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The clarinet

(Source: Leonardo Musical Site)

History and use of the clarinet

A little history ...


The origin of the clarinet is somewhat obscure. Its most direct ancestor is the torch of the Middle Ages, instrument overcame a small tube which is fixed a beating reed. The clarinet as such would have been created for the first time in Nuremberg in 1690 by a luthier named Jean-Christophe Denner.

Early clarinets did not possess at the outset that very few keys, which limited technical possibilities and above required the possession of several clarinets, clarinet almost a dial tone !


Today, the clarinet features thirteen keys and uses the so-called system BOEHM, named after its inventor who had the idea of joining a moving rod by a ring system, allowing both a natural spacing of holes compared to the hand, and fingering facilities.

Note also that the evolution of the clarinet is not completely uniform because the two systems coexist, giving two models of clarinet slightly different: the so-called "German" and the so-called "French". The French system is currently the most widespread.

The use of the clarinet ...

Anyone who has ever heard the full and warm sound of a clarinet may perhaps wonder at the origin of the word "clarinet". The word "clarinet" is indeed a derivative of "Clarino" which was ... a small trumpet! But we know that the early clarinets were "small" clarinets and the people of this era seem to have been impressed by the shrill, sharp, shrill perhaps this new instrument. Thus the first concerto dedicated to him, namely MOLTER concertos are written for clarinet in D, and more in the range of the instrument most acute.


These brilliant MOLTER concertos are perhaps the only plays baroque known for the clarinet, for very soon the aspirations of the era classic should arise, for example, with concertos by Johann Stamitz, Carl Stamitz, Mercader ... There already is, passages in the writings of the clarinet although it is often encompassed in an arpeggio or a range , the passages are still sung almost exclusively reserved to the highs.

It was not until Mozart to the full extent of the clarinet is highlighted. It was he who really gave the clarinet its pedigree. It was indeed excited about this instrument as soon as he heard for the first time, as evidenced by a letter written to his father ("Father, you can not imagine the sound of the clarinet ...") but also as evidenced by the number (and quality too ...) that he will dedicate works: the most famous concerto K622 course, but the quintet with strings, the trio said "bowling trio" with viola and piano, a large number of entertainment for three basset horns ( see the clarinet family ), and many works of chamber music for winds, including the clarinet (The Great Partita for 13 wind instruments, the octets, quintets etc. ...).

The Golden Age, but the clarinet is undoubtedly the Romantic period . It sees it as the ideal confidant for the emotions of the soul, its dark timbre is perfectly suitable for domestic dramas of composers, but knowing also demonstrate the vehemence when necessary. SCHUMANN, BRAHMS great room and wrote sonatas for her . Carl Maria von Weber in a more extrovert kind, attracted by possible technical prowess, it left an impressive number of concertos, duets, quintets etc. ... The clarinet is then part of the symphony orchestra and there is an important and very personal. BERLIOZ noted for example that the clarinet is the only instrument able to swell the sound and make it disappear into infinity.

It was then that, in parallel to develop the first military bands that would later become the orchestras of harmony (orchestras composed solely of wind and percussion). Its importance is central and that the clarinet is supposed to replace the violins. The technological advances of the instrument at the beginning of the twentieth century opens for clarinet new horizons. There is no hesitation to give solos and features difficult, sometimes very difficult as evidenced by the works of Ravel (Daphnis and Chloe, for example). We also discover the whole family of the clarinet. The clarinet for his side now drilling into the upper sometimes melancholy in the grave, and bass clarinet alongside his cavernous and mysterious bring new colors to perfectly exploited the orchestra Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky. In Europe the TSE is the king of instruments: SMETANA, BORODIN, BARTOK use it copiously.

Today, finally, contemporary composers have exploded technical possibilities of the instrument, the performer, pushing its limits. In the first grades, grades with extreme sounds almost inaudible, followed by sounds so powerful it ears and then in the range , with a systematic and at heights of more high shrill; in the technique then, with features including large intervals tempi always higher, and finally the use of new effects (slap, flatterzunge, quarter tone, vibrato, ...).

