Alto Clarinet

al-toh klar-uh-net
The alto clarinet is a single-reed woodwind instrument that is tuned half an octave below the most common Bb clarinet. It bears a resemblance to the bass clarinet with its characteristic curved bell. The alto clarinet, which can also be called the basset horn, is uncommon in orchestras but plays a part in modern wind bands and some selective classical music compositions.
History of the Alto Clarinet
The alto clarinet’s history can be traced back to its earliest ancestral relatives in the chalumeau and recorder that were popular single-reed instruments in 17th century Europe. From these instruments came the first clarinet at the start of the 18th century, reportedly a creation of German instrument maker Johann Christoph Denner. These instruments became widely popular with players and composers alike. In the 1700s, a partnership struck between composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, clarinet player Anton Stadley and clarinet builder Theodore Lotz produced the basset horn which was adopted by Mozart into his compositions including a clarinet concerto. This basset horn is considered to be an early precursor to the modern alto clarinet. In approximately 1809, the German clarinetist Iwan Müller is said to have performed with an alto clarinet in F for the first time. This new instrument was created by Iwan Müller and Heinrich Grenser with 16 keys when at the time soprano clarinets of this kind had no more than 12 keys. The inventor of the saxophone Adolphe Sax made significant improvements to this design. The alto clarinet declined in popularity after the 19th century, as the Bb clarinet became the most common instrument of its kind. 20th century English composer Joseph Holbrooke gave the alto clarinet renewed relevance, placing it in his symphony No 2 Apollo among other compositions. The alto clarinet is still heard in woodwind ensembles and clarinet orchestras as well as classical music performance of its most popular era.
Inventor: Iwan Müller and to Heinrich

Where to Buy

£3,000 - £9,000

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How to Play

A woodwind instrument, pitched in the key of E-flat, played using a reed and finger holes to produce different pitches.

In Popular Music

The alto clarinet is rarely credited as such in popular music recordings, however, composer George Gershwin used an alto clarinet in his orchestral jazz piece 'Rhapsody In Blue'. The alto clarinet is sometimes played in some concert recordings of Igor Stravinsky pieces also, for example 'The Rite of Spring'.

Famous Players

Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Sabine Meyer

Close Relations

Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet
Video Credit: InstrumentManiac
Understanding the Alto Clarinet


Germany/Low countries


18th century






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