Contrabass Clarinets

The contrabass clarinet is pitched in the key of Bb, and parts for it are universally written transposed in treble clef, as if it were a Bb soprano clarinet. Thus, the pitch played will sound two octaves and one whole step lower than written.  There is no contrabass clarinet in A (even though Schonberg scored for it).  The Bb horn is rare enough!  The Eb contrabass (also known as the Eb contralto or Eb contra-alto) is pitched half-way between the Bb contrabass and the Bb bass clarinet.
The contrabass clarinet has a practical (useable) range from at least written low Eb (below the treble staff) to high C (above the treble staff), corresponding to Db1 (the lowest Db on the piano) to the Bb below middle C. Altissimo notes above the high C are available on some instruments, but seldom used (and the horn available may have poor timbre in the altissimo register): these notes may speak more easily if fingered including RH3 (which opens the lower octave vent). It is fairly common to have notes below written Eb available: many  contrabass clarinets have extensions to low D (written: sounding C1 in concert pitch), and modern professional instruments are often extended to low C (written, sounding Bb0 - the lowest Bb on the piano), whether metal or wood. Thus, a modern contrabass clarinet covers the standard range of a contrabassoon.  The Eb contra is more often limited to low Eb (sounding concert Gb1), although the Leblanc 350 is extended down to written C (sounding Eb1).  
The contrabass and contralto clarinets sound much like the bass clarinet (but lower in pitch, of course). The sound is easily distinguishable from contrabassoon, bassoon, bass sax, and any brass instruments sharing the register. The timbre in the lowest register (chalmeux) is more penetrating, less "rounded" than a bassoon or contrabassoon at the same pitch. The Eb contra can be very difficult to distinguish from bass clarinet (apart from pitch), and can be used almost interchangeably with the bass clarinet if the range is appropriate.  Pitches in the second register of the Bb contrabass (clarion: from written B above middle C to the C above that) have a softer quality, and can sound similar to the upper register of a tenor saxophone
Due to the length of the keys, it is not difficult for a contrabass clarinet to fall out of adjustment, and for keys to leak. Thus, some notes may be harder to play, or may not speak as readily. In general, the most difficult notes on the horn are likely to be the written B-D in the treble staff: they can be played, but it may be hard to slur to or jump to these notes if the instrument is not perfectly regulated. The keys are also somewhat less agile than those of a bass clarinet, and many contrabass clarinets lack some of the alternate keys found on soprano and bass clarinets (for example, the right hand side F# and throat tone alternates are absent on Leblanc contras). As a result, the contrabass part tends not to move as quickly as the bass clarinet (or soprano clarinet) parts, although it is likely to be at least as agile as a bass saxophone, and probably at least as agile as a bass trombone or tuba. The contrabass clarinet is not a particularly common instrument. Accordingly, allowance may be made for the possibility that anything written for it may be played on an old, abused, poorly-adjusted instrument. However, the same is true of many instruments, and should not discourage one from writing parts which feature the contra.

The contrabass clarinet provides the true bass to the clarinet choir, and easily serves as the bass to an entire woodwind section. It blends well with the bass clarinet, baritone sax, and bassoon (usually with the contra played an octave lower), and often doubles the tuba and string bass at unison. It sounds great doubling contrabass sax in unison.  The combination of bari sax and contrabass clarinet in octaves can be particularly effective, tending to sound almost like a contrabass sax.  When its lowest notes are not required, it also blends well with the bass clarinet in unison (i.e., with the contra part written an octave higher than the bass clarinet, so that both sound the same pitch). It can be overwhelmed by the tuba, but will blend well with trombone (open or muted) at the octave.  The Eb contra can be similarly used, and is also useful in combination with the bass clarinet, particularly in the lowest register: passages that are difficult to finger on the bass clarinet may be much more facile when played on the Eb contra due to the transposition.

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