The clarinet is ubiquitous today in all styles of music ( jazz , classical, contemporary, pop, folk), and if one believes Pierre Boulez, an instrument with a bright future.

The family of clarinets ...

From highest to lowest:


Bb Clarinet

Bass Clarinet
  • The clarinet in Ab: it is so small that the fingers are touching and the reed we split lip. She was formerly employed in the Military Music in Italy (Bandas). It is very rare and virtually unused today although some comtemporary composer is given to honor ("Space deployed" by Gilbert AMY). His tone is strident and shrill.

  • The small clarinet in Eb, it is at the fourth above the clarinet in Bb, but the treble is more difficult to control than on the Bb. Some special fingerings sometimes help them out with an accuracy less satisfying but direct attack at the right height, wide, round and are often instrumental prowess. His interest lies rather in its tone in its range. It is very suitable passages sarcastic, crackers, and a little vulgar ("Till Eulenspiegel" by Richard Strauss ), but also with melancholy passages in the midrange and the bass instrument.

  • The small clarinet in D: composers like Richard Strauss or Stravinsky's use but most of the time these musicians prefer to play orchestral excerpts in Eb transposing. She used, in fact, little more than the Molter concertos and this is perhaps a bit unfortunate because the sound is softer than the MiIb (as well as the clarinet in A is darker than the Bb),.

  • The clarinet in UT: also fell in dessuétude although again many works are written for this instrument as the operas of Rossini . The sound is somewhat aggressive, and prefer to transpose clarinet keeping the Bb clarinet.

  • Clarinets in Bb: it is the most used instrument is the clarinet and clarinet with which it begins.

  • Clarinets in A: There is a half-tone difference with her sister Bb but the sound changes. The LA is préférerable if you want something dark, sweet, interior. The Bb is préférerable if you want something shiny, direct, penetrating. That's why LA is much used in chamber music by Mozart, Brahms, Schumann but forsaken the Bb in the concertos of WEBER, SPOHR etc. ...
    The clarinet in LA need more air, more pressure than the Bb, and gives a little impression of inertia in the attacks and nuances. It is a great way to develop his sound for the Bb. It should be noted that there is a clarinet concerto in A special MOZART called basset clarinet, and down to serious DO (4 notes in the most severe). The original version of the Mozart concerto included some notes below the low E, (C # or the real), current limit of the clarinet in LA now).

  • The alto clarinet in F: old Basset Horn. At the fourth below clarinet in Bb, its sound is much more introvert. Its curved shape at the flag could be confused with a saxophone. It is mainly used in works of Mozart, and especially in his Requiem, which begins with a solo two basset horns.

  • The alto clarinet in Eb: we find this instrument in some of Harmony Music (Holland for example) and in sets of clarinets.

  • The bass clarinet in Bb: it sounds an octave below the Bb clarinet. His grave is remarkable, both dark and cavernous, somewhat resembling certain register soft organ. Its sharp focus much less, can express the point of violence. The shrill about it is much used in comtemporary music for its effect sub-ethereal, unearthly (Michel Portal) ... The multiphonics, flatterzunge, slap and other effects abound in his comtemporary literature.
    Design feature: additional keys in the bass, provide access to Eb, and even on some model to D, C and C #.

  • The bass clarinet alto Eb: it sounds a fifth below the bass clarinet. The low register is a deep sound extraordinary, cavernous, distant. It is mainly used as a set of clarinets.

  • The contrabass clarinet in Bb: it sounds an octave below the bass clarinet. His bass pedals resemble the sounds of the organ but with less power. I saw a metal, but it is also wood. The contrabass clarinet is mainly used in chamber music. It is mainly used in all clarinets, and he makes a fantastic sound foundation.

Creation date : 07/02/2009 13:43
Last update : 17/03/2009 09:08
Category : Files - Instruments-Woods
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