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The Clarinet

The clarinet is a type of wind instrument that produces sound by the vibrations of a single reed. The bore of the instrument is cylindrical in shape, which contributes to its unique timbre, and can be made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, and metal. The clarinet is made up of five separate parts: a mouthpiece, barrel, upper joint, lower joint, and bell.

The clarinet of Western art music was invented around the beginning of the 18th century, and is most often credited to the famed woodwind maker Johann Christoph Denner of Nuremberg. It co-existed alongside its close relative the chalumeau, but had a louder, brighter sound which led
it to be named clarinetto, meaning ‘little trumpet’.

Clarinets have been made in a wider range of sizes and pitches than perhaps any other instrument, and members of the clarinet family include the sopranino, soprano, alto, basset horn, bass and contrabass clarinets. Unless specified otherwise, the word clarinet usually refers to the B flat soprano clarinet which is the most commonly used type.

In its low register, the clarinet produces a rich and oily sound, while its upper register projects clearly and can even produce a grotesque sound if desired. By the 20th century, the talents of clarinettists such as Benny Goodman and Gervase de Peyer encouraged composers to exploit the unique sound of this instrument. Pieces such as Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto provided contrast to more traditional literature such as Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A and Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op.11 for clarinet, cello and piano.

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