E♭ clarinet with Boehm System keywork.
(Single reed instruments - with fingerholes)
The E-flat (E♭) clarinet is a member of the clarinet family. It is usually classed as a soprano clarinet, although some authors describe it as a "sopranino", "petite", or "piccolo" clarinet. Smaller in size and higher in pitch than the more common B♭ clarinet, it is a transposing instrument in E♭, sounding a minor third higher than written. In Italian it is sometimes referred to as a quartino and is generally listed in B♭-based scores (including many European band scores) as quartino in Fa.
The E♭ clarinet is used in orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, and plays a particularly central role in clarinet choirs, carrying the high melodies that would be treacherous for the B♭ clarinet. Solo repertoire is limited.
The E♭ clarinet is required to play at the top of its range for much of the time to take advantage of its piercing quality. Fingerings in that register are more awkward than on the lower part of the instrument, making high, fast passages difficult.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the clarinet in high F took this role until the E♭ clarinet took over beginning sometime in the second decade of the 1800s.
Although the E♭ is somewhat of a rarity in school bands, it is a staple instrument in college and other upper level ensembles. Unlike the B♭ soprano clarinet which has numerous musicians performing on each part, the E♭ clarinet part is usually played by only one musician in a typical concert band. This is partially because the E♭ clarinet has a bright, shrill sound very similar to the sound of the piccolo. It commonly plays the role of a garnish instrument along with the piccolo, and duo segments between the two instruments are quite common. The E♭ clarinet is often heard playing along with the flutes and/or oboes.
Important soloistic parts in standard band repertoire for the E♭ clarinet include the second movement of Gustav Holst's First Suite in E-flat for Military Band (for two E♭ clarinets) and his piece "Hammersmith" (also for two E♭ clarinets), Paul Hindemith's Symphony in B-flat for Band, and Gordon Jacob's William Byrd Suite. The E♭ clarinet is also a featured player in modern wind band repertoire, such as Adam Gorb's Yiddish Dances, where it takes on a solo role for much of the five-movement piece.
While most E♭ clarinets are built and marketed for professionals or advanced students, an inexpensive plastic E♭ clarinet dubbed the "Kinder-Klari" has been produced for beginning children's use. It has a simplified fingering system, lacking some of the trill keys and alternative fingerings.
The slightly larger D clarinet is rare, although it was common in the early and mid-eighteenth century (see the Molter concertos below). From the end of that century to the present it has become less common than the clarinets in E♭, B♭, A, or even C. An overture[which?]} by Handel for two clarinets and horn was probably written for two D clarinets. D clarinets were once commonly employed by some composers (e.g., Mlada (Rimsky-Korsakov)) to be used by one player equipped with instruments in D and E♭ -- analogous to a player using instruments in B♭ and A. In modern performance (especially in North America and western Europe outside German-speaking countries), it is normal to transpose D clarinet parts for E♭ clarinet.
The rationale underlying a composer's choice between E♭ and D clarinet is often difficult to discern and can seem perverse, especially when the option not chosen would be easier for the player to execute. For instance, the original version of Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 is for E♭ clarinet while the orchestral version is for D. Certain passages of Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, are set in concert D but are scored for E♭ clarinet, with the effect that some fingerings in those passages are extremely difficult on the E-flat clarinet, which is forced to play in its B major, but would be much easier on a D clarinet, which would play in its C major. Another famous example is the D clarinet part of Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche.
Solo literature for these instruments is sparse. The following are notable:
Parts written for D clarinet are usually played on the more popular E♭ clarinet, with the player transposing or playing from a written part transposed a semitone lower.
Orchestral compositions and operas with notable E♭ or D clarinet solos include:
Other orchestral compositions and operas making extensive use of E♭ or D clarinet include:
After 1950, works using E♭ clarinet are too numerous to note individually. However, among those where the instrument is featured beyond what would be considered normal in recent music are John Adams's Chamber Symphony, where two players play E♭ and bass clarinet and "double" on soprano and Adriana Hölszky's A due for two E♭ clarinets. The extended techniques of the B♭ clarinet, including multiphonics, flutter tonguing, and extreme registers, have all been imported to the E♭.