You know it when you hear it. Deep and shrill, resonant and bright, smooth or not – the clarinet adds a diverse range to the woodwind family. Temple University Associate Professor of Music Emily Threinen gave WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston a quick course on its historic origins.
The clarinet is a versatile woodwind instrument that has evolved from its 18th-century beginnings. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, classical composers have used it to create a variety of moods. Philadelphia Orchestra's Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales illustrates some of the different sounds the clarinet can create, including the cuckoo sound, used by Beethoven in his Symphony No. 6.
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra In Concert broadcast on WRTI on Sunday, September 8th at 2 pm to hear the Orchestra perform Beethoven's sixth symphony. Also on the program is music by Webern, Berg, and Ligeti.
You know it when you hear it. This week, WRTI pays special attention to the historic expansion, 323 years ago, of the woodwind family - the addition of the clarinet.
DUDDLESTON: The unmistakable sound of the cat from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf speaks to young and old. But without the inventiveness of a German instrument maker named Johann Christoph Denner back near the end of the 1600s, it would not have been heard.
Professor Emily Threinen of Temple's Boyer College of Music and Dance says there were reasons the sound of the clarinet was so novel.
THREINEN: What was different from other wind instruments at that time was that it had a single reed on a mouthpiece, unlike the oboe which has a double reed.
DUDDLESTON: In the next century it evolved from a single low-register instrument to one with two. But it took some time for the clarinet to move up in the musical world. Originally, the woodwinds didn't have the status of the strings.
THREINEN: Wind instruments and wind players in the early forms and early design of wind instruments themselves were really attributed to more of the common person, or someone who was just sort of an entertainer and would pull out their flute and play "folksy-type" music around the pit fire.
DUDDLESTON: Today, the modern clarinet in the hands of a jazz or classical musician is a completely different proposition.
THREINEN: Right now clarinets can play very bright and shrill quite easily, but to produce a really dark, resonant, beautiful quality of sound itself is, I think, the greatest challenge of the instrument.