Contrabass Clarinet

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The contrabass clarinet is an aerophone instrument of the clarinet family. It is among the largest and lowest clarinets ever created, only surpassed by the subcontrabass and octobass clarinet. The contrabass clarinet is the only one of these three that serves as more than a museum piece, with a standard tuning of Bb, two octaves lower than the common Bb soprano clarinet.
History of the Contrabass Clarinet
The contrabass clarinet’s history begins in the 17th century when German instrument maker Johann Cristoph Denner invented and patented the design for the first clarinet in the late 17th century and compositions for this instrument began to appear in the early 18th century. Woodwind instruments including the chalumeau were already in widespread use, however this new instrument featured an alto key register that allowed the clarinet to cover more than two octaves. Other instrument makers later added metal keys and the clarinet was quickly adopted by composers in the 18th century like Mozart and Beehthoven. The idea for a very large and low pitched contrabass clarinet began in the 18th century and there is much debate over when they were first constructed. Some believe the contre-basse guerrière, an instrument designed by Dumas of Sommières was the first contrabass clarinet, however little is known about this invention. In 1839, German-based inventor F.W. Wieprecht created the “batyphone”, a clarinet that would cover the contrabass range and was twice the size of a standard clarinet in C. The inventor of the saxophone Adolphe Sax also attempted to create a similar clarinet at this range in the 19th century. The contrabass clarinet has seldom been mass produced owing to its size and its use case in classical and popular music has been rare, however, bands such as The Beach Boys and Dave Matthews Band have used it to add depth to their recordings.
Inventor: Johann Christoph Denner

Where to Buy

$8,000 - $30,000

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How to Play

A larger version of the standard clarinet, with a lower range and a richer, deeper tone. Played using the same fingerings as the standard

In Popular Music

The contrabass clarinet is a rare clarinet and has no notable credits in popular song recordings, however, it is often used in recordings and performances of ‘The Rite Of Spring’ by world-renowned Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It is also prominently included in ‘American In Paris’ by George Gershwin and ‘Symphony No 6’ by Gustav Mahler.

Famous Players

Henri Bok, Michael Lowenstern, Rocco Parisi

Close Relations

Subcontrabass Clarinet
Video Credit: InstrumentManiac
Understanding the Contrabass Clarinet
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1808

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Woodwind

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