The Woodwind Family

The Clarinet

Part of the woodwind family, the clarinet shares many similarities with the oboe, such as being made of grenadilla wood. However, it has certain key differences, such as having a cylindrical bore as opposed to a conical one, therefore giving it a more mellow tone. Like the oboe, the sound is produced with a reed. This time it is a flat, single reed attached to a plastic mouthpiece, into which the player blows, which causes the vibrations to resonate through the instrument, giving it the dynamic range for which it is known. When playing in the lower register, the sound is round and warm. In the high register, the sound can become bright and piercing. The clarinettist plays with the instrument held in front, and either pushes down or releases the keys to move from one note to the next. There are generally two clarinettists in an orchestra.

Simon Aldrich and François Martel, Principal and Second Clarinets of the Orchestre Métropolitain

Did you know?

There is an entire family of clarinets, beginning with the E-flat clarinet with the highest range, the B-flat clarinet covering the middle range, and finishing with the larger bass clarinet with the lowest range. Clarinet players must often change from one instrument to the next in order to cover the vast range required of them.

Musical excerpts

In the first excerpt, taken from the opera, La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi, the clarinet seems to smile in the face of destiny, all while accompanied by the harp. With great finesse, the clarinet executes a series of arpeggios in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, demonstrating the vast register of the instrument. While the previous excerpts showed off the joyous capabilities of the instrument, in the last excerpt, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, the clarinet evokes a warm, but darker mood in its low register.

Giuseppe Verdi

La forza del destino: Prelude

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”: II. Andante molto moto - Szene am Bach (Scene by the Brook)

Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 5: I. Andante - Scherzo. Allegro con anima - Molto più tranquillo