Northern Illinois University

Greg Barrett

The Clarinet in Music History

  • Ca. 1700 Invention of the clarinet.  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 Earliest known orchestral use of the clarinet; in the chorus "Plena nectare" from Vivaldi's oratorio "Juditha Triumphans."

  • 1718 Caldara's opera "Ifigenia in Aulide" is the first known to use clarinets.  It is possible that these parts were intended for clarini not clarinets.

  • 1720 Orchestral clarinet part appeared in mass "Maria Assumpta" by Jean-Adam-Joseph Faber, organist and choirmaster of Antwerp Cathedral.  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.

  • Three concertos by Vivaldi include the C clarinet.  Date of composition not known (possibly 1726-1730); but certainly before 1741 when Vivaldi died.

  • 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: first clarinet solo music.  Contrarily, Karl Haas in his notes to the Schott edition of the Handel Ouverture for 2 cls/hrn dates the Molter concertos to be from 1734.

  • 1749 Rameau introduced the clarinet to Paris in his opera "Zoroastre."

  • 1750's Johann Stamitz was director of the Mannheim orchestra.  The orchestra had a reputation for sensitivity and refinement.  The expressive and tonal possibilities of the instruments were developed.  The clarinet was especially capable in these areas and many composers including Carl Stamitz, Cannabich, Holzbauer, Beck and Toeschi included clarinet parts in their symphonies.

  • 1751 J. C. Bach introduced clarinet to London.

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

  • First Concerto for Bb clarinet: Johann Stamitz Concerto was written before 1757 in baroque style.

  • 1756 Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1788 Autobiography that he heard clarinets in a Moravian church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1756.

  • 1757 First reported use of clarinets in symphonic music in Paris; by Italian Ruggi.

  • Ca. 1758 Mannheim, first court orchestra 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 (2 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 Royal Artillery Band founded in England.  Composed of wind octet.

  • 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 the clarinet in London.

  • 1770 In England five-keyed clarinets had entirely replaced earlier versions.  This was not so on the European continent.

  • Ca. 1770 bass clarinet and basset horn first produced.

  • 1771 Mozart composed Divertimento K. 113 with clarinets.

  • 1772 Joseph Beer plays a Carl Stamitz Concerto in Paris.

  • 1776 Clarinets used by Haydn at Esterhazy.

  • 1777 Mozart hears the clarinet in Mannheim.

  • By 1780 most orchestras included a pair of clarinetists in their membership.

  • 1780 In England the clarinet was used in church bands.

  • 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 it was  considered the best instrument to convey sadness or grief.  Except for a  few Concertos written for the D or C clarinet, the Bb clarinet had become the most popular instrument for solo works due to its tonal combination of brilliance and alternately warmth.  At the end of the century there had formed two distinct schools, the soft, sweet German and the brilliant and penetrating French.

  • 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 instrumentation became standard for the woodwind quintet.

  • 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.

  • By 1800 the clarinet was more prominent than the oboe in wind bands.

  • 1812 Müller's 13-keyed clarinet.

  • Ca. 1824 Müller's tutor recommends that the clarinet reed should face the lower lip.  This was a change from the earlier reed-up orientation and allowed articulation with the tongue.

  • 1830 "Symphonie fantastique"  Until the time of Berlioz, clarinets pitched higher than C did not reappear in orchestral music.  Berlioz used clarinets in Eb, C, Bb, and A.

  • 1831 Paris Conservatory officially changes to the reed-below orientation.  Reed-above continues to be popular in England due to clarinetist Thomas Lindsay Willman.

  • 1840 Berlioz' "Funeral and Triumphal Symphony" for winds and percussion (string orchestra and chorus are ad libitum in the last movement) marks the first time a wind group was equated with the orchestra.  Importantly for the development of the clarinet, Berlioz conceived of the clarinet sections as replacing the violin sections of the orchestra.

  • Through the era of Berlioz, the best clarinetists continued to be Germans.

  • 1844 Berlioz wrote his monumental "Treatise on Instrumentation" that influenced composers through the 19th century with its writing on range, difficult and easy passages written for the clarinet and the quality of the different registers.  Berlioz also mentioned: "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."
    These comments sound reminiscent of Berlioz's use of the clarinet in his 1831 "Symphonie fantastique."

  • 1870's, Boehm clarinet became more and more popular in Italy, Belgium and U.S.  Almost no other type of clarinet was used in France.

  • Up to the mid-19th century developments in clarinet technique through its literature were the result of the clarinet's solo literature.  By mid-century concerto writing for winds practically stopped until into the 1900's.  The clarinet literature of this period was most importantly developed through symphonic and operatic writing.  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.  Wagner composed for three clarinets plus bass clarinet.  This established as being indispensable the complete clarinet family of instruments.