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The Chalumeau - Ancestor of the Clarinet

The Chalumeau - Ancestor of the Clarinet

Perhaps the most disputed and murkiest subject in the evolution of the clarinet is that of the chalumeau or chalameaux.

This name will be familiar to modern clarinet players because it still denotes the lower register of the instrument. To illustrate the argument surrounding this distant ancestor of the clarinet, no one source could even agree on the origin of the word. One proclaimed that the word chalumeau obviously implied a French origin, another said that it derived from the Latin word “kalamus” (meaning a small reed) while yet a third declared its origin Greek from “calamos” which denoted a generic term for any simple pipe. (Lawson, 1995) While this discussion of word origin is not really relevant to the clarinet, it does serve as ironic symbolism regarding the schools of thought concerning the chalumeau.

Despite whatever an author may argue, the chalumeau was a close ancestor to the clarinet as well as the recorder, which it most closely resembles. This particular instrument had the range of a twelfth, and seemed to have at least a minimal presence in the Baroque period. Christopher Graupner, who held the post at Leipzig, was the most prolific composer for chalumeau, with over 80 cantatas in his output. Since no primitive chalumeau still exist today, it is impossible to determine the exact role it played in the creation of the clarinet. At the time, some people termed the clarinet simply an improved chalumeau.

However others believe that its inventor had to do a substantial amount of original work in order to create the first primitive clarinet. Indeed, at the very beginning of clarinet existence, the words chalumeau and clarinet were commonly interchanged. (Lawson, 2000) Regardless of the quantity of impact that the chalumeau had on the clarinet, it obviously had some effect on the creation of this instrument and is thus an important aspect of clarinet history.

Johann Christian Denner (1690)

Johann Christian Denner (1690)

Christian Denner - (1690) - Creator of the Register Key. Denner was from Nuremburg, Germany. Shortly before 1700, he invented the register key, increasing the range of the clarinet's predecessor, the chalumeau. This allowed pitches a 12th above the lower register to be produced. The cylindrical shape of the clarinet, combined with a closed ended mouthpiece (unlike the flute) inhibit the clarinet from producing the even numbered harmonics. This accounts for its unique timbre. Baroque clarinets had only two keys, and were made of boxwood, plum, ebony, pear, or ivory. The keys and the springs were usually made of brass.

Johann Christian Denner, a local inventor and instrument maker, invented the first clarinet in 1690 in Nuremberg, Germany. This historical event was first recorded in J.G. Dopplemayers’ book “Historiche Nachricht van den Nurmbergischen Mathematics und Kunstlern” (1730), who attributed the “improved chalumeau” to Denner. (Lawson, 1995) The instrument was named for the Italian word “clarion” which meant trumpet. This early clarinet consisted of a wooden, cyndrical tube with seven tone holes and two diametrically opposite keys, which were placed above the highest tone hole. Startlingly low in pitch for its size, it possessed a range of approximately three octaves. (Brymer, 1990) In comparison to the chalumeau, this first clarinet also had a separate reed, and extended range, and a speaker key, the highest key on the clarinet similar to that of an octave key. (Lawson, 1995) Denner also managed to combine the reed with the tone chamber inside the clarinet, similar to the contemporary arrangement of the reed. In this adjustment, the reed lays flat against the facing of the mouthpiece, with the tone chamber open beneath it in order to resonate more effectively. With the addition of the two keys, this clarinet had a very pure sound, with the upper registers being obtained with accuracy by overblowing. With an improved mouthpiece, Denner found he could split the air column with the speaker key at the top of the instrument and thus achieve the upper register with similar fingerings. With this key, the clarinet would play a twelfth above the parallel lower register note.

After the initial invention of Denner, the clarinet was noticed by others and became the object of many attempted improvements. The first prototype was flawed in respect to the B natural and the C, which need to be flattened. Eventually the B natural was fixed by playing a low E and then overblowing by a twelfth. Eventually, the necessity of the B natural encouraged an elongated tube and a significant bell. The third key added to the clarinet was the fourth finger in the left hand, the contemporary C sharp key. The semitones, however, still did not sound good on this clarinet; in fact some were even completely unobtainable which obviously led towards problems with playing in a variety of keys. This then was the basic shape for the modern clarinet, though from the first they were always made in different sizes in order to play in different keys. In 1760, the clarinet was expanded to 5 keys, adding a D sharp and a C sharp on the lower part of the instrument. Even with these improvements, players were still reluctant to add more keys, and the felt pads used to seal the keys were incompetent. In addition, the keys themselves were clumsy and the springs did not respond well. (Brymer, 1990) At this point in its evolution, the clarinet was the most imperfect of all wind instruments, however it still had room for many improvements. (Klose, 1940) .

