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The Chalumeau

The chalumeau (pl. chalumeaux) was a French single-reed woodwind instrument that resembled a recorder, but used a mouthpiece much like a clarinet's. It developed in late 17th-century France, and eventually gave rise to the clarinet. Although, for a time, both instruments were in common use, the clarinet overtook the chalumeau in popularity during the 1780s, leading to the latter's eventual demise.


The chalumeau was made in a family of four sizes: Soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

The chalumeau has an approximately cylindrical bore and a mouthpiece with a single reed like a clarinet. According to Wikipedia, "The unusual acoustic properties of both chalumeaux and clarinets, each behaving like a cylindrical pipe closed at one end, result in the instruments overblowing at the twelfth, meaning that the upper register sounds one octave and a perfect fifth higher than the lower." This is different than most other woodwind instruments that overblow at the octave.


The word "chalumeau" was used in France in the twelfth century to refer to various sorts of pipes.

In the late seventeenth century a better form of the chalumeau was made. This baroque chalumeau represents the similarity of the recorder and the clarinet, and had a cylindrical bore with a mouthpiece similar to a clarinet's and had two more "throat" keys controlling notes at the top of the basic chalumeau register. The Chalumeau developed for many decades along with the clarinet. It had a big repertoire in the 18th-century chamber music and orchestral works.

The clarinet was developed from the chalumeau by moving the B♭ key up towards the mouthpiece. By moving that key, wikipedia says "reduced the size of the hole and inserting a register tube; here it still produces B♭, but functions in addition as a register key, allowing the upper range to be easily sounded." The clarinet's mouthpiece changed to improve the upper register, and the chalumeau's foot joint was replaced by a flared bell. Early clarinets could either be tuned in the lower register or the upper register but never both. The clarinet used in the Baroque era always used the upper register, which had a bright sound and better projection than the chalumeau which had a mellow sound. In the 1780s the clarinet got more popular than the chalumeau which caused the chalumeau to decrease and die eventually.

It is said that both the improvement of the chalumeau and the invention of the clarinet have been made by Johann Christoph Denner of Nuremberg. Since his contributions to these instruments are uncertain, it is said that the invention of the clarinet was made by his son Jacob Denner.

The name chalumeau is derived from the Latin calamellus, itself from the Greek kalamos "reed".

Modern Chalumeau

Even if about eight original chalumeaux survived, some modern instrument makers are making replicas of these very old chalumeaux. The present day makers of replica chalumeaux include:

  1. Moeck
  2. Peter van der Poel
  3. Andreas Schöni
  4. R. Tutz
  5. Guntram Wolf.

Other makers, including Hahl and Kunath, produce modern adaptations of the chalumeau.

Instruments and Voices
Woodwinds Flute (Piccolo/Alto/Bass)RecorderOboe (Cor Anglais/Oboe D'amore/Heckelphone)Clarinet (E♭/Bass/Contrabass)

Bassoon (Contrabassoon)SaxophoneBagpipes

Brass HornCornetTrumpetTromboneEuphoniumTubaSaxhorns
Keyboards PianoOrganHarmoniumHarpsichordClavichordCelestaAccordion
Percussion Tuned: TimpaniGlockenspielChimesVibraphoneXylophoneMarimbaCrotalesMusical sawHammered Dulcimer

Untuned: Snare drumBass drumTriangleCymbalsGongsTom-tomsShakersDrumset

Electronic ThereminOndes MartenotSynthesizerElectronic Wind Instrument
Stringed Bowed: ViolinViolaVioloncelloContrabass

Plucked: HarpGuitarMandolinBanjo

Voices Female: SopranoMezzo-soprano (often mistaken with Alto)Contralto (often mistaken with Alto)

Male: TrebleCountertenorTenorBaritoneBass-baritoneBass