The Woodwind Family

The Bass Clarinet

Part of the woodwind family, the bass clarinet has the deepest sound of the clarinet family. The instrument is so big that it must be supported by a floor peg. Often quite discreet in orchestral repertoire due to its low and sweet tone, the bass clarinet is played in the same manner as a clarinet, by blowing through a mouthpiece to which a single reed is attached.

François Martel, Second Clarinet of the Orchestre Métropolitain, playing the bass clarinet

Did you know?

Although there were bass clarinets as early as the end of the 18th Century, the instrument we know today was conceived of by Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. If you listen closely, you can even hear the influence of the sax in its sound.

Musical excerpts

In the first excerpt, taken from Shostakovich’s 8th symphony, the winding solo played by the bass clarinet creates a mysterious atmosphere, accompanied by pizzicatos in the string section, much like in the short excerpt from the Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. The sweet timbre of the bass clarinet floats above cacophony of cowbells and various other percussion instruments in the excerpt of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony No. 8: V. Allegretto

Igor Stravinsky

The Rite of Spring: Part Two “The Sacrifice”, Ritual Action of the Ancestors

Gutav Mahler

Symphony No. 6: I. Allegro energico, ma non troppo. Heftig, aber markig