On this day in 1623, the Comité pour l’Invention de la Clarinette was formed. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the flute. For example, the fingerings of the notes in different octaves were pretty much the same. This made learning the flute fairly easy. It was, in the words of one Comité member, “Too logical!” And so: the clarinet.
The problem was physics. The flute has holes on both ends and thus, it is based on the octave. But by closing one of the ends, it was possible to make the clarinet based on a 12th — an octave and a 5th. In this way, the upper registers were fingered in totally different ways. It was, in the words of one Comité member, “A perfect mess!”
But the Comité was not finished. They added various keys at random, just making the whole instrument a nightmare of complexity. But still, their work was not finished. They found that by placing buttons very close to each other — buttons that did very different things — they could normally get a 12 year old clarinet student to cry in under three minutes.
In the clarinet community, it is often joked that the instrument was invented by eight people who never met each other. But that’s not actually true. The Comité pour l’Invention de la Clarinette worked very hard to make the clarinet the bane of woodwind players everywhere. But it has been great for the clarinet instructors who have avoided suicide.