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.

  • 2
    Nice one @phoog. I went to the pub instead of answering this! +1 Jul 18, 2021 at 21:53
  • 1
    @BobBroadley have one for me!
    – phoog
    Jul 18, 2021 at 22:29
  • Lovely answer @phoog. Thank you for your help. Much appreciated.
    – iainH
    Jul 18, 2021 at 23:11
  • 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. Jul 19, 2021 at 14:55
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    @iainH given the 1954 date, I suspect that you're looking at the same edition that is available on IMSLP. Is the question incorrect in saying that the trombones in your copy have no key signature?
    – phoog
    Jul 19, 2021 at 15:38

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