The clarinet family: introduction - clarinets in B♭ and A

Lawson, C. (1995) The clarinet family: introduction - clarinets in B♭ and A. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Clarinet. Cambridge Companions to Music . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 33-38. ISBN 9780521476683 (paperback) 9781139796620 (e-book)


No other instrument can lay claim to quite such a large and diverse family as the clarinet, and even the player's basic equipment of a pair of instruments serves to distinguish him from other instrumentalists. The B♭ clarinet has reigned supreme for some 200 years, even though Mozart, Brahms and a host of other writers of orchestral and chamber music have ensured that the A clarinet also remains absolutely indispensable. Almost as familiar within the orchestra are the E♭ and bass, whilst the basset horn has a further specialist role, notably in the works of Mozart and Richard Strauss. The scope of even this select group of closely related instruments is unmatched by any other woodwind category, though in fact the clarinet family extends a great deal further – to as many as twenty-five different instruments. The tiniest is the scarcely known clarinet in high C, more than an octave higher than the normal clarinet; in increasing order of size there are then piccolo, sopranino, soprano, alto and bass clarinets ranging down to the B♭ contrabass. Least familiar are perhaps those clarinets smaller in size than the E♭, though there are also some shadowy larger representatives, such as the clarinettes d'amour in A♭ and G (pitched just below the normal A clarinet) from the latter half of the eighteenth century. An especially significant member of the family is the soprano C clarinet, the only one sounding at written pitch, whose prominent role within the repertoire positively demands its widespread revival.

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