During his forty years career as orchestral clarinetist, my teacher Ernesto Olivieri (1905-1985) refaced, revoiced and repaired hundreds of clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces. He began even before he entered Bologna Conservatory with Bianco Bianchini, and continued refacing as a side activity, to meet his professional needs or to make some extra money during hard times (the Great Depression in Italy, World War II across Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, the immediate Post-war in Tito’s Yugoslavia). Often, though, he did the work out of friendship and always for his research and sound experimentation. Soon after he retired from his last position at the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, he bought himself a typewriter and started a project he had long been planning: the “Treatise on the Clarinet Mouthpiece”, part memoir part refacing manual for clarinet students, complemented by the “Studies for Research”, a collection of short technical compositions devised to detect problems in mouthpieces and test the progress of the refacing work. When my teacher passed away and his widow entrusted me the yellow folder in which he kept the various drafts of the Treatise and the Studies, I attempted to edit that material for a print publication, guided by what I imagined were his intentions and the recent memory of our friendship. Overwhelmed by the vague structure, elusive content and faltering language of the text, I put the yellow folder in a drawer where it remained for over thirty years, until I recently came to reconsider the Treatise and the Studi in a different perspective.
Not only was his refacing practice marginalised within the conservatory and profession, but also writing remained a secondary practice and in advance excluded from consideration for being carried out autonomously, without formal training and outside the academia and the profession. Accordingly, the knowledge he created through those practices can be easily confused with technical skills, too limited in scope for today’s student and too marginal for the clarinetist, especially now that professional refacing services have become globally available, and that multimedia instructions and expertise are easily accessible over the internet. Thus, it would appear, Signor Olivieri’s knowledge is forever lost, trapped inside his text and irretrievably embedded in his life and practice. Nevertheless, this non-collaborative re-presentation of the Treatise and the Studies shows how his writing succeeds in exposing his refacing practice as research, and why this matters to artistic research today.