Cloyd Duff | Reflections on a Remarkable Musician
I have been lucky in my musical career to have come into contact with several outstanding musicians who have in one way or another influenced my musical style and preferences. The first and biggest influence was the late Fred D. Hinger, who was the subject of my last blog post. The second great influence on my musical thinking was the subject of this post, namely Cloyd Duff, timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1942 until 1981. These two musicians, while differing in technique, shared the same goal of making excellent music and making it sound! I was fascinated with Dan Hinger’s sound and during my time in his studio experienced his wisdom and experience first hand. I had been familiar with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra since my high school years, but had not had the opportunity to hear the orchestra live until after Szell had died and Lorin Maazel was in his third year as music director. Dan had spoken to me very highly of Cloyd Duff and his playing, and it was he who said that they reached the same musical goals, albeit with different techniques. A year or two after finishing up at MSM, I asked Dan if he minded if I studied with another active player to get a broader perspective on timpani playing, and he thought about it for several minutes before answering. He finally said that it would be quite different, but that if I needed to get that perspective, then he would recommend that I would seek out Cloyd Duff, for the reasons that I stated above. I had come to that conclusion before asking him, hoping to get his blessing, and in a way, one can say that I got it. Before continuing, I must point out the lessons that I took in the late 1970s from Cloyd were relatively few, due to economics and schedules. A lot of what I gained from him I picked up at a master clinic in 1981 and a three-day seminar he gave in Oslo in 1992, and of course from his many, many recordings for both Columbia and Decca/London.
I first met Cloyd in 1974, if memory serves me correctly. It was after a Carnegie Hall concert in which the orchestra under Lorin Maazel performed Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”. Needless to say the performance was superb, and Cloyd was as usual spot on. We met outside Carnegie Hall and talked for over half an hour. He was such a gentleman and didn’t mind spending time talking shop with some students from MSM, even it was late and a little chilly. I don’t know if he suggested or we (my friend Wayne Church and I) suggested that perhaps we meet for lunch during a free period for the orchestra, but we did have lunch one afternoon during that same visit. It was pretty special. He talked about his time in the orchestra and his musical preferences, and then he asked about us and gave us the chance to talk about ourselves. I thought “Imagine this, a giant of the timpani/percussion world taking time to listen to two neophytes.” This of course was a tribute to the man’s openness and humanity. He also had an impish sense of humor. All in all, we had a delightful time.
I tried to see as many of the Cleveland Orchestra’s concerts in New York and took in several fine performances, including a concert performance of Richard Strauss’s “Elektra”, and Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. By this time he was using plastic heads on Light timpani and I marveled how pure a sound he got, which was a chief source of my fascination with his playing.
A little background
Cloyd E. Duff (the “E” was for Edgar, according to what he told me) was born in September 1915 in Marietta, Ohio. When he was about four, his family moved to a town called East Liverpool, Ohio. East Liverpool is a town right on the Pennsylvania- Ohio border, located about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. His primary and secondary education took place here. Right about this age, Cloyd pulled the pots and pans out of his mother’s cupboard and started hitting on them, apparently fascinated by the different sounds. When he was about six, he was given his first drum set and soon was taking lessons from a professional. This man was an “all-rounder” – he conducted the high school band, taught brass and percussion and played in the “vaudeville” orchestras of the era. Cloyd also received lessons on
mallet instruments from this same professional, although snare drum was the main offering. Cloyd progressed on snare drum well enough to become an Ohio State Champion on snare drum. By this time, he had started taking timpani lessons with another “pit drummer” by the name of Larkins Porter. He attended band camp at Cedar Point, Ohio. The faculty included members of the Cleveland Orchestra. Recognizing Cloyd’s talent, they encouraged him to apply for a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. At the time, Cloyd was more interested in going to Ohio State University, having been impressed by its famous marching band. The faculty members of the camp at Cedar Point managed to convince Cloyd that he should at least look into going to Curtis. So, he called them up and asked if there were any openings, and was told that an opening would be coming up in a few weeks. He took the audition and won a spot at Curtis. He was a pupil of the renowned German timpanist Oscar Schwar, the timpanist with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1903 until his death in 1946. Schwar was renowned for his tone and his impeccable musicianship, traits he imparted to Cloyd and which Cloyd made his own. Cloyd’s progress there was such that he substituted as a percussion for several summer seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra while the regular players would go on vacation. It was great experience for him and he really put to use all he learned at Curtis. He also impressed Leopold Stokowski (music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 -1936) enough to be engaged to play with Stokowski’s American Youth Symphony Orchestra in the summers of 1940 and 1941. The first season, he played percussion and the second he moved over to the timpanist’s position.
He won his first permanent orchestral position as timpanist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1938 until 1942. It was there that he purchased the two Jenka and Boruvka (then the owners of the Dresdener Apparatebau) timpani and used with such success, both in Inianapolis and most of his Cleveland Orchestra tenure. Oscar Schwar recommended that he get a 24 inch and a 32 inch Anheier cable timpani for the outside drums, which Cloyd eventually did. They stood him in good stead.
