Clarinet History

Brief History of The Clarinet

Invented by Johann C Denner

Most musical instruments evolve into their present form over many centuries—so gradually that it is hard to pinpoint a date they were invented. This is not the case with the clarinet, a tube-shaped single-reed instrument with a bell-shaped end.  Although the clarinet has seen a series of improvements over the last few hundred years, its invention in around 1690 by Johann Christoph Denner, of Nuremburg, Germany, produced an instrument very similar to the one we know today.


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The Invention

The Invention

Although Denner based the clarinet on an earlier instrument called the chalumeau, his new instrument made such important changes that it really could not be called an evolution. With the help of his son, (Jacob Denner ), Denner added two finger keys to a chalumeau—which at the time looked much like a modern day recorder, though with a single-reed mouthpiece. The addition of two keys might sound like a small improvement, but it made an enormous difference by increasing the musical range of the instrument more than two octaves. Denner also created a better mouthpiece and improved the bell shape at the end of the instrument.

The name of the new instrument was coined shortly thereafter, and although there are different theories about the name, most likely it was named because its sound from a distance was somewhat similar to an early form of trumpet. (Clarinetto is an Italian word for “little trumpet.”)

The new clarinet with its improved range and interesting sound quickly replaced the chalumeau in orchestral arrangements. Mozart (d. 1791) wrote several pieces for the clarinet, and by the time of Beethoven’s prime years (1800 to 1820), the clarinet was a standard instrument in all orchestras.

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