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Albert-System Clarinets

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Eugène Albert was a Belgian clarinet-maker, based in Brussels. His work started around 1840, and his sons continued making clarinets until the end of the First World War.

Clarinet Keywork Systems

The way in which the clarinet has developed goes hand-in-hand with the performers themselves. The clarinet developed from the chalumeau, a single-reed instrument with a small range. As and when performers needed more keys to get around different fingerings in particular pieces, or play more notes, they would go to a clarinet-maker, and have new keys added. So varying schools of thought developed over what clarinet keywork should ideally be. The system used in most of the world today, including Britain, is the Boehm System.

The Albert System

The Albert system was the system of clarinet keywork developed by Albert. It is still on clarinets used for Albanian (among other eastern European countries) folk music, for the reason that for the scales played in such music, faster playing is possible with the system. The system is also used among jazz groups, particularly in the jazz capital of the US, New Orleans.

The Boehm System

The Boehm system (the most commonly used system on both flutes and clarinets today) developed from a type of clarinet developed by Iwan Muller, which was used up until the late 1800s. Klosé and Buffet adapted the Boehm system to the clarinet in about 1840, and although the clarinet has changed a little since then, the fingering system which we use now is much the same. The Boehm system positions holes and keys for comfort, and eliminates cross-fingerings1, while at the same time making the instrument more stable, and more in tune. Along with the clarinet and flute, the system is also used on saxophones, oboes and partially on bassoons.

The Oehler System

The Oehler (pronounced 'uh-ler') system is more complicated than the French, English, or American systems, and is used only in Germany and Austria. The tone and pitch are better than on a Boehm instrument; however, due to the greater amount of mechanism required, the technique is far more complicated. The Oehler system has 22 keys, five rings and finger plates.

The bore of a clarinet is the technical term for the hole down the middle of it. Whereas most other woodwind instruments have a conical bore, the clarinet has a cylindrical bore, which contributes to its unique sound. The Oehler system's difference from the other clarinet systems is also due to its bore, which is different from a standard clarinet bore.

How is the Albert-System Different?

The Albert system has 13 keys and two rings, as opposed to the 22/5 in the Oehler system and the 17/6 in the Boehm system. It is for this reason that the Albert system is often referred to as a type of simple system clarinet. Differences between Albert system and Boehm system (from the Boehm perspective) are:

  • Fewer rings, and rearranged/missing keys in between rings.

  • G# key does not cross under A key.

  • Wraparound register key.

  • Two less trill keys at right.

  • Missing F# (below middle C) key at left and two missing keys from block of four at bottom of clarinet.

  • The fingerings for B/Bb (below middle C) are also changed around.

1A cross-fingering or fork fingering is one where some holes are covered by the fingers but other holes in between are uncovered.

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