Bass clarinet

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Bass clarinet
it. Clarinetto basso, Clarone
en. Bass clarinet ,
fr. clarinette basse
Bass clarinet and basset horn, each down to low C
woodwind instrument
with single reed
(written down)

Related instruments

The bass clarinet is a woodwind instrument , the bass of the clarinet family . As a transposing musical instrument it sounds in low Bb , i.e. a major ninth lower than notated. The double bass clarinet is an octave lower, the sub- double bass clarinet is the lowest instrument in the clarinet genre. In some older works (e.g. Wagner or Maurice Ravel ) a bass clarinet in A is also required. But as instruments are no longer built in the mood today, has the clarinetist when using a B instrument, the voice accordingly ( prima vista ) transpose . Apart from the treble clef notation that is common today , the bass clef was also used in the past.


The bass clarinet is usually made of grenadilla wood , simpler versions also made of plastic ( ABS ). It consists of a mouthpiece, a one- or two-part metal S-bow, an upper and a lower part and a bell. The bell is usually made of metal, but recently there are also bell made of wood, which has a positive effect on the sound and the resonance of the instrument. The bass clarinet is usually played while sitting. However, similar to a saxophone, it also has an eyelet attached to the connection between the upper and lower sections, into which a shoulder strap can be hung (e.g. for use in marching music or for soloists who want to play a concert while standing) . In order to adapt the bass clarinet to the height of the musicians playing while seated, it is provided with a height-adjustable spike similar to the violoncello . Rarely do you see instruments with coiled tubes that resemble bassoons . Some manufacturers use this variant primarily for double bass clarinets. Like all clarinet instruments , it has a cylindrical length and a mouthpiece with a simple reed.

Unlike the Bb clarinet, which has the small E (sounding D) as the lowest note, most bass clarinets today can play up to the big E flat (the big sounding D flat). Some instruments go in the bass up to the capital C (the sounding contra-B). As with all wind instruments, the upper limit of the range depends on the craftsmanship of the wind player and the mouthpiece or reed used.

Even more so than with the Bb clarinet, the Boehm system has been able to establish itself in the bass clarinet , not least because bass clarinets with the German system (Müller system) are much more expensive due to the very limited international demand. In addition, the range of reeds with a German cut is very limited; the reeds of the tenor saxophone are also used as an inexpensive replacement .


Double bass clarinetist (1917).

The exact origin of the bass clarinet is uncertain. The first instruments that sound an octave lower than the clarinet appear around 1750. An instrument built in 1770 is preserved in the Munich City Museum. In 1772, Gilles Lott presented an instrument in Paris . From 1793 onwards, instruments were developed in Heinrich Grenser's workshop (see Heinrich Grenser in the English Wikipedia) that were designed more like a bassoon, similar to the instrument that Streitwolf built a little later in Göttingen. Other instruments from the period are reminiscent of a serpent. It was not until 1830 that the Belgian musical instrument maker Adolphe Sax developed the current shape of the bass clarinet, which he registered for a patent in 1838: The bass clarinet now has a much larger bore and no open tone holes, but only keys, as well as a curved S-bow and a straight one or curved horns as we know them today.

Use in music

Bass clarinets are often used to expand the sound in smaller ensembles, and from 1850 onwards they are often found in symphony orchestras , where they mostly perform the bass function. The bass clarinet often marks exciting spots in film music. The instrument is also popular in jazz .

In the orchestra

In the orchestra , the bass clarinet is usually played by the second or third clarinetist as a secondary instrument , but large orchestras sometimes have pure bass clarinetists.

The most famous bass clarinet solo in classical music is probably the dance of the sugar fairy from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker , where the low notes contrast with the glittering heights of the celesta . More solo passages can in some Wagner operas (especially in Tristan and Valkyrie ) and in the Rhapsodie Espagnole by Maurice Ravel heard. An important role is played by the bass clarinet in the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss (z. B. Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks ), and in virtually all orchestral compositions by Gustav Mahler .

