C Clarinet

C Clarinet

C Clarinet range

This instrument has been making a revival over the past few years.  It is the only clarinet that does not transpose.  It is typically grouped along with the B-flat and A instruments as a “soprano” clarinet.  In fact, the C Clarinet uses the exact same mouthpiece as does the B-flat or A.  Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert all used the C, though this may have just been out of convenience of key (though I doubt this as the sound of the C Clarinet in nearly all cases makes a huge improvement).  It all but disappeared during the Nineteenth Century until Mahler and Strauss rediscovered the unique sound of the instrument.  In their works, it became a member of the higher clarinets (grouped more with the E-flat and D instruments).  So we can see that the C Clarinet is a sort of chameleon that bridges the gap between the sopranino clarinets and the soprano clarinets.

At one time, I owned a C Clarinet to experiment with the different timbral possibilities of this unusual instrument.  I was struck with how different it sounded from the standard B-flat.  I would say that the C Clarinet is by far the “happiest” of all the clarinets.  It is chipper and even fun at times.  In playing Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, I was privileged to sit next to a clarinetist who played several of the arias on my C instrument.  She had started out using a B-flat or A to play those parts, but when the C became available, the sound change was apparent to the entire woodwind section.  Just the slight change to a smaller instrument changed the entire character of the whole woodwind section.  I think Mozart knew quite well what he was doing in scoring for the C.

To my knowledge, the C Clarinet has never been featured in the band outside of a few early Nineteenth Century scores (e.g. Mendelssohn’s Trauermarsch).  There is no reason for it not to be included.  The C Clarinet that I purchased was fairly inexpensive and played quite well such that any group should be able to afford one.

It would make for an interesting timbral change from the standard B-flat sound, and could serve as an upper voice in clarinet choirs.  I feel that at least one should be available to all bands above a certain level.  Certainly college level groups should have at least one (preferably two) available for use.  Why not include it in works for band?

Bach on C Clarinet

Handel on on C Clarinet

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  1. Pingback: Clarinets Part 1 – Introduction and Clarinet Species (The High Clarinets) | Bandestration

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