Schools Of Clarinet Worldwide

In previous posts I have talked about the differences between clarinet systems and the effect this can have in orchestral and ensemble playing. Today I would like to expand this idea a more by submerging in the topic of clarinet schools according to national styles.

As we already know the most prominent clarinet schools are the French (Boehm system) and the German (Oehler system) as they clearly differ in the way the clarinet is constructed. From these main ‘roots’ many other clarinet schools have emerged based on national traditions and cultures.

The term clarinet school can be defined as a group of clarinettists, usually from the same nationality, that share a common idea of sound quality, timbre, sense of style and similar clarinet material.

“There are as many clarinet sounds as clarinettists.”

It is true that it is the player who makes the sound more than the instrument. Assuming there is a correct embouchure, breathing and blowing, every player has different physical features (volume of the mouth, teeth position, lips) which affect the sound, and consequently the player’s preference in what mouthpiece and reeds suit them best.

Clarinet schools have been directly influenced by the socio-economical and cultural situation of each country. Unlike today, the absence of modern technology and communication in XVIII and XIX centuries made clarinettists develop clear diversities in their playing; diversities that are worthwhile knowing about. Today due to the availablility of recordings and ease of travel around the world the differences between what is being taught in conservatoires in different countries are becoming less prominent.

The clarinet was created around 1710 by the instrument maker J. C. Denner of Nuremberg in Germany. The first internationally famous clarinet virtuosos were Joseph Beer (1744-1812) and Franz Tausch (1762-1817) in France and Germany respectively, each of whom started their own school. From this point the clarinet would evolve more significantly, gaining more popularity among composers of the beginning of XIX century. Therefore it is the most logical way, to unveil the evolution of clarinet schools nationally.

German School

This school was originated by Franz Tausch (1762-1817), German clarinettist, teacher and composer. Tausch performed with Joseph Beer in courts around Germany, but he also founded a Wind Conservatoire in 1805, where he taught clarinettists like Heinrich Baermann. Subsequently Iwan Müller (1786-1854) would introduce his new 13-keyed clarinet in 1812, which would lead to what we know as Oehler system today. Müller travelled around Europe presenting his new invention as “a clarinet that allows you to play in different keys”. Lefèvre, at the Paris Conservatoire, didn’t particularly liked the idea as he claimed that “making more holes to his 6-hole instrument would only restrict the sound quality”. Müller wrote his own clarinet method in 1822. Carl Baermann (1810-1885), Heinrich’s son, was also a German clarinettist that wrote many clarinet methods still in use today.

The German clarinet sound is quite contrasting from the French sound due to the construction difference. This sound can be described as a dark and compact timbre, with more accuracy in tuning but more difficulty to play pianissimo dynamic. Articulation tends to sound heavier and thicker than the French clarinet.

The Oehler system is used in Germany and Austria today. The main clarinettists playing this system today are Karl Leister and Sabine Meyer in Germany, as well as the Austrian clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer.

French School

The Czech clarinettist Joseph Beer (1744-1812) was the first clarinettist that is known for his French sound. He was professor of clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire and lived in France most of his life. Some of his pupils were Etienne Solére and Michel Yost. In 1782 Beer left Paris and travelled through Holland, Italy, Russia, and Hungary among others. It was then when he realised about the variety of sounds that clarinetttists around Europe were obtaining.

Jean-Xavier Lefèvre (1763-1829) was a pupil of Yost. In 1795 he was one of the 19 clarinet professors at the Paris Conservatoire that were assigned to teach 104 pupils who wanted to learn the instrument for Napoleon’s military bands. He was assigned to write a clarinet method for this institution, which was printed in 1802 and it is still in use today.

Frédéric Berr (1794-1838) became clarinet professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1831, when he introduced the German way of playing with the reed resting on the lower lip (as we know it today). One of his main pupils was Hyacinthe Klosé (1808-1880), one of the most relevant figures in French clarinet playing. Apart from his numerous elaborate clarinet methods, Klosé is well-known, together with Louis-August Buffet, for developing the Boehm-system 17-keyed clarinet in 1839. Quite an interesting fact is that Klosé played as 2nd clarinet at the Théâtre Italien with Frédéric Berr in 1836, but when Berr left Iwan Müller took his place. Berr and Müller continued to play together despite their clarinet system differences – something that would be inconceivable today. Within Klosé’s pupils can be highlighted Adolphe Marthe Leroy, Cyrille Rosé and Frédéric Selmer among others.

As we still know it today the French clarinet sound comprises clarity and brightness, which allows an extraordinary dynamic range and more freedom to achieve a big spectrum of colour in the sound. Articulation can be very detached and light. Some people would describe this sound as loud and strident but in my opinion these terms divert from the fascinating qualities of a French sound.

The Boehm system is the most used in Europe (except from Germany, Austria and Holland) and America today. Among the most renowned clarinettists in France today are Philippe Cuper, Pascal Moraguès and the bass clarinettist Vicent Penot.

