Single reeds before 1750

Lawson, C. (1995) Single reeds before 1750. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Clarinet. Cambridge Companions to Music . Cambride University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-15. ISBN 9780521476683 (paperback) 9781139796620 (e-book)


The remarkable and eventful history of the clarinet continues to prove an endless source of fascination amongst players and listeners alike. A wealth of new research relating to the clarinet's origins and development has been stimulated by an increasing recognition that historical instruments and performance practices have a great deal to teach us about both the art and craft of music. The earliest years of any instrument's life inevitably reveal varied patterns of acceptance, and only gradually is any coherent picture of the early eighteenth-century clarinet beginning to emerge. However, any lingering doubts about the clarinet's vigorous career in the two generations before Mozart's birth have now at last been conclusively laid to rest. It is the special acoustical make-up of the clarinet which seems to account for many particular features of its history. For example, during the first half century of its life it really existed as two instruments; the essence of the baroque clarinet was its upper register, whereas its close relative the chalumeau was restricted to a range of a twelfth in its fundamental register. Only during the classical period did it become possible to manufacture an instrument in which both registers were relatively satisfactory and in tune. Although the baroque clarinet engaged some important composers such as Handel and Vivaldi, the repertoire for chalumeau is actually much more wide ranging in scope and deserves to be far better known.

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