Rosario Mazzeo's collection of more than 70
instruments, collected to illustrate the development of clarinet
mechanisms, was donated to the NMM in 1995.
Makers whose instruments are represented in the collection include Albert,
Astor & Co., Berteling, Bertold & Sons, Boosey & Hawkes, Buffet,
Chedeville, Conn, Couesnon, Golde, Grass, Graves & Co., Haynes, Huller,
Key, Kohlert, Kruspe, Lacroix, Mahillon, Martin & Cie., McIntyre, Oehler,
Peloubet, Penzel, Ramponi, Sauerhering, Selmer, Stengel, Stepansky, and
Thibouville & Lamy.
Some of Mazzeo's clarinets as they were displayed in the rafters
of his Carmel, California
Rosario's clarinet collection was a prominent part of the living room
decor in his beautiful home overlooking Monterey Bay. Some instruments
were stored in cabinets, others mounted in the rafters.
According to Deborah Check Reeves, Curator of Musical
"It was probably a
short step from collecting numerous models of clarinets in various stages
of development to questioning how the Boehm system could better serve its
players. Thus an interest in developing and refining the Boehm system led
Rosario ultimately to the development of his own 'system.' In 1959, Selmer
of Paris manufactured the first Mazzeo system clarinets. This is also the
same year that Mazzeo published his Manual for the Mazzeo System
Clarinet. Three patents were issued to Mazzeo for his clarinet key-mechanisms, in
1959, 1962 and 1965. In 1961, Mazzeo gave Selmer the exclusive license to
system clarinets. Some 13,000 examples were
"One of Rosario's main concerns about the regular Boehm
was that the register vent was too large for the best upper register
performance, yet too small to produce a rounded tone on throat B-flat. In
his own words, 'Fundamentally what was sought was an improvement of the
mechanism over the break of the clarinet to facilitate passage work and
sonorities in the area of the break. Also, it was desired to make the
sound of the B-flat equally sonorous with all of its neighbors, and not to
induce embouchure manipulation which would, besides making for a general
unevenness, induce degradations of sounds in this area when the B-flat
was being played in conjunction with other notes. The solution as to
sound was that the B-flat must be produced by its own vent
register key hole. This has the double advantage of producing a sonorous
B-flat at the same time relegating the register hole to its own use as a
speaker.' The awkward finger movements required by the throat B-flat also
worked against a consistently good hand position and a steady grip on the
instrument. Movement of the instrument, in turn, worked against the
development of a firm embouchure. The Mazzeo system clarinet set about to
eliminate these problems. With a new, properly tuned and full-tone side
hole for third-line B-flat, many more fingerings became available for this
"All the Mazzeo system models make use of a ringless
bell that aids in
weight reduction and balance of the instrument. All models utilize a
plateau key for the left thumb. This is supposed to make for better
matched tone quality with the surrounding notes, and eliminate the failure
of covering both the hole and ring at once with the thumb."
"Mazzeo's own clarinets, his own true personal models,
after Rosario retired from symphonic playing. In his own words, when he
had 'time to think and putter, I began to develop the idea of a set of
clarinets for me. No one else. My fingers.
My hands. No shortcuts. No
holds barred in thinking the problem through. No timetable.' The
set incorporating all of his innovations, which include a Buffet in
B-flat, a Buffet
in A, and a Selmer
in B-flat (see photo at left), now have a permanent home
at the NMM."
"Rosario started with a standard Mazzeo system model.
With the help of
instrument technicians, initially Dennis Heaney of Santa Cruz and later
Norman Benner of San Jose, the project took five years to complete. The
result has been what Rosario refers to in his book, The Clarinet:
Excellence and Artistry, as the 'Famous California Custom'
"Although the Mazzeo system clarinet is no longer
manufactured, it is an
excellent example of how the clarinet continued to evolve during the
twentieth century. Perhaps it foreshadows the clarinet's continued
development in the twenty-first."
Excerpted from Deborah Check Reeves, "The Mazzeo System
Historical Review," The Clarinet (March 1999), pp. 62-64.
About the Collector...
Rosario Mazzeo (April 5, 1911-July 19, 1997) was a
courtly gentleman for whom no day had enough hours for all the things that
he wanted to do. Born April 5, 1911, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, he moved
with his family at age four to Worcester, Massachusetts, from where, as a
teenager, he made weekly trips into Boston (sometimes
walking!) to study clarinet with Jack Lynch.
In 1928 he moved into Boson, washing dishes and working as a janitor to
finance lessons, first with Gaston Hamelin, principal clarinet with the
Boston Symphony, and then with Gustave Langenus of the New York
Philharmonic, taking the overnight ferry to Long Island and returning by
In 1933 he joined the Boston Symphony, playing E-flat clarinet for six
years and bass clarinet for another twenty seven. He was also the
Orchestra's personnel manager, a job that he assumed in 1942.
Photo by Frank Spadarella, 1982
Click to enlarge
In 1966, after "thirty-three truly happy years as a member of the BSO,"
Mazzeo moved to Carmel, California, with his wife, Katie Clare, who plays
harpsichord and fortepiano. Also a serious photographer--he had his first
one-man show at the Carl Siembab Gallery in Boston--Mazzeo's move to
Carmel was influenced in part by the fact that Ansel Adams, with whom he
had been close friends in Boston, was now living in the area. Mazzeo was
also interested in ornithology and went on many expeditions to study and
Brett and Edward Weston photograph
one of Mazzeo's clarinets, 1954
Click to enlarge
Excerpted from André P. Larson, "It's Been 'The Year of the Clarinet;'
Mazzeo and Maynard Collections Enhance Museum's Holdings," America's
Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (January 1997),
For Further Reading:
"A Tribute to Rosario Mazzeo," The Clarinet, Vol. 25, No. 2
(February/March 1998), pp. 40-46.
Mazzeo, Rosario. "Clarinet Master Class," Selmer Bandwagon,
Mazzeo, Rosario. The Clarinet: Excellence and Artistry. Sherman
California: Alfred Publishing Co., 1981.
Mazzeo, Rosario. "The History of the Clarinet's B-flat Mechanisms,"
Clarinet, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter 1980), pp. 6-9, 33-37.
Mazzeo, Rosario. Manual for the Mazzeo System Clarinet.
Henri Elkan Music Publisher, 1959.
Mazzeo, Rosario. "Mazzeo Musings," The Clarinet, Vol. 13 (Fall
21, No. 4 (July/August 1994).
"Selmer Mazzeo System Clarinets," advertising flyer. Elkhart, Indiana:
Selmer Division of the Magnavox Co., 1971.
A selection of instruments from the Rosario Mazzeo
Collection are on
display at the NMM.
Others are available for examination by
appointment (see access
guidelines) in the NMM's study-storage areas.
Go to Annotated
Checklist of Mazzeo System Clarinets.
National Music Museum
The University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069