(Single-reeded aerophone with keys)
The A-flat (A♭) clarinet is a member of the clarinet family, smaller and sounding a perfect fourth higher than the E♭ clarinet. The A♭ is rare, but even less common, obsolete instruments in C, B♭, and A♮ are listed by Shackleton. Some writers call the A♭ and these other instruments octave clarinets, sopranino clarinets, or piccolo clarinets. The boundary between the octave and soprano clarinets is not well-defined, and the rare instruments in G and F might be considered as either. Shackleton, along with many early twentieth-century composers, uses the term "piccolo clarinet" to refer to the E♭ and D clarinets as well (piccolo merely meaning "small" in Italian). This designation is less common today, with the E♭ and D instruments more usually designated soprano clarinets. The term "piccolo clarinet" is used by some recent music software (e.g., Finale) for the A♭ clarinet.
Clarinets pitched in A♭ appeared frequently in European wind bands, particularly in Spain and Italy, at least through the middle of the 20th century, and are called for in the stage-band parts for several operas by Verdi.
Cecil Forsyth associated the high instruments with Austria saying, "Clarinets in (high) F, and even in (high) A♭ are occasionally used abroad. The latter instrument is regularly employed in the Austrian military bands." A famous example of extensive use of a high clarinet in a Viennese small ensemble was the Schrammel quartet, consisting of two violins (the brothers Johann and Josef Schrammel), a bass guitar, and G clarinet, played by Georg Dänzer, during the 1880s.
The A♭ clarinet is not uncommon in clarinet choir arrangements--for instance, those of Lucien Cailliet, including Mozart's Marriage of Figaro overture--though the instrument is often optional or cued in other voices. There are parts for A♭ clarinet in Béla Bartók's Scherzo for Piano and Orchestra, op. 2 ("mostly in unison with the E♭ or piccolo [flute]") and in John Tavener's Celtic Requiem (1969). Several chamber works of Hans-Joachim Hespos employ the A♭ clarinet, including the wild go which also features soprano sarrusophone, heckelphone, and tárogató. Hespos also uses the A♭ clarinet in the orchestral work Interactions.
At least three manufacturers currently produce A♭ clarinets: L. A. Ripamonti (featured in the pictures),Orsi Instruments and Schwenk and Seggelke. Leblanc had produced A♭ clarinets prior to their acquisition by Conn-Selmer in 2004, but has since ceased production. Ripamonti produces both German and French system (including Full Boehm) A♭ clarinets. Schwenk and Seggelke make German system clarinets in A♭ and high G.