Ivan Muller (1786-1854) - Creator of "Clarinette Omnitique"

Ivan Muller (1786-1854) - Creator of "Clarinette Omnitique"

In 1812 the next level in clarinet evolution was reached as an instrumentalist named Ivan Muller developed a new clarinet with an additional seven keys. Before this invention, there were several different types of clarinets each pitched in a separate key. Due to the clumsy chromatics and semitones on the clarinet, it was impossible to play in all the different keys on the same instrument. (Gibson 1994) Muller’s new instrument had a total of 13 keys as well as completely innovative methods for construction, venting, and padding. The felt pads that were previously used were replaced with leather filled with wool that was then soldered into the hollow of the key, improving tone and precision of the instrument. Muller first presented the clarinet to the Conservatoire in Paris for acceptance and approval. Paris rejected the “clarinette omnitique”, as Muller called it, because it could play in every key. Most musicians would appreciate this simplicity but the Conservatoire decided that “each clarinet had a special musical character and sound, according to pitch, and thus each had diverse musical value”. Not to be daunted by this rejection, Muller toured as a soloist in 1815 through England, Holland, and Germany. Playing his own renovated clarinet, he soon established its superiority to the musical world. During the tour, Muller also made change to his mouthpiece and reed. Muller replaced the length of cord typically used to bind the reed to the mouthpiece with his own prototype of a ligature that was similar to those used today. He also thinned and tapered the reed to fit the mouthpiece better, yielding a greater variety of articulations. (Brymer, 1990).

Buffet Crampon - Louis-Auguste, Buffet Auger & Zoe Crampon

Buffet Crampon - Louis-Auguste, Buffet Auger & Zoe Crampon

Buffet Crampon are a french firm of woodwind makers. Two independent businesses bore the name of Buffet, that founded in 1831 by Louis - Auguste buffet (Buffet younger d.1885) who realised the reform of the clarinet introduced by Hyacenthe Eleonore Klose which resulted in the Bohem system: and that of his elder brother Buffet Auger, began in 1825. In 1830 Buffet Auger yielded place to his son Buffet Auger junior, who six years later married a Mille Crampon and attached her name to his own; the name has survived despite the firms many changes. In 1850 both F. Tourner and a brother Loius Buffet became partners, but the latter was replaced after 5 years by P. Goumas. For a short period thereafter instruments were marked “Buffet-Crampon F. Tournier et P. Goumas Successeurs”. In 1859 Tournier withdrew and a new company was formed by Buffet Crampon, P. Gormus and the claranettist Leroy, as Buffet-Crampon & Cie. On Buffet-Crampons death in 1865 Goumas became sole proprietor, bringing in two son-in-law in 1871. In 1885 Goumas sold out to Evette & Schaeffer who evedintly saw the wisdom of retaining the esteemed Buffet-Crampon mark.

(Image shows: Buffet Crampon Bb clarinet Paris. C. 1910. Integral barrel, Bohem system. Silver plated keywork and silver mounts, leather pads, blackwood. Buffet Crampon logo on barrel and bell, Inscription BREVETTES, S.G. D. G. on upper part of instrument. Pitched at 440Hz. Example of second hand instrument sold via Woodwind & Brass.)

Bibliography

C. Pierce: La Facture Instrumentale (Paris 1890), - : Les Facteurs D’instruments de Musique (Paris 1893), L.G. Langwill: An index of musical wind Instrument makers Edinburgh, 1960, 3/1972, Our thanks to Oxford University press from which much of this information was sourced and particularly Groves Music Dictionary.

Hyacinth Eleonore Klose (1808-1880)- Clarinettist and co-creator of Boehm Clarinet System

Hyacinth Eleonore Klose (1808-1880)- Clarinettist and co-creator of Boehm Clarinet System

In the early 19th century the clarinetist Hyacinthe Klosé (1808-1880) and the maker Auguste Buffet (1816-1884) invented a clarinet based on the acoustical conclusions of the famous German flautist and craftsman, Theobald Boehm (1794-1881). In 1843 they exhibited an instrument that required a major change in fingering. The two major acievements of the Boehm clarinet were to abolish forked fingering, as well as to reduce the frequency of difficult tasks for the little fingers by offering several alternative keys. The traditional British company Boosey & Hawkes made instruments with both systems, but with the advancing globalization and standardization of orchestras and of orchestral instruments, the Boehm system came to prevail worldwide.

THEOBALD BOEHM (1794-1881) - Flautist responsible for original Bohem System

THEOBALD BOEHM (1794-1881) - Flautist responsible for original Bohem System

The basis for the developments in the making of clarinets about the middle of the 19th century was the acoustical improvement made by the German flutist Theobald Boehm. In 1832 he made a flute whose tone holes are bored following rational acoustical principles. The aim was to improve the intonation, the eveness, and the volume of the sound. Boehm also simplified the technical requirements by using a system based on rings and keys. This mechanism was adopted for the clarinet by the clarinettist Hyacinthe Klosé (1808-1880) and the instrument maker Louis-Auguste Buffet. They called their instrument “clarinet à anneaux mobiles”. In 1843 they exhibited this model, which required a major change in fingering. The two major items of the Boehm clarinet were to abolish forked fingering, as well as to reduce the frequency of difficult tasks for the little fingers by offering several alternative keys.
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