Clarinet in Bb - Sound Characteristics
Rich, mellow, warm, gentle, melodic, vocal, round, lustrous, brilliant, bright, throaty, penetrating, dark, menacing, dramatic, explosive, incisive, expressive, shrill, reedy, caressing, pale, lively.
The clarinet’s ability to play smooth and expressive legatos makes it the ideal instrument for the performance of evocative cantilenas.
If one compares clarinets of different pitches one finds that there are subtle differences in timbre:
- Bb clarinet: lustrous, brilliant, rich, transparent.
- A clarinet: softer and less forceful than the Bb clarinet.
- C clarinet: brighter, colder and harder, more “pert” than the other two clarinets. It was used in the orchestra to evoke pastoral moods.
Registers of the Bb clarinet (sounds as written)
Lower register (chalumeau register): D3 – E4
Darker, fuller, mellower and warmer timbre, especially in piano. Can also produce melancholy effects. The lowest notes especially sound darker than those of the bassoon at the same pitch. In tutti passages this register is seldom distinctly audible and is therefore used primarily to flesh out the overall sound.
Middle register (throat register): F4 – Ab4
Compared to the lowest notes of the upper register the notes in this register sound a little weaker and duller.
The highest notes of the clarinet’s fundamental range are found in the middle register which is considerably wider than the fundamental range of the other woodwinds because the clarinet does not overblow to the octave but to a twelfth (octave + a fifth). It is for this reason that the highest notes of the middle register, especially those produced with the aid of keys, do not sound so full or rich in overtones.
Upper register (clarinet register): A4 – F6
It is the notes within this compass that are used most often.
The notes of the upper register sound brilliant, lustrous, bright and compact.
Due to their vocal character they have frequently been compared to the human soprano voice. They express a range of emotions from tender sentiment to bursts of passion, from seductive sensuality to desperate longing, or from cat-like cunning to demonic malevolence.
Because the instrument possesses great expressive flexibility similar to the human voice it partners the singers in opera, either accompanying them in unison or repeating or anticipating sung themes.
Highest register: Gb6 – Bb6
These high notes are seldom required. Especially from A6 upward they sound piercing and shrill and no longer have the clarinet’s typically velvety sound.