The clarinet was the last of the principal woodwind instruments to join the orchestra. The modern clarinet evolved from earlier forms in the early 1700's—later than the modern oboe, bassoon, and flute—and it wasn’t until late in the century that orchestral composers included the clarinet in their scores with any regularity.
Of Mozart’s forty-one symphonies, for example, only four include parts for the clarinet. All of Beethoven’s symphonies, on the other hand, call for clarinets. All the woodwind family members have characteristic tone qualities and personalities, but the clarinet is the woodwind with the widest range of qualities. The sound of the clarinet’s low register, for example, is worlds apart from the sound of its high register, and the clarinet can go from the smoothest and gentlest of singing sounds to all manner of boisterous exclamations and flourishes—not to mention honks and shrieks.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.