The clarinet – a star of many musical genres

The clarinet - a star of many musical genres

Let’s take a look at an instrument that is at once hot, cool, sleek, sassy, sophisticated.   It’s a master of classical music, and a star of jazz.  It’s at home with swing, the blues, or the symphony orchestra.   It has three distinct registers, each of which is like a separate instrument!   It soars, it moans, it flutters, it flies ….   Here’s to an incredible instrument, versatile, expressive, warm and witty:



Some of the greatest classical masters have written wonderful chamber pieces that include clarinet.

Aaron Copland’s glorious Clarinet Concerto, performed by the great Benny Goodman:

We hear quite a different clarinet sound in the first movement of  Bartok’s “Contrasts”, performed by Ensemble Matisse.   This movement, called “Verbunkos”, is based on the stylized dance and music genre used for recruiting soldiers.  This special dance style was played at military centers, to attract recruits.

Messiaen wrote for the instruments that were found in his prisoner of war camp when he created his astounding “Quartet for the End of Time”:

The clarinet, with its various registers of brooding darkness, singing clarity, brilliance, and controlled “screeching” is one of those instruments that “plays well with others”.


No discussion of the clarinet would be complete without an excerpt from Benny Goodman’s 1937-8 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert:

Here’s a fingering chart that can help composers “try out” particular notes and groups of notes.  Notice where “the break” occurs:  Clarinet fingering chart



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