Italian School

The clarinet in Italy has always been linked to operatic repertoire due to the extensive lyrical works by Puccini, Rossini, Verdi, etc. Although musicians play with Boehm-system clarinets, it is said that proponents of the Italian clarinet school play with a sound that resembles the voice much more than any other.

Italian clarinettists such as Benedetto Carulli (1797-1877), Ernesto Cavallini (1807-1874), Alamiro Giampieri (1893-1963) and Giuseppe Garbarino are quite well-known for their clarinet methodology and discography. Alessandro Carbonare and the bass clarinettist Rocco Parisi are some of the most prominent ones today.

US-American School

The clarinet in North-America is directly connected to jazz and film music. Among the first clarinettists to arrive to North-America were the French Daniel Bonade and Gaston Hamelin, hence the admittance of the French clarinet system. However, American clarinet sound is a bit different from the French sound, much more open and wide. The main reason is the use of wider mouthpieces and reeds that allow more quantity of air into the clarinet and flexibility in the sound.

Some of the most renowned American clarinettists are Larry Combs, Richard Stolzman, Charles Neidich, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw among others. It is also popular for New-Orleans jazz clarinettists, such as Evan Christopher, to use Selmer Improved Albert-system clarinets which brings another different quality of sound, but this does not directly relate for comparison to the classical schools which have been discussed so far.

British School

In modern times it is most common for British players to be using Boehm-system clarinets from France or Japan (Yamaha). There are, however, other British brands of clarinet that follow different design principals. These clarinets are made with a wider bore than the French clarinets, which makes the sound brighter. Peter Eaton, Boosey & Hawkes and Hanson are the some of the makers that are still in use today. Listening to recordings of players listed below also reveals a tendency towards vibrato.

It was not until the end of XIX century when the Boehm system was introduced in United Kingdom. It is believed that the Spanish clarinettist Manuel Gomez (1859-1922), arriving to London in 1888 as a founding member of the London Symphony Orchestra, was responsible for this impact.

Among the most celebrated clarinettists in Britain are Henry Lazarus (1815-1895), who wrote a Method for the Clarinet based on the Boehm system although he himself never switched, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Sidney Fell (1957), Frederick Thurston (1901-1953), Reginald Kell (1906-1981) – one of the first clarinettists to play with continuous vibrato, Jack Brymer (1915-2003), Antony Pay (1945), David Campbell (1953) and Michael Collins.

Spanish School

Even though the Spanish school of clarinet wasn’t as relevant as the French or German during XVIII and XIX centuries, it is known to have conceived quite virtuoso clarinettists well-known worldwide. Personally I think it is quite unfortunate the lack of information given about this school and in future I will be dedicating a whole post to the subject (coming soon, please don’t forget to check!).

Russian School

It is worth mentioning that the Russian school is as old as the German school. Iwan Müller was a chamber music clarinettist in St. Petersburg before his prominent invention. Russia had already been producing clarinets since the second half of XVIII century as clarinettists were quite demanded for military bands and festivities.

From the mid-XVIII century the clarinet was more often used in ensemble music, and the most widespread form of music playing was instrumental capella. The first Russian clarinettist, mentioned in the register of the court’s orchestra from 1764, was F. Ladunka, who had previously worked as the court’s singer.

Since the second half of XVIII century the Russian school has been quite influenced by foreign clarinettists such as Joseph Beer, who came to Russia in 1779. He performed solo works with such success that in 1784 he became the soloist of the court orchestra and chamber musician. The German F. Tausch, H. Baermann, K. Baermann, K. Niedman and the Italian E. Cavallini were also influences. It was during this period when the serf theatre in Russia began to develop as a consequence of aesthetic inquiries of nobility and with this the need of musicians to fill in these orchestras.

Sergei Vasilievich Rozanov (1870–1937) was considered the founder of the modern Russian clarinet school. He was taught by Franz Zimmermann (1818–1891), solo clarinet of Bolshoi theatre, at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1894 he became second clarinet in the Bolshoi theatre until 1929, whilst was performing as a soloist and chamber musician.


I speculate that countries like The Netherlands, Hungary, Czech Republic, etc. would have had their own clarinet schools during XIX-XX centuries as any of the ones above, the list could be endless. There is a more visual presentation by Laura Bradley that could complement the clarinet schools and clarinettists explained above. It can be found here.

An important fact to highlight in clarinet history is that despite it being clarinet schools there have also been many influential individuals. It has been quite common for composers to work with a clarinettist that produces their ideal sound to inspire their work. Some examples being Mozart, who wrote for the clarinettist Anton Stadler; Weber, who dedicated most of his works to the clarinettist Heinrich Baermann; and Brahms, who was inspired by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. These virtuoso players certainly influenced in the clarinet repertoire.

National schools of clarinet were very relevant among players of XIX-XX centuries. Unfortunately the distinctiveness of these clarinet schools continues to decline today, leaving behind many unique early recordings of tremendous value, which represent the pure national sound of each school. What must always remain to the player even today is musicality, sensitivity in the phrasing, extreme accuracy with rhythm and intonation and last but not least, a rich historical sense of the piece when performing.


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