Being the extremely big clarinets almost not used nowadays, we could say that the contrabass clarinet is the biggest clarinet in use. Nevertheless there are a few models of these clarinets that are pitch in E♭, today most of them are in BB♭, and back in the day there were some of them that were pitch in C. The few kinds of (sub) contrabass clarinets that were built in the past were with the intention to try something unconventional, but were not long lived. They also used a different clarinet fingering chart that the conventional.
The French Dumas of Sommières was the inventor of some kind of contrabass clarinet that is dated to 1808, and even though there is not too much information about it, another intent to construct a contrabass clarinet was the bathyphone, instrument which the director general of the Prussian military bands, W. F. Wieprecht’s, created in order to provide reed instruments with a contrabass. The instrument was also unsuccessful and after a short while in practice was replaced by the bass tuba.
A Pedal clarinet, the alternative name which this instrument is called, started to be produced in 1889, and with its complete and powerful sound, performed delicate sounds in the upper spectrum of its keys, and in some way more rustic outcome in the lower tones of the scale.
Contrabass Clarinet Makers
Between of the manufacturers of contrabass clarinet that worth to mention are:
Leblanc Paris show its folded version 340 model which is pitch to low C, and also another model, the 342 that pitch to low E♭, and displays a shape that is similar to another contrabass clarinets available from the US version of the firm that is made from plastic, and also the prestige company Selmer, which has a model made from rosewood that someone could consider a bass clarinet but bigger.
Benedikt Eppelsheim presented a folded contrabass clarinet, made from metal, which many people in 2006 considered similar to a baritone saxophone.
The multi performer and prominent musician Anthony Braxton has been one of the players that has played the contrabass clarinet more proficiently, and his solo performing playing it, has been recognized for jazz lovers all over the world. Also the great wind instruments player Leroi Moore, executed a part playing the contrabass clarinet in the song “so Right” of the Dave Matthews Band’s album ‘Everyday’. that was released at the beginning of the 20th century.
Jazz, and other forms of music that use improvisation like a way of expression, have been the genres that have used this instrument more frequently.
It wouldn’t be fair to not mention other artists that have given great attention to the contrabass clarinet, like for example Jason Alder, James Carter, Vinny Golia and many mores that for lack of space is not possible to name.
Also known as octocontralto clarinet, this instrument is a bit different than the contrabass, but is known because it is bigger than all the other clarinets, having a height of a little more than 8 foot. Being pitch in EE♭ is considered an EE♭ reversing clarinet, and was especially considered for the Norwegian musician Terje Lerstad for 3 compositions that were made exclusively for it.
Again, Leblanc was the company that were pioneers in the crafting of the subcontrabass clarinet, and one of them is still available to watch at a museum in the originary town of Leblanc, La Couture-Boussey.
Not get confused by the hyphen, as a matter of fact, this instrument is different that the most recognized contralto clarinet, and it is differentiated because its range is even lower that the contralto vocals are known for.
If someone have a look at the array of clarinets that are used presently, they could appreciate that this is the second largest clarinet that perform regularly in musical concerts, and even though they are dated to the 19th century when they were called contrabasset horns, still have some presence in contemporary music.
Even though these kinds of contrabass clarinets are specially big, the fact is that every one of them display a reed, keys that are like most other clarinets and show characteristics that are common to most woodwind instruments.
The biggest of them are sometimes difficult to differentiate, because there are very similar each other. Instruments constructors have shown for long time interest in these types of items,singularly Leblanc, but unfortunately the use of them are generally an exception , and is not easy to see them in any kind of concerts, either of Jazz music or classical .
Anyways , it seems for us that they have been an important contribution for the development of the wind instruments as a whole.