Basset clarinet

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Basset clarinet, probably early 20th century. Basset clarinet anon Bate.jpg
Basset clarinet, probably early 20th century.

The basset clarinet is a clarinet similar to the usual soprano clarinet but longer and with additional keys to enable playing several additional lower notes. Typically a basset clarinet has keywork going to a low (written) C, as opposed to the standard clarinet's E or E (both written), and is most commonly a transposing instrument in A, although basset clarinets in C and B also exist, [1] and Stephen Fox makes a "G basset clarinet/basset horn". [2] The similarly named basset horn is also a clarinet with extended lower range, but is in a lower pitch (typically F); the basset horn predates, and undoubtedly inspired, the basset clarinet.

Clarinet type of woodwind instrument

The clarinet is a musical-instrument family belonging to the group known as the woodwind instruments. It has a single-reed mouthpiece, a straight, cylindrical tube with an almost cylindrical bore, and a flared bell. A person who plays a clarinet is called a clarinetist.

Soprano clarinet

The term soprano clarinet is used occasionally to refer to those instruments from the clarinet family that occupy a higher position, both in pitch and in popularity than subsequent additions to the family such as the basset horns and bass clarinets. The B clarinet is by far the most common type of clarinet and the unmodified word "clarinet" usually refers to this instrument. However, due to a tendency for writers and historians to imitate the terms used to denote instruments in other instrumental 'family groups' the term soprano is sometimes used to apply not only to the B clarinet but also to the clarinets in A and C, sounding respectively a semitone lower and a whole tone higher than the B instrument, and even the low G clarinet—rare in Western music but popular in the folk music of Turkey—sounding a whole tone lower than the A. While some writers reserve a separate category of sopranino clarinets for the E and D clarinets, these are more usually regarded as soprano clarinets as well. All have a written range from the E below middle C to about the C three octaves above middle C, with the sounding pitches determined by the particular instrument's transposition.

Transposing instrument

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument whose music is recorded in staff notation at a pitch different from the pitch that actually sounds. A written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C, and that pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. For example, a written C on a B clarinet sounds a concert B.


The basset clarinet was most notably associated with the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753–1812), a contemporary and good friend of Mozart. Mozart wrote his Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581 and Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K.622 for this instrument; the concerto is partly based on an earlier fragment of a Concerto for Basset Horn in G, K.584b. There is an aria in Act I of Mozart's last opera, La clemenza di Tito , (the mezzo-soprano Sesto sings Parto, ma tu ben mio) which features a basset clarinet obbligato.

Anton Paul Stadler was an Austrian clarinet and basset horn player for whom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote, amongst others, both his Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto. Stadler's name is inextricably linked to Mozart's compositions for these two instruments.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. A clarinet quintet is a work for one clarinet and a string quartet. Although originally written for basset clarinet, in contemporary performances it is usually played on a clarinet in A or B-flat for convenience's sake. It was Mozart's only completed clarinet quintet, and is one of the earliest and best-known works written especially for the instrument. It remains to this day one of the most admired of the composer's works. The quintet is sometimes referred to as the Stadler Quintet; Mozart so described it in a letter of April 1790. Mozart also wrote a trio for clarinet, viola and piano for Stadler, the so-called Kegelstatt Trio, in 1786.

As noted above, a basset clarinet is an A clarinet with an extension of a major third down. It is in fact related to the basset horn in F or G. Because Mozart's clarinet concerto is so important, the basset clarinet is quite an interesting instrument in spite of its small applicability. For the concerto the extension must be chromatic and the shape of the Viennese basset horn is not suitable for this. It has long been unclear how this instrument might have looked.

In a library in Riga in 1992 programmes were found of concerts which Anton Stadler played there in 1784. Two of those programmes show an engraving of Stadler's instrument.

Riga City in Latvia

Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 637,827 inhabitants (2018), it is also the largest city in the three Baltic states, home to one third of Latvia's population and one tenth of the three Baltic states' combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava river. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi) and lies 1–10 m above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.

Franz Xaver Süßmayr also wrote a concerto movement for basset clarinet.

Franz Xaver Süssmayr Austrian composer and conductor

Franz Xaver Süssmayr was an Austrian composer and conductor. Popular in his day, he is now known primarily as the composer who completed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's unfinished Requiem. In addition, there have been performances of Süssmayr's operas at Kremsmünster, and his secular political cantata (1796), Der Retter in Gefahr, SmWV 302, received its first full performance in over 200 years in June 2012 in a new edition by Mark Nabholz, conducted by Terrence Stoneberg. There are also CD recordings of his unfinished clarinet concerto, one of his German requiems, and his Missa Solemnis in D.

The term "basset clarinet" was in use by 1796, though it may originally have referred to the basset horn. [3]

Despite Stadler's advocacy the instrument did not become a regular member of the orchestra. During the 19th and early 20th centuries only a few basset clarinets were produced, for performances of Mozart pieces, and no further music was written for the instrument. However, beginning in the mid 20th century, interest in performing on original instruments prompted the basset clarinet's revival. A few modern composers, among them Bill Sweeney, Harrison Birtwistle, Alan Ray Hacker, Hannes Pohlit and Franklin Stover, have written works featuring basset clarinet; Joan Tower's 1988 clarinet concerto is written to be played on either basset or standard clarinet. [4] Many clarinet makers now produce basset clarinets, or extended lower joints which will convert a standard clarinet to a basset clarinet. [5]

Harrison Birtwistle British composer

Sir Harrison Paul Birtwistle, is a British composer.