In 1942, Artur Rodzinski was still music director in Cleveland , and he was renowned for firing his timpanists every two years. A vacancy opened up, and Cloyd won the position. Apparently he broke the jinx and stayed with the orchestra for thirty-nine years until his retirement in 1981. Cloyd was on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music for many years, and also taught for a time at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
Having studied with Oscar Schwar, who played the timpani using what we call the “German” or “Continental” setup – which puts the largest timpani to the right, much in the manner of a drumset, as opposed to the American placement which follows the piano keyboard – largest drum to the left – Cloyd thought it was better to “go with the flow”, and adopted the set up for his won. It served him well for the rest of his career.
The Cleveland Years
Cloyd served as timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra for thirty-nine years. This period encompassed the last year of the tenure of Artur Rodzinski, through the interregnum years 1943-1946 when theoretically Erich Leinsdorf was music director (he was drafted into the US Army and did not conduct very many concerts), the whole of George Szell’s twenty-four year tenure as music director, and nine of the ten seasons that Lorin Maazel was music director.
The Szell years are considered the golden years of the Cleveland Orchestra, a period in which the orchestra gained international fame and renown through its concerts, touring, radio broadcasts and recordings for Columbia/Epic. Concerts and recordings all took place in Severance Hall in Cleveland, and Cloyd used his Jenak and Boruvka and Anheiers with calfskin heads throughout most of the Szell era. The sound of these instruments on the many recordings for Columbia/Epic is legendary. Cloyd himself commented many times that the sound of calfskin under the best of circumstances was warm and round, and that is certainly the case on these recordings. The Cleveland Orchestra enjoyed the excellent acoustics of Severance Hall and that surely helped Cloyd in producing such excellent tone. (That, and his meticulous preparations such as head and drum maintenance.) The Cleveland years can be divided up into two periods: The Szell Era (1946-70), and the Maazel Era (1972 -82). Cloyd was timpanist for all of Szell’s years as conductor, and for nine out of the ten seasons of Lorin Maazel. After George Szell died, and as Lorin Maazel took up his post as the orchestra’s music director, Cloyd began to switch over from calfskin to plastic, as he found himself playing louder and louder and as a result, was breaking calfskin heads more often. Calfskin being much more expensive, the only alternative was plastic, which was, in his words, “more percussive in sound; much less warm, but less affected by weather conditions”, and equally important, less expensive. Cloyd also started using timpani manufactured by Walter Light of Denver, and using those with Remo plastic heads. Working with Remo, he eventually advocated plastic heads with an insert-ring hoop. These heads, with the proper amount of “clearing” and maintenance were superior to the normal “non-insert ring”head. He kept his Dresden and Anheiers with calfskin, but used them much more sparingly. During the years he played under Maazel, Cloyd used the Light timpani for concerts and recordings. Columbia was now out of the picture for the most part, as Maazel had a recording contract with Decca/London. He did make few recordings for Columbia (now CBS Sony) towards the end of Cloyd’s tenure. Recording sessions had moved out of Severance Hall, and many, if not most were made at the Masonic Temple, whose acoustics were deemed more suitable – probably by Maazel and Decca.
Although there is a definite difference in sound (slightly more percussive), Cloyd manages to get a great sound nonetheless. The musicality of his playing and his impeccable sense of rhythm are all evident. The orchestra made several recordings for Telarc at the beginning of the digital recording era, and these were made in Severance Hall. This was just before Cloyd retired, and he can be heard to great advantage on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony and the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony.
Telarc also recorded two albums with the winds, brass and percussion sections of the Cleveland Orchestra – they called themselves the Cleveland Symphonic Winds. These recordings were made under the direction of the renowned Frederick Fennell of Eastman Wind Ensemble fame. The first recording was of music of Gustav Holst (the two Suites); Bach, and Handel (The Royal Fireworks Music). The Handel was the main feature of the recording as it was recorded in an arrangement for winds, brass and percussion, excluding strings. There is a liner photograph included with the original LP which shows the ensemble on the stage of Severance Hall during the recording sessions – and Cloyd is seen behind his two Jenke and Boruvka timpani with calf heads. Fennell insisted that he use those drums as they were equipped with calfskin, and his Light timpani with plastic heads can be seen on risers at the back of the stage, unused. The sound of this recording was amazing, and it still is on CD. Cloyd told me later that he had the devil of a time keeping the drums in tune as conditions in the hall were not ideal. From the results, you could never tell. The second album was a potpourri of marches, the Olympic Fanfare of Leo Arnaud and music of Percy Grainger. Listening to the Arnaud, one would have thought that Cloyd was again playing on calfskin, but no. According to what he told me, these were his Light drums with plastic, but there were so clear and round, one could easily be tempted to think otherwise.
