Johann Denner

Johann Christoph Denner was a German Musician and instrument maker who invented the clarinet between the years 1690 and 1700.

About Johann Christoph Denner

Johann Denner

Johann Christoph Denner was born on August 13, 1655, in Leipzig Germany and died April 20, 1707, in Nürnberg, Bavaria.  Johann Denner was a German maker of musical instruments and universally credited for inventing the clarinet between the years (1690-1700).  The Clarinet was later introduced to London by Bach in 1751.

Denner’s father, Heinrich, made horns and animal calls; from him Johann 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.

Clarinet History

Johann Christoph Denner Clarinet

The clarinet is a relative newcomer among woodwind instruments, in fact the early clarinets had only two keys that were mostly made from brass along with the springs.  Of course Reed instruments had been used throughout history across the world, the actual clarinet did not appear until the late 1600s, when Johann Denner adapted a baroque single reed instrument called the chalumeau. 

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 Jacob, and John continued the Denner family tradition of instrument building.

Master Instrument Maker

Johann Christoph Denner was a master maker of flutes, oboes and bassoons, in fact Denner often mused over the puzzling mystery of why the Chalumeau would not “overblow” to the octave as would the flute, oboe and bassoon. Denner thought if he could extend the compass of the instrument upward he could make a valuable instrument.

Johann soon determined that this instrument did not over-blow to the octave but to the twelfth i.e. when all the finger holes were closed and the lowest note (fundamental) was sounded, the next note could be produced  by increasing the blowing pressure.  Thus was the note a twelfth above, and not an octave. Example: low G overblown would be a D, twelve notes above the G. Denner also discovered that this note was produced much easier if he bored a little hole higher up on the instrument near the mouthpiece. This became the “speaker or register key,” and in fact, did make over-blowing to the next register much easier.

The Chalumeau

Denner Chalumeau

The chalumeau was used widely in Europe, but only occasionally in orchestras. Similar to a recorder it had seven holes including a thumb hole. It had two keys, to play the two highest notes, but its range of one and a half octaves was rather limiting. Christopher Denner, with the help of his son Jacob Denner, therefore converted one of the existing keys to make it the register key. When held down, the register key allowed players to produce notes a 12th higher in pitch than normal. This increased the instrument’s range hugely. The clarinet produced a loud, shrill sound which resulted in the name being derived from the Italian word ‘clarino’ which means ‘little trumpet’.

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