Is there a "default" score order for clarinets?

If used today, it would probably be used for “shock value”, as so many contemporary composers seem to get off on. One of the last composers of truly significant music, Dimitri Shostakovich, wrote tellingly well for only the usual trio - Bb(A), Eb piccy and bass.

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I played Eb on Shostokovitch 5, that was a nice part. Unfortunately few composers seem to understand it as you noted and like to use it for fireworks, but it’s got more going for it than that. The way to think of these is that as you go up/down the clarinet family you get thicker to thinner timbre’s or colors. The lower ones get more ‘Entish’, more ‘hoom-hoom’ with a thicker, richer tone that just thins out as you go up. They’ve all got full ranges, so if you care about the tone could pick the one that gives you more of that.

Mahler was also a master of orchestration. Something not done but would be a great pairing is to use the Eb to give more drive to the clarinets. Just parallel it up in the same or upper octave. Anyhow Mahler did this by pairing oboes with clarinets, like in the fifth, second movement, solo both with an intense crescendo. I’d have to pull the score, but anyhow the Eb/Bb would make a great alternative to that kind of effect.

I’m a clarinetist and just completed a 5-movement work in two versions: one for clarinet quartet (one on a part) and clarinet choir (could be an army?). I’ve played the Bb & A soprano clarinets, the Eb sopranino, a Bb bass, and an old “paper clip” shaped BBb contrabass clarinet. My Dorico for iPad put everything in correct score order for this ensemble, including the Eb alto clarinet (not to be confused with the Eb contra alto an octave lower). The best composer/arranger source material for all this an more is Samuel Adler’s Orchestration book. He was at Eastman when I was an undergrad and then went to Juilliard. Each instrument has it’s own unique characteristics, although they all share the same treble clef, fingerings and “written” range. The lower instruments do have various low extensions. The upper range beyond 3 octaves or so is more a function of the individual player’s ability.

The C Clarinets are sometimes available (rarely) but they are notorious for being impossible to tune with the ensemble (too sharp some say).

I routinely use an Eb, but I do wonder how standard it is among professional players.

very standard


Probably only used in period ensembles like for the Beethoven symphonies. I have heard the same thing about the C clarinets being impossible to tune.

But I believe he general principle is that within an instrument family, the score order generally runs from high to low, so I would expect the A to appear below the Bb in the odd case where both are orchestrated.

Of course! But if you have an orchestration with a soprano clarinet in A, and a bass clarinet in Bb, the A clarinet goes up and the bass down, regardless the tuning.

I believe we agree on this . I would think that if an orchestration had a Bb, A, alto, bass, conta-alto and contra-bass, that is the order they should appear top to bottom.

Hello to all

for your information here is the order of the clarinets in an extract from Elektra by Richard Strauss. You can see that the Bb and A clarinets are used at the same time in the score. (which always causes problems with the unisons, but the blend is fantastic to listen to).


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Thanks for Richard Strauss example. There’s no change in the clarinet order in Dorico 4.1.

Actually he used both to avoid the problem of doing a half step trill on B (where the range splits).