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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000063.txt from 1998/03

From: (Nick Shackleton)
Subj: Re: Clarinet as a Tuning Instrument
Date: Mon, 2 Mar 1998 18:12:57 -0500

to chuck another couple of red herring into the pot...
the (baroque-early classical) 1-keyed flute had as its bottom note D and was
often known as a D flute (reasonable...if you took your fingers off one by
one you got a D major scale, more or less) but it was not treated as a
transposing instrument. When added keywork (6-keyed flute) gave it a lowest
note of C, people became very confused as to whether it ought to be called C
flute or D flute.
One could describe our normal clarinet as a D clarinet in Bb. One could say
the Vila Lobos wrote parts for the Csharp clarinet in C but most of us find
it easier to read if instead it is written out for the Csharp clarinet in A
(same instrument, different notation). Schonberg declined (eg in his septet)
to tell you what instrument to take: he wrote the three parts in C and left
you to find out how big an instrument you need for each part bo looking at
the bottom note (these days, now he is dead, I think you can buy transposed
It is frankly less trouble to designate the instrument by the tranposition. Nick
>Indeed, why? Why not choose some other note as the index?
>It seems to me (dangerous words) that the obvious answer has to do with the
>transposition - that the wind instruments you name have music written with
>this transposition. I also suspect that this obvious answer is wrong, since
>any other convention could have been adopted. However, there may be another
>reason better related to the instrument itself. If I remember clarinet
>history (any many of you out there can correct me if needed) the earliest
>clarinets were 1) played primarily in the "clarinet" register, and 2) had
>keys to produce the middle B as a throat tone (top of the , but no B-key at
>the bottom of the clarinet register. Thus the lowest note of the most-used
>register was a written C, which sounded Bb, C, A, etc., giving the name to
>these different instruments. If the clarinet has been thought of as a lower
>register instrument, this same logic would have given us a scale based on
>low F, a different set of names, a different way of writing clarinet music,
>and possibly a different name for the instrument itself.
>We see visages of this concentration on the clarion register in the names we
>give to keys on modern instruments; e.g., the C#/G# key has often been
>referred to as the G# key (from its clarion pitch) but almost never as the
>C# key.
>As for the saxs, these names are probably just taken from the corresponding
>clarinet usage, without the problem of having different note-names for the
>same fingering in the different registers.
>As I say, this is pure speculation on my part. Comments, Roger or others?
>Roger Garret wrote:
>>Date: Sat, 28 Feb 1998 20:53:44 -0600 (CST)
>>From: Roger Garrett <>
>>Subject: Re: Clarinet as a Tuning Instrument
>>Ok Folks, My first big question to the listserv, and it is an interesting
>>A Brass instrument is called a C, Eb, F, etc tuning instrument because of
>>the lowest fundamental pitch it sounds. For example, an F horn is called
>>an F horn because the lowest fundamental pitch it sounds is an F.....of
>>which all the overtones are based. An Eb Horn.....same thing. An Eb or
>>BBb tuba...same thing. A Db trumpet...same thing.
>>A Bb clarinet, on the other hand, is based on the fingered C which sounds
>>a Bb concert. Now....why is it not called a D clarinet because it's
>>lowest sounding pitch is a Concert D? The overtone series does not impact
>>in any could vibrate at 12ths, 13ths. 5ths, whatever......
>>What about saxophones? An eb alto has a lowest fundamental pitch of a Bb
>>(Db concert)...why is it not a Db instrument?
>>My reason for asking? A friend called me up after 10 years and asked, and
>>I couldn't answer his question....but I told him I would ask on this
>> me help him find an answer!!!
>>Roger Garrett
>George W. Kidder III
>Professor of Biology
>Illinois State University
>Normal, IL 61761-4120

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