The chalumeau is a single reed woodwind instrument that is famous for being an early precursor to the modern clarinet. This simple wood instrument has a one octave range and is sometimes affectionately named a “mock trumpet” with its cylindrical stopped pipe and short length of around 45cm. The clarinet’s low range is still often termed its “chalumeau range”.
History of the Chalumeau
In woodwind instrument history, the chalumeau appeared as a development of the recorder with various pipe instruments in Europe being dubbed a chalumeau in the 17th century. However, the baroque chalumeau became popular at this time in urban areas and played a part in chamber music and classical music of the 18th century. The stopped pipe design of this aerophone features eight tone holes and a mouthpiece very similar to that of a clarinet. In the late 18th century, the Bb clarinet became increasingly popular, with its increased range due to an improved design near the mouthpiece and the chalumeau’s prevalence subsequently declined. However, this unique instrument is still used in folk music and film scores, owing to its historical significance. The chalumeau has also been adapted with modern designs like the soprano chalumeau and bass chalumeau.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£30 - £300

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How to Play

A woodwind instrument that is played by blowing air through a reed and using finger holes to change the pitch. It is similar to a clarinet but has a more limited range and softer, more mellow tone.

In Popular Music

The chalumeau is famous for playing solo on 'The Lord Of The Rings' soundtrack just as Gandalf arrives in the Shire. This track called 'In Dreams' by Howard Shore creates a warm, earthy feeling. This unusual musical instrument can be also often be heard playing the traditional English folk song Greensleeves and another composer Hans Zimmer featured uncredited it in his score for 'The Dark Knight' to create an entirely different eerie feeling.

Famous Players

Eric Hoeprich, Thomas Friedli

Close Relations

Clarinet, Saxophone
Video Credit: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Understanding the Chalumeau




17th century






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