The E flat clarinet: the baby of the family
The E flat clarinet is known by many names – sopranino or baby clarinet are the most commonly used. Roughly the same size as a recorder at around 14 inches long, this clarinet adds a bright clear tone to any piece of music.
The E flat member of the clarinet family can be a difficult instrument to play, even for experienced clarinetists. Its higher register needs a different fingering than ‘normal’ B flat clarinet. The effective range of this type of clarinet is from G below middle C (G below the treble clef) to E above the C two octaves above middle C (E above the treble clef).
It can play higher notes, however the notes are not as stable in terms of intonation and tone. The sound has been described as resembling a trumpet when played by a talented player.
One of the most famous appearances of the sopranino clarinet is in Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ where it invokes the frenzy of a witches Sabbath. Its almost shrill tone has also been put to good effect in the instrumental parts of many operas. However, this clarinet is most often used in band music, where its bright tone can cut above the clamor of the brass section.
The other ensembles that regularly use an E flat version of the clarinet are choirs of clarinets. Solo pieces for the sopranino clarinet are very rare, and there are currently no professional clarinetists who play this instrument only.
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