I am looking at a 1954 edition of Jean Sibelius's orchestral score for Tapiola.

It has the Concert Pitch instruments (Flutes, Violins etc) in two sharps.

He then has various other key signatures which don't seem to match up. For example he has Clarinetto Basso in B, Corni in E, and Trombe in B; staves with no key signature.

Clarinetti in A has one flat; Corno inglesi has three sharps.

So now I'm really confused.

I was expecting that the Bass Clarinet would have a Key Signature of three flats assuming that Clarinetto Basso in B means that it sounds one semitone below written pitch.

Can someone explain what's going on?

I've only read full scores concert pitch so this has me confused.
(Quite apart from the fact that AFAIK Bass Clarinets are Bb.)


1 Answer 1


The English horn (in F) and the A clarinets have the expected transposed key signatures: concert B minor (two sharps) is written F♯ minor for the English horn (three sharps) and written D minor for the clarinets (one flat).

The "B" instruments are B♭ instruments, denoted using the German system where B♭ is called "B" (B♮ is called "H"). You might therefore expect these instruments to have a C♯ minor signature of four sharps. However, it was traditional for transposing brass instrument parts to be written without key signatures, since they originally always played in their own notated key of C major. Sibelius is perhaps being a bit conservative in following this practice in 1926.

Sibelius also followed the same practice for the bass clarinet in B♭, though I don't have a great hypothesis to explain it. Nonetheless, you can see for example in measure 50, where the contrabass has D and E, that the bass clarinet has E and F♯.

The score is available on IMSLP.

  • It's worth noting that trombones are not typically transposing instruments the way trumpets and french horns are, so this is also something of an odd choice on JS's part. Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 14:55
  • @MichaelSeifert the score on IMSLP has key signatures of two sharps for the trombones, a discrepancy with the situation described in the question that I did not notice before now.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 15:37
  • Good to know. I play the trombone myself and I've never once run across a transposing part, which is why I thought it would be exceptionally weird if JS did it. (I'm in the US and couldn't legally access the IMSLP score to check.) Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 15:37

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