Robert Marcellus

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Robert Marcellus
Born(1928-06-01)June 1, 1928
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
DiedMarch 31, 1996(1996-03-31) (aged 67)
Evanston, Illinois, United States

Robert Marcellus (June 1, 1928 – March 31, 1996) was an American classical clarinetist and teacher. Marcellus is best known for his long tenure as principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra.


Robert Marcellus was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 1, 1928.[1] He began his musical studies with piano lessons at the age of four. He took up the clarinet at eleven and began serious study of the instrument at Minneapolis with Earl Handlon of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra at twelve.

His family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1944, and in the fall of that year, he started commuting to New York City once a week for lessons with Daniel Bonade, former first clarinetist of the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras.

He became second clarinetist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington in 1945. In 1946, he enlisted in the Air Force and played in the Air Force Band in Washington for three years.

He returned to the second chair in the National Symphony in 1949 and was promoted to first a year later. He remained in this position until he was appointed principal clarinet in the Cleveland Orchestra at the invitation of George Szell in 1953.

Robert Marcellus made his debut as assisting artist with the Cleveland Orchestra on March 29–31, 1956, when he played Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major, K.622. On October 11–13, 1956, he has also assisted in other works that call for solo clarinet, including the concerto by Paul Hindemith and the Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin and Cello by Manuel de Falla.

He was principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra, under George Szell, from 1953 to 1973. During his tenure in Cleveland, he was clarinet department head at the Cleveland Institute of Music. At the height of his performing career in the 1960s, he was much in demand nationally as a soloist. In the summer of 1961, he played Mozart's Clarinet Concerto at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.

After his health forced his early retirement from the orchestra, he was professor of clarinet at Northwestern University from 1974 to 1994. His week-long master classes, held each summer from 1974 until 1987, were one of the highlights of his teaching career. Robert Marcellus was the principal conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra in Interlochen, Michigan for the 1978-79 academic year.

He was a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.[2]

Towards the end of his career he lost his sight from diabetic retinitis. He continued to teach, remarking that the event had possibly improved his hearing. At his death he was a beloved and universally respected and admired artist and pedagogue whose conservative and highly disciplined approach to instrumental technique influenced generations of clarinetists.

Robert Marcellus died on March 31, 1996.

Clarinetists on Robert Marcellus[edit]

Robert Marcellus is considered by virtually all clarinetists in North America to be the most influential clarinet teacher of the last half of the 20th century. He was a beautifully refined clarinetist and his recordings as principal clarinetist in Cleveland Orchestra under Georg Szell are still recognized as the "measuring stick" for orchestral clarinetists today. Marcellus was without any doubt the biggest single influence in my musical career. I studied the orchestral school of clarinet playing with him and have used that as the technical and interpretive foundation for all of my musical activities. Although now I perform almost exclusively as a soloist and chamber musician the foundation I received from Robert Marcellus are the tools that have allowed me to cope with the many different types of performing I have done, from orchestral to solo and from classical to contemporary.

— Dr. Arthur Campbell[3]

One found its way fatefully into my hand: the Mozart Clarinet concerto with Robert Marcellus and the Cleveland Orchestra.

I was 12 years old. I hadn’t formed any opinion of Mozart, and had never heard of Robert Marcellus. But when I heard that recording for the first time, I knew I wanted to be the one playing that piece someday. His tone was what hooked me. Marcellus had a haunting clarity, a round, dark ring to every note. I couldn’t get that sound out of my ear, and I still strive for it.

The struggle begins. I had this sound in my ear, along with a style. Marcellus’ legato was powerful. The connection between notes made you listen to the line. I wanted to get there but didn’t know how.

My lesson with Marcellus changed me. Though he was unable play much due to his failing health, his simple C scale demonstration showed me the closeup version of the sound I had had in my ear since age 12. He gave me his famous crash course in clarinet technique: basic legato, staccato, phrasing and tone. Though he wasn’t masterful at the how to, he got across the what to. The rest was up to me.

— David H. Thomas[4]

My study with Mr. Marcellus was between undergraduate and graduate school; A.K.A. my "year off". Studying with Mr. Marcellus was truly a remarkable and long lasting experience. I regret that I was too young to have ever heard him live with Cleveland Orchestra; I understand that it was an amazing experience. As a teacher, I found him extremely dogmatic and unyielding in his commitment to how the clarinet should be played, especially when it came to sound quality and air column use. His most profound influence on me was confidence building, and I will always be grateful for that.

— Mark Gallagher[5]


  1. ^ The Cleveland Orchestra History Archived March 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Delta Omicron". Archived from the original on January 27, 2010.
  3. ^ Dr. Arthur Campbell (interview)
  4. ^ David Tomas for Marcellus
  5. ^ "Mark Gallagher, Clarinetist". Mark Gallagher, Clarinetist.

External links[edit]