Clarinet in D

Clarinet in D, c.1740
Gifted in 2006
Musical Instrument Collection: MIMEd 5168

This small instrument is the oldest clarinet in the collection. It is made of boxwood, a common material for woodwind instruments from the 18th century as it is slow-growing and nice to carve.

The clarinet, gifted by Sir Nicholas Shackleton, was probably invented in Nuremberg in around 1700 by members of the Denner family. The story goes that the family member who made bird calls for hunting put one of his duck calls on the end of the recorder made by another family member, and the clarinet was invented.

The clarinet family is the largest instrument family, ranging from small, high sounding instruments like this one down to contrabass clarinets at the other end of the scale. This came about in part due to the acoustics of the clarinet, which behaves differently to other woodwinds. Much like the piano, which was invented at about the same time, the clarinet took about 100 years to become widely adopted, but now it is a central instrument in a wide range of ensembles from the orchestra to jazz and klezmer bands.

Sir Nicholas Shackleton (1937-2006) was a geologist and paleoclimatologist from a famous and accomplished family: his father Robert was a field geologist and his great-uncle the famous explorer, Ernest. In addition to publishing innovative research relating to climate change, he was also a keen amateur clarinettist and a great collector.

His bequest to the University consists of more than 800 clarinets as well as flutes, oboes, bassoons and French horns. As a result, the University now holds the world’s largest collection of clarinets. As well as its size, the Shackleton Collection is also renowned for the quality and range of instrument.

Shackleton collected clarinets of all sizes and brought together examples of the different ways in which makers addressed elements such as intonation, sound quality and fingering, some more successfully than others. In addition, there are representative instruments from many different regions. The breadth and depth of the Collection allows for research into many aspects of musical instruments, including themes relating to musical cultures, the status of players, materials, and differing musical styles. Some of the instruments are still in playing condition and are made available for researchers and for players, including at the annual Shackleton Memorial Concert held at St Cecilia’s Hall during the Fringe.

Listen to this instrument:

Story by Dr Jenny Nex, Curator, Musical Instrument Collection