The bass clarinet is a single-reed woodwind instrument. The range is one octave below that of the b-flat soprano clarinet. Ever since its invention in the late 18th century, the bass clarinet has evolved into the instrument that is used in orchestras and bands. The bass clarinet is made of grenadilla wood or African blackwood and is approximately 4 1/2 feet long.
History of the Clarinet
The clarinet itself originated in India, Greece and Persia. It was and still is a single-reed instrument made of wood. Variants such as a Celtic pipe made of bone also existed. The first clarinet was called a chalumeau, a wooden pipe with drilled finger holes whose reed was actually built into the mouthpiece. Next came the clarionet, which, in addition to finger holes, had one key. Over the years, several other keys were added to increase the musical range of the instrument. It is now known as the clarinet, whose family also includes the bass clarinet.
The First Bass Clarinet
The first bass clarinet was invented in 1793 by Heinrich Gresner of Dresden, Germany. He was a pioneer clarinet maker who was interested in enhancing the range of the clarinet. His first bass clarinet had nine keys and was pitched in B major. Gresner's instrument looked much more like a bassoon than the present day bass clarinet, which has a curved neck and rests on the ground when being played.
While the first bass clarinet had the B pitch, many following models were pitched in C. As the instrument became more popular and accepted by composers and orchestras, bass clarinets in B, C and A were built. Four more keys were added to the original's nine, including the speaker key which controls the high pitches. Changes to the instrument happened in different countries at different times, leading to the many variations in the original bass clarinet.
The bass clarinet of today is an established standard instrument. It is pitched in B-flat, and some variants can go as low as low C. The body is wooden and its 23 keys are usually plated with nickel. The sound helps to boost the bass in orchestras and ensembles. The bass clarinet is heavy and long. Because it is over 4 feet long, an adjustable floor stand with a rubber stop is attached to the bottom of the instrument.
The bass clarinet is included in various musical ensembles such as jazz bands, small or large traditional symphonic orchestras, clarinet choirs and marching bands. Solo music is also available for the bass clarinet.
Hayley Smith is a freelance documentary filmmaker and writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern studies. She has contributed written work to various websites, specializing in topics on the outdoors and Utah skiing.