Joan Tower is a Grammy-winning contemporary American composer, concert pianist and conductor. Lauded by The New Yorker as "one of the most successful woman composers of all time", her bold and energetic compositions have been performed in concert halls around the world. After gaining recognition for her first orchestral composition, Sequoia (1981), a tone poem which structurally depicts a giant tree from trunk to needles, she has gone on to compose a variety of instrumental works including Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, which is something of a response to Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, the Island Prelude, five string quartets, and an assortment of other tone poems. Tower was pianist and founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, which commissioned and premiered many of her early works, including her widely performed Petroushskates.


Classical clarinetists who have recorded albums using basset clarinet include Martin Fröst, Sharon Kam, Kari Kriikku, Colin Lawson, Sabine Meyer, Antony Pay and David Shifrin. The German clarinetist Theo Jörgensmann plays free jazz on a basset clarinet as does Los Angeles based performer Vinny Golia (who also uses the Basset Horn in his music). The British clarinetist Thea King recorded both Mozart's Quintet and Concerto on the basset clarinet for Hyperion Records, coupled together on one CD. Michael Collins, who studied with Thea King, has recorded the Mozart concerto playing a basset clarinet (Deutsche Grammophon, along with a transcription for clarinet of Beethoven's Violin Concerto). With the North Carolina Symphony on April 10, 2008 Collins premiered Elena Kats-Chernin's "Ornamental Air", in the form of a concerto for basset clarinet. Another British player Joy Farrall has also recorded Mozart's concerto and quintet (BMG and Meridian) using a basset clarinet, alongside the 'Kegelstatt' trio for clarinet, viola and piano. On period instruments, Jane Booth has recorded the Mozart quintet with the Eybler Quartet (Analekta, 2010). Working across practice and theory, Colin Lawson's celebrated recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto K.622 with the Hanover Band for Nimbus, released in 1990, complements his Cambridge Handbook to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, published in 1996.

Related Research Articles

Bass clarinet musical instrument

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles/concert bands, occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

The basset horn is a musical instrument, a member of the clarinet family.

A clarinet concerto is a concerto for clarinet; that is, a musical composition for solo clarinet together with a large ensemble. Albert Rice has identified a work by Giuseppe Antonio Paganelli as possibly the earliest known concerto for solo clarinet; its score appears to be titled "Concerto per Clareto" and may date from 1733. It may, however, be intended for soprano chalumeau. There are earlier concerti grossi with concertino clarinet parts including two by Johann Valentin Rathgeber, published in 1728.

Clarinet Concerto (Mozart) musical composition by Mozart

Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, was written in October 1791 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. It consists of three movements, in a fast–slow–fast succession:

The alto clarinet is a woodwind instrument of the clarinet family. It is a transposing instrument pitched in the key of E, though instruments in F have been made. In Europe it is sometimes called a tenor clarinet. In size it lies between the soprano clarinet and the bass clarinet, to which it bears a greater resemblance in that it typically has a straight body, but a curved neck and bell made of metal. All-metal alto clarinets also exist. In appearance it strongly resembles the basset horn, but usually differs in three respects: it is pitched a tone lower, it lacks an extended lower range, and it has a wider bore than many basset horns.

Robert D. Levin American musician

Robert D. Levin is a classical performer, musicologist and composer, and is the artistic director of the Sarasota Music Festival.

David Shifrin is an American classical clarinetist.

Sabine Meyer, born 30 March 1959, in Crailsheim, Baden-Württemberg is a German classical clarinetist.

Clarinet family

The clarinet family is a musical instrument family including the well-known B clarinet, the bass clarinet, the slightly less familiar E and A clarinets and other clarinets.

Stephen Fox is a clarinetist, saxophonist and clarinet maker based in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada.

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Alan Ray Hacker was an English clarinetist, conductor, and music professor.

Yona Ettlinger Israeli classical clarinetist

Yona Ettlinger was a clarinetist who played and taught in Israel, France and England. Ettlinger is considered a prominent classical clarinetist of his generation, and one of Israel’s notable instrumentalists. His musicianship and unique sound influenced the art of clarinet playing in Israel and Europe in the second half of the 20th century. Many clarinet soloists and orchestra players of different countries were among his students.

Colin James Lawson CBE FRCM FRNCM FLCM Hon RAM is an English clarinettist, scholar and broadcaster.

Joseph Leopold Eybler's Clarinet Concerto in B-flat major was written in 1798, probably for Mozart's clarinetist Anton Stadler. It is catalogued by Herrmann as HV 160.


  1. Albert R. Rice, The Clarinet in the Classical Period. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  2. Fox, Stephen. "G clarinet, basset clarinet/basset horn" . Retrieved 2006-11-10.
  3. Rice, Albert R. (2003). The Clarinet In the Classical Period. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 72–73.
  4. "Work Information: Concerto for Clarinet, Joan Tower". G. Schirmer, Inc. Archived from the original on 2006-06-14. Retrieved 2006-10-24.
  5. Among makers of basset clarinets are Buffet Crampon (), Fox (), Hüyng (), Hammerschmidt (), Leblanc (), and Selmer ( "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2006-11-22.). Makers of basset lower joints include Chadash ( "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2006-11-22.), Fox (), and Howarth. ()