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Clarinet History


Johann Christoph Denner    1655 - 1707

Denner was from Nuremburg, Germany. Shortly before 1700, he invented the register key, increasing the range of the clarinet's predecessor, the chalumeau. This allowed pitches a 12th above the lower register to be produced. The cylindrical shape of the clarinet, combined with a closed ended mouthpiece (unlike the flute) inhibit the clarinet from producing the even numbered harmonics. This accounts for its unique timbre. Baroque clarinets had only two keys, and were made of boxwood, plum, ebony, pear, or ivory. The keys and the springs were usually made of brass.


Chalumeau, ca. 1680

1712 - The earliest known works for the clarinet, a set of duets by French composer Estienne Roger.

1716 - Earliest known orchestral use of the clarinet, in Vivaldi's oratorio Juditha Triumphans.

1730 - Composers employ a more lyrical style of melodic writing for the clarinet, using scale passages, leaps of an octave or more, and frequent use of the low register.

1740 - A third key, played by either thumb, extends the range down to low e.

1749 - Rameau introduces the clarinet to Paris in his opera Zoroastre.

1750 - A fourth and fifth key are added by organ builder Barthold Fritz.

1750 - Composer Johann Stamitz, director of the Mannheim Orchestra includes clarinet parts in his symphonies.

1751 - Haydn uses the clarinet for the first time in his First Mass.

1751 - J. C. Bach introduces the clarinet to London.

1757 - The first Concerto for Bb clarinet is composed by Stamitz.

1760 - Gluck uses the clarinet in his operas.

1770 - The bass clarinet and basset horn are invented. The first bass clarinet is made in Paris by G. Lot. The basset horn's maker, a German, is not known. The basset horn was the instrument for which Mozart  composed his Clarinet Concerto and his Woodwind Quintet.

Basset Horn, ca. 1770


1770 - Clarinets in C and Bb appear. The bores ranged from 13 to 14 mm. Reeds are short, narrow and hard.  Many of the reeds from the late 1770's are made from pine or fir, and some from cane.

1771 - Mozart composes Divertimento K. 113 with clarinets.

1776 - Haydn uses clarinets in his orchestra at Esterhazy.

1780 - Most orchestras included a pair of clarinetists.

1780 - In England, the clarinet is used in church bands.

1785 - The mouthpiece is separated from the barrel.


Moussetter, 1785


Grenser, 1785


1790 - In England, a key to trill between a' and b' is added.

1791 - In Paris. Jean-Xavier Lefèvre popularizes a sixth key on the clarinet, the left hand c#/g# key.  Cross fingerings still have to be used.

1800 - The clarinet is more prominent than the oboe in wind bands.


Goulding C clarinet, 1800


1803 - J. F. Semiot claims to have made a 12-keyed clarinet. His work was not well known.


1806 - Iwan Müller invents key pads, glued inside the pad cups.  He also developes the metal screw ligature and the metal thumb-rest.  When no thumb rest was used, the clarinet had to be supported at a greater angle away from the body. Müller also redesigns the key mechanism for greater ease in playing. 

1808 - Invention of the contra-bass clarinet.

1812 -  Iwan Müller invents a 13-key clarinet with improved intonation due to better placement of the tone holes.  The 13-key clarinet can play more easily in all keys The seven keys added by Müller were f/c'', b-flat/f'', b/f#'', d#/a#'', f/c''' and g#'/b' trill. Two of the keys are operated by the right thumb.  Müller's clarinet still does not have any rings around the tone holes.  Müller further refines his instrument by adding holes and keys that replaced certain awkward cross-fingerings.

1818 - First metal clarinet.

1820 - German players play with the reed touching the bottom lip.  In France and elsewhere the reed on top is still more common.  Soon the English also begin playing with the reed on the bottom.



ca. 1820


1823 - César Janssen of the Paris Opera invents "roller keys," allowing the clarinetist to slide from one key to another.



1830 - The first German experiments to produce combination Bb/A clarinets.

1830 - Berlioz uses the small Eb clarinet in Symphonie Fantastique.

1831- The Paris Conservatory changes to the reed-below orientation.

1832 - Boehm introduces the "long axle" for flute keys.

1837 - August Buffet introduces the "needle spring" mounted on posts screwed into the clarinet.

1840 - Hyacinthe E. Klosé developes the Klosé-Buffet clarinet which is essentially the modern French clarinet. Klosé's and Buffet's major innovation was the use of "movable rings" around the tone holes.  The Klosé-Buffet clarinet had seventeen keys and six rings, as do present day instruments. 

1840 - Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, develops a clarinet from Müller's clarinet that uses the Boehm moveable rings but still retains the need for cross-fingerings.

1840 - The size of the various pitched clarinets becomes more standard. Boxwood or now ebony are the usual body materials, and the keys are of brass or silver.

1840 - Eugène Albert developes the Albert system clarinet, popular until the early twentieth century. The instrument supposedly had better intonation and tone than the Boehm clarinets from this period.

1844 - The Boehm clarinet is patented. Boehm himself is not directly involved in its development.

1844- Berlioz's famous Treatise on Instrumentation influences 19th century composers regarding how to write for the clarinet.

1845 - Müller collaborates with Heckel in adding rings around the finger holes of his clarinet's lower joint.

1860 - In Germany, Carl Baermann improves Müller's clarinet in collaboration with Munich instrument maker Georg Ottensteiner.  They add two rings around finger holes on the upper joint and double levers to operate the a-flat and b-flat keys with the left hand.  Clarinetist Robert Stark and instrument maker Anton Osterried add keys based on the Boehm clarinet which aid in producing certain trills.

1862 - Buffet builds combination Bb/A clarinet with one set of keys and two metal tubes in bore.  Mechanically sound, but it has poor pitch and sound.

1869 - First machine-made reeds.

1870 - Hard rubber mouthpieces first appear.

1870 - Boehm system clarinets increase in popularity in Italy, Belgium, and the United States.  They were almost the only type used in France.

1885 - Englishman James Clinton developes a clarinet built by Boosey that was derived from the Müller clarinet.

1890 - The Spaniard Manuel Gómez establishes the Boehm clarinet more fully in London where he performedHis clarinet had an extended range to low e-flat, an articulated c#'/g#' key, a left hand a-flat/e''-flat lever and a seventh ring for a cross-fingered e'-flat/b''-flat.

1900 - Dr. R. H. Stein, a Berlin musicologist makes a quarter-tone clarinet, which is soon abandoned.

Chedeville, 1925

1930 - Plastic and plexiglas mouthpieces are manufactured.

1952 - The S-K mechanism provides for separate holes and keys for a register key and a resonance key for the note b'-flat, resulting in better tuned third partials and altissimo register.

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