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The Clarinet in Music History

  • Ca. 1700 The clarinet was invented. The clarinets of the early decades of the 18th century were inferior in tone, intonation and agility compared to contemporary flutes and oboes.
  • Ca. 1712-1715 The earliest known works calling for the clarinet were an anonymous set of duets for chalumeau, trumpets, oboes, violins, flutes, clarinets, or horns published in Amsterdam by the Frenchman Estienne Roger.
  • 1716 The earliest known orchestral use of the clarinet was in the chorus "Plena nectare" from Vivaldi's oratorio "Juditha Triumphans."
  • 1718 Caldara's opera "Ifigenia in Aulide" may be the first to use clarinets but it is possible that these parts were intended for clarini not clarinets.
  • 1720 An orchestral clarinet part appeared in mass "Maria Assumpta" by Jean-Adam-Joseph Faber, organist and choirmaster of Antwerp Cathedral. It is the earliest known use of arpeggios in the chalumeau register.
  • 1720's The style of playing consisted mostly of repeated notes, incomplete arpeggios, fanfare motifs, a limited range and restricted use of the low register.
  • Possibly 1726-1730 Three concertos by Vivaldi include the C clarinet. The exact dates of the compositions are not known.
  • After c. 1730 other style characteristics become more prominent: a lyrical style of melodic writing, scale passages, leaps of an octave or more and more frequent use of the low register.
  • Late 1740's Molter's six concertos for D clarinet may have been the first clarinet solo music but it may have been Handel's Ouverture for two clarinets and horn.
  • 1749 Jean-Philippe Rameau introduced the clarinet to Paris in his opera "Zoroastre."
  • 1750's Many composers including Carl Stamitz, Christian Cannabich, Ignaz Holzbauer, Franz Ignaz Beck and Karl Joseph Toeschi included clarinets in their symphonies.
  • 1751 J. C. Bach introduced the clarinet to London.
  • 1751 Franz Joseph Haydn used the clarinet for the first time in his "First Mass."
  • 1757 Johann Stamitz composed the first concerto for Bb clarinet.
  • 1756 Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1788 autobiography that he heard clarinets in a Moravian church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
  • 1757 The first reported use of clarinets in Paris was in symphonic music by Italian Francesco Ruggi.
  • Ca. 1758 The Mannheim court orchestra was the first to have separate clarinet players. Previously clarinets were played by the orchestra's oboists.
  • By 1759 The clarinet was heard in St. Petersburg.
  • Ca. 1760 Wind octets (two each of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons) were fairly widespread.
  • By 1760 The clarinet was established in Paris.
  • 1760's Gluck used the clarinet in his operas.
  • 1762 The Royal Artillery Band was founded in England and included two clarinets.
  • 1762 Louis XV established French army bands of four each of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons.
  • 1762 J. C. Bach's "Orione" uses D and Bb clarinets.
  • 1764 Mozart hears a clarinet in London.
  • 1770 In England five-keyed clarinets entirely replaced earlier versions. This was not so on the European continent.
  • Ca. 1770 Bass clarinets and basset horns were first produced.
  • 1771 Mozart composed Divertimento K. 113 with clarinets.
  • 1772 Joseph Beer played a Carl Stamitz Concerto in Paris.
  • 1776 Clarinets were used by Haydn at Esterhazy.
  • 1777 Mozart heard a clarinet in Mannheim.
  • By 1780 Most orchestras included a pair of clarinetists.
  • 1780 In England the clarinet was used in church bands.
  • 1780's With the new age of clarinet specialists the D clarinet almost disappeared.
  • At the beginning of the Romantic era clarinets and horns were associated in orchestral music with particularly romantic, expressive music.
  • Ca. 1790 to 1820 was the "golden age" of solo wind music. In Vienna, there were more solo wind performances at concerts than solo violin performances.
  • Ca. 1790 to 1820 Flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon became standard for the woodwind quintet.
  • 1795 When the Paris Conservatory was founded in 1795 there were at least 12 clarinet teachers who altogether had 104 pupils. This large number represented the need to fill positions in military bands, theaters, opera and variety orchestras.
  • At the end of the 18th century the clarinet had its own identity. It was no longer compared to other instruments such as the oboe or trumpet. It was known as the best imitator of the human voice and considered the best instrument to convey sadness or grief. Except for a few concertos written for D or C clarinet, the Bb clarinet had become the most popular instrument for solo works due to its sound. At the end of the century there were two distinct sounds: the soft sweet German and the brilliant penetrating French.
  • By 1800 the clarinet was more prominent than the oboe in wind bands.
  • 1812 Müller's 13-keyed clarinet was introduced.
  • Ca. 1824 Müller's tutor recommended that the clarinet reed face the lower lip instead of the upper to allow articulation with the tongue.
  • 1830 Clarinets pitched higher than C were not used in orchestral music until Hector Berlioz used clarinets in Eb, C, Bb and A in "Symphonie fantastique."
  • 1831 The Paris Conservatory officially changed to the reed-below orientation. Reed-above continued to be popular in England due to clarinetist Thomas Lindsay Willman.
  • 1840 Berlioz used the clarinet section to replace the violin section in "Funeral and Triumphal Symphony" for winds and percussion.
  • 1844 Berlioz wrote his monumental "Treatise on Instrumentation" that "The low register, especially in sustained notes, produces those coldly threatening effects, those dark accents of quiet rage which Weber so ingeniously invented." Berlioz also drew attention to the ability of the clarinet to play very softly: "There is no other wind instrument which can produce a tone, let it swell, decrease and die away as beautifully as the clarinet. Hence its invaluable ability to render distant sounds, an echo, the reverberation of an echo, or the charm of the twilight."
  • 1870's The Boehm clarinet became more popular in Italy, Belgium and the U.S.  Almost no other type of clarinet was used in France.
  • Up to the mid-19th century developments in clarinet technique were the result of the solo literature. By mid-century concerto writing for winds practically stopped. Then clarinet literature was most importantly developed through symphonic and operatic writing. Richard Wagner in the "Ring of the Nibelungen" (1853-1874) was the first composer to call for more than a pair of clarinets in an orchestral setting, using three clarinets plus bass clarinet.
Greg Barrett

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Gregory Barrett
NIU School of Music
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gregbarrett@niu.edu