I'm learning about transposing instruments, and now I'm looking at Dvorak's 9th symphony. In the second movement (Largo) I don't understand the key signature of the clarinet in A.

The first movement is written in E minor (1#) and the clarinet in A has two flats in its key signature (G minor). I know why this is the case: the clarinet in A transposes a minor third down (a written C sounds like an A). The key will thus shift three steps to the left in the circle of fifths.

But now the second movement. It's written in D flat major (5b) and the clarinet in A has three flats in its key signature (E flat major). Following the same logic as in the first movement, the clarinet in A should be written in E major (4#). Why is this not the case? Or am I doing something wrong?

I hope someone can help me out, thanks in advance!

  • A is four steps to the right of C in the circle of fifths. It's three steps to the left on the 12-tone chromatic scale.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 0:19

3 Answers 3


The key signature for the first five bars of the clarinet part is wrong, although the notes are correct for A clarinets (they are playing in E major). The clarinets change to B-flat from the 11th bar, and there the key signature of three flats is correct. It looks like the composer, or a copyist, or the publisher found it easier to put the three flats in from the beginning. Those first bars are a modulation from E to D-flat, so there are going to be plenty of accidentals whatever key signature is used.

enter image description here

  • I would say "engraver" in there somewhere.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 0:20

The score I found says muta in B after the clarinet entry at the start of the second movement. Clarinet in A would perform the written G sounding as a concert E which fits nicely in the opening E major chord.enter image description here

On the second page of that movement the clarinet parts are now marked for Bb clarinet, and the key signature is still three flats. enter image description here

The key signature is correct for Bb clarinet, and misleading for clarinet in A.

  • Thanks for your reply! So the key of the clarinet changes as if it were a clarinet in B flat, even though in some parts (like the beginning) it is a clarinet in A? Is there any reason why the key doesn't change with the clarinet type, throughout the piece?
    – A.Kawoela
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 12:49
  • @BrianTHOMAS The instruction to swap instruments of course has to occur at the end of a phrase, otherwise one would not have sufficient time to do so before the next entry?!
    – guidot
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 13:19
  • 1
    I was trying to say despite the label saying Clarinet in A, the movement actually starts on Bb clarinet, and that the muta text should have been at the start of the first phrase rather than at the end of the phrase. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 13:38
  • 2
    The movements starts on A clarinets, so the first note sounds E and not F. The first chord is E major (unfortunately not clear from the score excerpt).
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 19:00
  • 2
    Agreed. The only way the written notes can be right is if they are played on an A clarinet, so the last note sounds as F, the third of the D-flat chord. Unfortunately that makes this answer very wrong. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 20:58

Following Brian's answer - muta means change instrument for one that transposes differently - change the crook on a horn; put down the A clarinet, and use the B♭ one instead.

B is actually what most of the world calls B♭.

  • 1
    I don't think that dig about "Bb" vs. "H" vs "B" is called for. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 15:25
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft - thanks for the dv. You're a little prolific! It wasn't a dig - just a fact.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 15:27
  • it may be a fact, depending on whether "most" indicates number of countries, number of people,number of square miles encompassed; but just because it's true (if it is) doesn't stop it from being used in this case as a 'dig' against certain unnamed countries which *dont'" use "H" in their solfege. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 17:24
  • @CarlWitthoft - it certainly was not used as a 'dig' - there would be no point at all. I find your comment somewhat inflammatory and would be happy for mods to become involved.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 17:53
  • Tim: the statement would be more neutral if you removed the word "actually." As it is, it implies that the rest-of-the-world nomenclature is somehow closer to reality, which isn't exactly neutral.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 0:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.