Instruments | Clarinet | Late Baroque | Classical
The clarinet is a wooden instrument with a cylindrical bore and a single beating reed. Instead of being a kind of flattened drinking straw wedged on to a thin metal tube, as in the case of the oboe and bassoon, it is more like a thin spatula tied on to an open-topped recorder mouthpiece. A single-reed woodwind instrument called the chalumeau had evolved in the seventeenth century, possibly as a development of the recorder. The clarinet was invented at the beginning of the eighteenth century, probably by Johann Christoph Denner of Nuremberg (1655–1707), and was conceived as a kind of chalumeau with the added ability to produce higher notes, known as the ‘clarino’ register. Both instruments were played with the reed against the upper lip. At the back of the clarinet was a ‘speaker key’, operated by the left thumb to open a small hole some way down the instrument. This opening allowed ‘overblowing’ at the 12th rather than at the octave. Despite this, the clarinet continued to be weak in these lower notes and the chalumeau went on being used alongside it throughout the eighteenth century.
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