Clarinets – Introduction

Clarinets

Introduction

As I begin to write this introduction, I have my old B-flat Clarinet in my hands.  I just gave it a few good blows to reacquaint myself with its sound.  In the band world, the clarinet is the most commonly heard sound there is.  There are more clarinets in the band than there are any other instruments.  I was the favorite instrument of Mozart, and has had huge popularity ever since.  The clarinet comes in more sizes than any other woodwinds.  Were I so inclined, I could readily purchase clarinets in nearly every key of a diatonic scale (A-flat, G, E-flat, D, C, B-flat, A, G, F, E-flat – yes, clarinets exist in every single one of those keys!).

It is possible to think of the clarinet family as we would the taxonomy of living species.  The genus Clarinet has many species, and several of those species have further subspecies.  Just as in wildlife, the true taxonomy of some of these beasts is debated.  Many of these species and subspecies, again like our wildlife, are in danger of going extinct (and six members of the family already have expired). Genus – Clarinet

A rather curious way of looking at musical instruments, I’m sure, but it does give us the breadth of the family.  Each “subspecies” is a valid instrument in its own right and has a unique voice.  In the traditional band setting we used only those instruments pitched either in E-flat or B-flat.  Instruments that fell outside of these pitch classes were excluded (though many were and are still used in orchestras).

The Complete family

 

Heckelphone and Lupophone

Heckelphone

Heckelphone range

I seriously debated including the Heckelphone in a chapter unto itself.  In practicality, it is an instrument the same pitch as the Bass Oboe, but in use it is something quite different.  It is made by a bassoon manufacturer, and is most often played by bassoonists with Bassoon reeds, but it is far from a bassoon.  A conundrum!

What to call the instrument is one thing, its use is something different.  It was designed as a large oboe that descends to the low A the bottom space of the bass clef.  Most orchestrators have called the Bass Oboe and the Heckelphone interchangeable, but I have not found this to be the case.  The Heckelphone is a powerful instrument capable of great projection due to the cross-section of its bore which is twice the diameter of the Oboe and not twice the area like Bass Oboe.  This makes a huge difference.  The Heckelphone is more of a soloist while the Bass Oboe is more of a team player.  For most works, I prefer the Bass Oboe.

All this said, even if you write a part for the Heckelphone, like so many of Strauss’ works, today they will inevitably be played upon the Bass Oboe.  Only around one hundred Heckelphones are extant today, and while they are still in current manufacture, the price is exorbitantly high and the waiting list is painfully long.  I wouldn’t write for the instrument in an ensemble setting unless I knew there was a player and instrument available.

A demonstration of the Heckelphone

A little bit of new age music on the Heckelphone

Trio op. 47 by Hindemith.  Considered the greatest chamber work using the Heckelphone.

Lupophone

Lupophone range

As Heckel has the sole market for the Heckelphone (and no other manufacturer is allowed to produce them, or for that matter wants to!), the modern manufacturers of Guntram Wolf and Benedict Eppelsheim have invented their own instrument of a similar design.  The Lupophone (Lupos is Latin for Wolf) is a wide bore bass oboe that descends not to the B of the Bass Oboe or the A of the Heckelphone, but all the way down to an F.  This extension is to facilitate the Heckelphone part in Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie which descends to a heretofore unreachable F.  Looking over the score of Strauss’ work, it does seem that a few of these lower notes are used in soloistic passages.  I can’t wait to hear a recording of Eine Alpensinfonie with a Lupophone.

I mentioned this instrument in my post about the hypothetical F Baritone Oboe.  While this instrument is in C, its extended range to low F makes it functionally an F Baritone.

Having personally played instruments made by Wolf and Eppelsheim, I can attest to how well these instruments play.  Instruments produced by these manufacturers are marvels of modern acoustic research and design.  I look forward to hearing more from the Lupophone!

Demonstration of the Lupophone (for use with modern/contemporary techniques)

A modern work for Lupophone

The solo from Strauss’ Salome.  Compare this with the Bass Oboe from a few posts previous.  Note the fuller sound of the Lupophone.