Thursday January 14, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Clarinet

On this Day:

In 1690,  the musical instrument, the clarinet, was invented in Nürnberg, Germany.

Clarinet, a single-reed woodwind instrument used orchestrally and in military and brass bands and possessing a distinguished solo repertory. It is usually made of African blackwood and has a cylindrical bore of about 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) terminating in a flared bell. All-metal instruments are made but are little used professionally. The mouthpiece, usually of ebonite (a hard rubber), has a slotlike opening in one side over which a single reed, made from natural cane, is secured by a screw clip, or ligature, or (in earlier times and still often in Germany) by string lapping. The player grips the mouthpiece, reed down, between his lips or lower lip and upper teeth.

The invention of the clarinet in the early 18th century is ascribed to Johann Christoph Denner, a renowned woodwind maker in Nürnberg. Previously, single reeds were used only in organs and folk instruments. The clarinet’s immediate predecessor was the small mock trumpet, or chalumeau, an adaptation of a folk reed pipe that Denner is credited with improving. His clarinette was longer and intended for playing mainly in the upper register, with the fundamentals (to which the chalumeau was confined) as an adjunct. It thus provided a complete trumpet (clarino) compass with steadier, clearer notes.

The earliest known music for the clarinet appeared in tune books published by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam (2nd ed., 1716, extant). The instrument was played with the reed up (playing with the reed down is described only after 1800, in Germany) and had two keys, with F below middle C as the lowest note. A short bell was added by 1720, and the important extension of the tube to carry the low E key (also providing the upper B, formerly imperfectly available) followed about 1740–50. By the late 18th century the instrument had five or six keys and was built in various pitches, the written music being transposed to preserve the same fingerings. Clarinets were used in most large orchestras from about 1780.

The modern clarinet developed between 1800 and 1850. Further keys were added to improve certain notes. Bores and mouthpieces were enlarged following general trends toward greater tonal power. Technological advances, including keywork mounted on pillars, the ring keys introduced by the flute-maker Theobald Boehm, and Auguste Buffet’s needle springs, led in the 1840s to the appearance in their main essentials of the two principal modern systems.

Clarinets in sizes other than B♭ and its sharp-key equivalent in A include the C clarinet, much used in the Classical period and often preserved in German orchestration; octave clarinets in A♭, used in large European bands; and sopranino clarinets in F and later E♭, the latter often used with its sharp-key equivalent in D (popular in earlier days). Alto (or tenor) clarinets that followed the late 18th-century clarinette d’amour in A♭, G, or F and the more successful basset horn in F include the wider-bore alto clarinet in F and later E♭, made with upturned metal bell and a curved metal crook holding the mouthpiece. Bass clarinets in B♭ were at first built experimentally but after 1810 were built in many designs. The modern version, with twice-curved crook, was influenced by the 1838 design of the Belgian instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, to which the upturned bell was later added. Contrabass clarinets are made in E♭ or in B♭ (per

First, a Story:

How do you fix a broken clarinet? With a tuba glue.

Second, a Song:

Here are 3 Clarinets: Ken Peplowski, Evan Christopher and Anat Cohen – performing Swing That Music (by Horace Gerlach and Louis Armstrong) in a live performance from the summer of 2012.

Evan Christopher is playing an Albert System clarinet (he is the fellow in the white suit and blue shirt at the left hand side of the photo). Very rare! The Albert system refers to a system of clarinet keywork and fingering developed by Eugène Albert. In the United Kingdom it is known as the simple system. It has been largely replaced by the Boehm system and Oehler system.

The Albert system is still used, mainly by clarinetists who perform Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish folk music, Klezmer, and Dixieland styles. Often these musicians prefer the Albert system due to the ease of slurring notes provided by unkeyed tone holes.

The system is a derivative of the early 19th century 13-key system developed by Iwan Müller and as such is related to the (more advanced) Oehler system used by most German and Austrian clarinetists (per Wikipedia).  

Here are 3 Clarinets: Ken Peplowski, Evan Christopher and Anat Cohen performing Swing That Music (by Horace Gerlach and Louis Armstrong) in a live performance from the summer of 2012. I hope  you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The clarinet chose me more than I chose the clarinet.” – Anat Cohen


Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

Leave a Reply