The chalumeau (; ; plural chalumeaux) is a single-reed woodwind instrument of the late baroque and early classical eras. The chalumeau is a folk instrument that is the predecessor to the modern-day clarinet. It has a cylindrical bore with eight tone holes (seven in front and one in back for the thumb) and a broad mouthpiece with a single heteroglot reed (i.e. not a continuous part of the instrument's body) made of cane. Similar to the clarinet, the chalumeau overblows a twelfth.
HistoryThe word chalumeau first begins to appear in writing during the 1630s, but may have been in use as early as the twelfth century. Several French dictionaries in the sixteenth century use the word to refer to various types of simple, idioglot reed-pipes all with tone holes. The heteroglot style reed was later adopted in the seventeenth and into the eighteenth centuries. These single-pipe instruments probably evolved from earlier multiple-pipe instruments through the abandonment of the drone tube. (See Similar instruments, below. The etymology is discussed in detail at Shawm#Etymology.)
The use of the chalumeau originated in France and later spread to Germany by the late seventeenth century. By 1700, the chalumeau was an established instrument on the European musical scene. Around this time, well-known Nuremberg instrument maker Johann Christoph (J.C.) Denner made improvements to the chalumeau, eventually developing it into the Baroque clarinet. The chalumeau is distinguished by two keys (thought to be added by Denner), which cover tone holes drilled diametrically to each other. The position of these tone holes prohibits the instrument from overblowing, limiting its range to only twelve notes. In order to counteract the limited range, multiple sizes of chalumeau were produced ranging from bass to soprano.
Over a period of about 20 years, the clarinet became distinguishable from the chalumeau due to a number of structural improvements. The first and most important development was the displacement of the rear key up towards the mouthpiece. Denner also reduced the size of the hole and inserted a small tube to facilitate overblowing, greatly increasing the range of the instrument to nearly three octaves. The instrument was also lengthened to increase accuracy of tuning, the recorder like foot joint of the chalumeau was replaced by a bell similar to the oboe, and a key on the lower joint was eventually added to sound a b’. This new instrument eventually became the Baroque clarinet and specialized in the higher clarino register, as opposed to the lower chalumeau register. In its early development, the clarinet could not be tuned across the range of the instrument, so the chalumeau was still used for music in the lower range. Later developments in the key work allowed better intonation throughout the range of the clarinet, and the chalumeau register on the clarinet eventually rendered the chalumeau itself superfluous. The limited range and modest strength of sound compared with the clarinet made the chalumeau increasingly impractical. By 1800, the chalumeau had disappeared from the repertoire entirely and the clarinet was well-established on the European musical scene.
These improvements are attributed to J.C. Denner, but may have also been an invention of his son Jacob Denner who was trained by his father. Another son, Johann David, helped with the business but is not recorded as an instrument builder. The Denners were the only instrument builders to produce both chalumeaux and clarinets.