The bass clarinet is also used in almost all symphonic wind orchestras. It is hard to imagine contemporary literature without it. Often their mysterious sound is used in calm passages, in the form of long, sustained tones. Unlike z. On the bassoon , for example , it is much easier to use the bass clarinet softly and quietly on a low note. The clarinet's octave-free series of overtones does the rest to make a mysterious, distant note sound.

Furthermore, their high mobility is used by the composers down to the low register.

In chamber music

The bass clarinet is occasionally used in small ensembles, especially in new music . The best-known use was found in Arnold Schönberg's Pierrot Lunaire . Furthermore, the bass clarinet is always used as a bass instrument in the clarinet quartet. In some arrangements, however, it can optionally be replaced by a Bb clarinet. Even in larger clarinet ensembles or clarinet choirs, the bass clarinet and, in some cases, the double bass clarinet are also an important part of the ensemble. In arrangements of orchestral works made for these ensembles, it serves as a substitute for the deep string or wind instruments.

As a solo instrument

A large number of solo pieces (some with piano accompaniment) were composed for the bass clarinet, especially in the last century. These are often very virtuoso and extremely difficult. They show that the bass clarinet can not only play softly, deeply and slowly. The first three-movement concerto was written by Josef Schelb , first performed in 1931 by Hans Rosbaud, and reconstructed by the composer in 1943 after the original manuscript was lost during the war. Mauricio Kagel composed a piece for bass clarinet solo with the title Schattenklänge in 1995. B. von Elliott Carter ( Steep Steps , 2001), Dietrich Erdmann ( monologue , 1984), Othmar Schoeck ( sonata for bass clarinet and piano , op. 41, 1931), Olga Neuwirth ( Spleen , 1994), Shigeru Kan-no ( Otnacca , 1999), Iris ter Schiphorst ( Hi Bill , 2005), Léonid Karev ( Manteau noir , 2007). Uwe Lohrmann ( Solo for Harry Sparnaay , 1979). In his one-movement concerto for bass clarinet and orchestra , composed in 1996 and premiered by Bo Pettersson in 2004, Anders Eliasson integrates the solo instrument into the symphonically worked out event. In his Concertino L'ombre de Dinorah , written in 2008 for Volker Hemken, the principal bass clarinetist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra , Timo Jouko Herrmann quotes the so-called “shadow aria” from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Dinorah ou Le pardon de Ploërmel . Josef Horák made a significant contribution to expanding the solo literature for bass clarinet . In 1955 he played a full-length solo program for bass clarinet and piano for the first time. Since then, over 500 compositions written or arranged for him have been premiered by his Due Boemi di Praga .

In jazz

In 1926, Omer Simeon played the first jazz bass clarinet solo in jazz history in the number Someday Sweethart by Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers . In the early 1930s, Harry Carney occasionally played bass clarinet in Duke Ellington's arrangements. The first important soloist of the instrument, however, was Eric Dolphy , who established it as a serious jazz instrument. Since then the bass clarinet has been used often, but musicians (such as Michel Pilz , Rudi Mahall , Claudio Puntin or Thomas Savy ) rarely specialize exclusively in the instrument; it is often played as a secondary instrument by saxophonists . In the jazz version of Layla , which Eric Clapton played at several jazz festivals in 1997, Marcus Miller can be heard on bass clarinet.


Web links

Commons : Bass Clarinet  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Eric Hoeprich: The Clarinet . Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-300-10282-8 , p. 259.
  2. ^ Albert R. Rice: From the Clarinet D'Amour to the Contra Bass: A History of Large Size Clarinets, 1740-1860: A History of Large Size Clarinets, 1740-1860 . Oxford University Press, March 3, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-971117-8 , pp. 298, 299, 306.
  3. Philip Rehfeldt: New Directions for Clarinet . 2nd Edition. The Scarecrow Press, Lanham; Oxford 2003, ISBN 978-0-520-03379-5 , pp. 158 .