History of the Clarinet

Johann Christoph Denner invented the clarinet in Germany around the beginning of the 18th century. By adding a register key to a folk instrument called the chalumeau, Denner was able to extend the range of the instrument significantly. Over time, additional keywork and airtight pads were added to improve tone and playability. Today, the clarinet is used in both jazz and classical ensembles, as well as in chamber groups and as a solo instrument.


As a relative newcomer to the woodwind instrument family, the clarinet does not find its way into the musical repertoire until the mid 18th century. The first major composer to write a significant amount of music for the clarinet was Mozart who wrote a concerto, a quintet, and many chamber works for the instrument. By the end of the century, the clarinet had become a regular member of the orchestra, probably due mainly to the attention Mozart had given the instrument.


The 19th century saw the clarinet become a major instrument in orchestral and chamber music literature. Major composers including Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt, and Rimsky-Korsakov utilized the clarinet prominently in their compositions. During this period, the clarinet evolved from a primitive 6 to 13 key folk like instrument into the modern instrument we have today. As early as 1839, Hyacinthe Klose developed the modern Boehm fingering system that remains in use in most countries today. By the end of the century, the clarinet had also become an indispensible member of the bands and wind ensembles that were coming into prominence at that time.


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