This is the smallest clarinet in common use. Its high pitched squeal is well-known in both the band and orchestral literature. Early band composers utilized the small E-flat Clarinet (as well as the now extinct high F Clarinet) as a staple of their writing. One needs only to look at Berlioz’s Funeral and Triumphal Symphony to see how he constantly uses the E-flat Clarinet as one of the main melody instruments. In fact, it was Berlioz who first introduced the E-flat Clarinet to the orchestra in Symphonie Fantastique. Prior to this, the E-flat Clarinet was only used in bands, and thus the sound of the E-flat Clarinet and of the band as a medium have always been linked. There was a time in the mid-20th century when some bands started to eliminate this instrument, but it has seen a revival in the past few decades, and I even know some junior high bands that own the instrument. This means that availability is generally secure, and a clever bandestrator should be able to use it at liberty.
Most times, the E-flat Clarinet is played by one player who stays on that instrument for the duration of the work. This is by no means a steadfast rule. It would be quite easy to have the player switch to the B-flat Clarinet (or any other member of the family) when the sound of the E-flat is not needed. Multiple E-flat Clarinets are rare, but provide interesting effects. The most well-known use of two E-flats is the beginning of the 2nd Movement of the Holst First Suite in E-flat. In the orchestra, Mahler was fond of using two E-flat together to provide the sound of Klezmer music.
The sound in the upper register is piercing and shrill, while in the lower register it is quaint and bucolic. I’ve found that the lower register has been sadly neglected by most composers. The exception to this is once again Lincolnshire Posy by Grainger where the E-flat Clarinet forms part of a lopsided quartet at the end of the third movement.
The most standard use of the E-flat Clarinet is of course as the top voice in a clarinet ensemble. It can also double the Piccolo line an octave lower. With this kind of doubling it will reinforce the Piccolo and add needed volume and intensity to the sound. Mixtures with any of the saxophones work quite well. Surprisingly, the E-flat Clarinet is most at home with the sound of the high trumpets. This shouldn’t be that surprising though as the name “clarinet” literally means “little high trumpet.”
Solo for the E-flat Clarinet and piano
Solo from Bolero
Carnival of Venice on the E-flat Clarinet
An explanation of the famous solo from Symphonie Fantastique.
An excerpt from Mahler’s 1st Symphony (very high range)