Johann Christoph Denner
Johann Christoph Denner, Inventor of the Clarinet born August 13, 1655 in Leipzig, Germany and died April 20, 1707 in Nurnberg, Bavaria. Denner was a German Musician, Performer and Instrument Maker dedicating his talents to improving already existing woodwind instruments. His well tuned recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons were highly regarded throughout Europe.
One of these, the chalumeau (a term also used for a double-reed instrument), was known to Denner; apparently the attempts to perfect the design of the chalumeau led to Denner’s invention of the clarinet.
Although Johann Christoph Denner based the clarinet on an earlier instrument called the chalumeau, his new instrument made such important changes that it really could not be called an evolution. With the help of his son, Jacob, Denner added two finger keys to a chalumeau which at the time one looked much like a modern day recorder, though with a single-reed mouthpiece. The addition of two keys might sound like a small improvement, but it made an enormous difference by increasing the musical range of the instrument more than two octaves. Johann also created a better mouthpiece and improved the bell shape at the end of the instrument.
The name of the new instrument was coined shortly thereafter, and although there are different theories about the name, most likely it was named because its sound from a distance was somewhat similar to an early form of trumpet. (Clarinetto is an Italian word for “little trumpet.”)
The new clarinet with its improved range and interesting sound quickly replaced the chalumeau in orchestral arrangements. Mozart (d. 1791) wrote several pieces for the clarinet, and by the time of Beethoven’s prime years (1800 to 1820), the clarinet was a standard instrument in all orchestras.
The Clarinet Today
The soprano clarinet is one of the most versatile instruments in modern musical performance, and parts for it are included in classical orchestra pieces, orchestra band compositions, and jazz pieces. It is made in several different keys, including B-flat, E -flat, and A, and it is not uncommon for large orchestras to have all three. It is even sometimes heard in rock music. Sly and the Family Stone, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Tom Waits, and Radiohead are some of the acts that have included the clarinet in recordings.
The modern clarinet entered its most famous period during the big-band jazz era of the 1940s. Eventually, the mellower sound and easier fingering of the saxophone replaced the clarinet in some compositions, but even today, a great many jazz bands feature at least one clarinet
Denner’s father, Heinrich, made horns and animal calls; from him Christoph learned instrument building, at the same time becoming an excellent performer. His energy was mainly devoted to improving already existing woodwind instruments, and his well-tuned recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons were highly regarded throughout Europe. He invented the clarinet sometime between 1690 and 1700, although other types of single-reed instruments had a long history and wide currency, especially in folk music. One of these, the chalumeau (a term also used for a double-reed instrument), was known to Denner; apparently his attempts to refine the chalumeau led to his invention of the clarinet. Denner’s two sons continued the family tradition of instrument building.