Cloyd finally retired from the orchestra in 1981 and spent the remaining years as a very respected clinician and founder of a timpani workshop that is still in existence years after his death. While he was with the orchestra, he was on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music and also taught at Oberlin Conservatory. He educated a whole generation of players, most of whom are still active. After retirement, he was a guest clinician at many PASIC conventions (eventually earning a spot in the PASIC Hall of Fame). In June 1982, Cloyd hosted the first Cloyd Duff Masterclass – an event that covered all topics timpani – from technique to maintenance to audition preparation. This evolved into a three-day event in which players from all over could come and learned the Duff technique and methods of timpani maintenance. It has proven so popular, that it survived Cloyd and is now in its thirty-sixth season, with Jim Atwood as director.
Cloyd even traveled to Oslo, Norway in March of 1992 to give a three day version of the class to interested professionals and students at the Norwegian State Music Academy. I personally participated in and learned and re-learned a great deal from him, as well as renewed our friendship.
He was in his 77th year at the time and was at the top of his game. Later on he had a stroke which affected one of his hands, but he continued to host his master class right up until the end. Cloyd passed away in March of 2000 at the age of 84. (I had forgotten to mention his work with Yamaha as a clinician and consultant. He was responsible for convincing Yamaha to go forward with the semi-flat bottom bowls on their instruments. These evolved into the instruments that many of us admire today. After his retirement from the orchestra he was also a consultant for Adams for a time.)
His legacy, like that of Fred Hinger, Saul Goodman, and Vic Firth (just to name a few of that generation of players) was in his recordings and his teaching. His many years at Cleveland Institute produced a generation of fine timpanists and percussionists (Paul and Mark Yancich come to mind here), and his Duff Masterclass has kept that legacy alive.
I experienced the man both as a player and a teacher. He had a great sensitivity and sense of pitch and he was one f the very few who could make plastic heads sound like calf. He was precise, musical and had a great sense of balance. He was also a gentleman, much like my mentor Dan Hinger. I was extremely fortunate to work with both of them.
Cloyd’s mallets – originally crafted by him, but later made by Vaughancraft and later American Drum Manufacturing for a while – were much lighter than I was used to, but were well voiced and balanced. Cloyd insisted on producing what he called a “pear” shaped tone – he compared it to the pizzicato of a cello or base – the tone needed to be round. You can hear that approach in all his recordings, and it is these recordings that are the part of the legacy that reminds us of just how sensitive and fine a musician he was.
I will discuss a few of these recordings here. These, I will have to admit, are among my personal favorites. Some are no longer available at present or are coming “on line” so to speak courtesy of YouTube.
These come in two categories – those under the direction of George Szell for Columbia/Epic – now Sony, and those under the direction of Lorin Maazel for Decca and Telarc.
- Strauss: Symphonia Domestica – This is one of my very favorite recordings of this interesting, though uneven piece. George Szell elicits an extremely tight, but evocative reading. The orchestra as always, is at the top of its form, and Cloyd nails the part – particularly in the finale!
- Schumann: Symphony No. 2 – Released as part of a two disc set of the complete Schumann symphonies, this recording of the second symphony is hard to beat. Szell had an understanding of Schumann’s music and his retouching isn’t as extensive as Mahler’s. Tempos are just right, and Cloyd’s sound throughout is typically Cloyd – clean – impeccable –and the last bars of the finale are glorius!
- Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 – I have known this recording since I was in my freshman year at MSM. Clean, straightforward interpretation of the Novak version of the score, and again, Cloyd makes his timpani sing! I particularly enjoy scherzo!
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” – this interpretation just feels “right” all the way through. Certainly not period instrument, it disproves to me at least the idea that Szell was cold and indifferent. The slow movement is deeply felt, and his pacing of the finale is awesome.
- . Janacek: Sinfonietta – Recorded in the mid 60’s, this is still an impressive recording. Cloyd nails the part, which is trickier than it may appear.
- Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps – Conducted by Pierre Boulez and recorded in 1969, this was a classic for percussion students of my day. I asked Cloyd about the recording and he told me that it was virtually done in one take. He figured that Boulez would record it in sections, but as Boulez proceeded with out stopping, he and Myron Bloom, the solo horn player looked at each other and in Cloyd’s words “we sort of decided to tighten our belts and get on it with it.” Get on with it they did, to glorious effect!* I could go on and on, but these are just a few of my favorites
These were recorded under the direction of Lorin Maazel, who succeeded Szell as music director. He was known for changing the parts, and this is particularly evident in Scheherazade. Most of the recordings for Decca were made in Masonic Hall in Cleveland instead of Severance Hall.
1. Rimsky-Korsakov –Scheherzade – The interesting thing for me is what Maazel did to the timpani part . Regardless of what I think, Cloyd executed the part flawlessly, and the orchestra was on top form. Interpretation is standard and it is exciting.
- Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 – This was released on Decca/London, and is a good, straightforward account. Everyone on top form . Interesting to hear how the orchestra still kept its “Szell” sound and ensemble even after nearly ten years after his death.3. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 – Recorded for Telarc, this is a fine performance, and Cloyd is at the top of his game. This, as with all the Telarc recordings was recorded in Sevarance Hall.4.Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps – Also a Telarc recording, this is an excellent version, cleanly recorded and superbpy played. This is one of Cloyd’s last recordings.
The following are a series of links to the various recordings. Enjoy!