Clarinet Systems. Origin and Evolution [Part 3]

Consequences in Orchestral Playing

Unfortunately the difference between clarinet systems have been quite a controversy within clarinet players in orchestras around the world.

It is very rare to find clarinet players using different systems in the same orchestra, since the different fingering positions and bore dimensions of the clarinets would make the tuning and blending of sound much more difficult between them.

This is the main reason why, depending on the country, orchestras offer auditions only to clarinet players with a specific system. For instance, any orchestra in Germany or Austria would only offer auditions for clarinet players using ‘Deutsches system’, whereas orchestras in The Netherlands would do the same with ‘Reform-boehm system’ and so on. However, unless it specifies in the audition requirements it will always be French Boehm-system.

Interestingly enough, the conductor’s opinion in this matter is not as confined as one would expect. As Daniel Barenboim said in an interview, “even to professional conductors the sound is so similar they couldn’t tell the difference by listening”.

Manufacturing Companies

Overall, there are much more manufacturers of the Boehm-system than any other today. Depending on the company size, they offer different models according to different standards. Clarinet models for students can be made out of plastic or wood, whereas professional ones will always be wood.

Regardless of the company size, manufacturers keep always releasing new models in which they try to slightly improve different features of older ones.

There are infinite models for every standard in the market, but it is very curious to see how, as soon as a company releases a new model, they will cut down the production of the old ones, sometimes to the point of stopping commercialising them.

Is it possible to play Bb and A clarinets from different systems or models?

This is a question I have been asked in several occasions during my career.

It may be possible to play different systems for Bb and A clarinets but certainly not the best idea, especially if you would like to develop your professional career [please read section about orchestra playing explained above].

When it comes to clarinet systems, just having to learn different fingering positions and control of the blowing would make clarinet playing much more complex in itself. Also, what other clarinet players would you play with, French or German?

In terms of models within the same clarinet system, in my opinion it is still advisable to play the same model for Bb and A clarinet, or at least clarinets from the same instrument maker, since for instance playing Selmer clarinets differ quite a lot from Buffet ones.


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