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The history of the clarinet from the 19th Century

While composers had already begun to write music for the clarinet, such as Mozart with the Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet, it was the 19th century that saw an explosion of use of the clarinet in the music of most composers of the day. This was mainly due to two factors.

Firstly, the further development of the clarinet by Iwan Műller in the first half of the century had resulted in a more reliable and agile instrument, which was later combined with the Boehm fingering system, adopted from the flute. Also, the tonal qualities suited the Romantic era, able to express a gamut of emotions as music moved from the formality of the Classical era to the Romantic.

As with Mozart, many composers of the Romantic era were inspired to write their great clarinet music by virtuosic clarinetists of their day. Carl Maria von Weber wrote two concertos and a concertino for the great clarinet player Heinrich Baermann, including some of the most technically difficult passages yet written for the clarinet.

Brahms wrote some sublime chamber music for the clarinet when inspired by another great clarinetist, Richard Muhlfield, who is credited with inspiring Brahms to compose again when he had claimed to have retired. Other composers who used the clarinet to great effect were Berlioz and Rossini.

The 20th century continued the popularity of the clarinet, which was now used in jazz as well as ‘art’ music. One of the most famous orchestral pieces of the 20th century, Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin, begins with a memorable clarinet glissandos, perhaps the most well known instance of a clarinet used in orchestral music.


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written by Natalia Forrest


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