Reviews of clarinet performance in Paris and London, c. 1770 – c. 1810 make specific reference to 18th-century performance ideals, as identified by the contemporary writer Charles Burney who described the “principal excellencies of perfect execution”. The performance qualities described by Burney and their inclusion in contemporary reports is particularly valuable in assessing performances featuring the newest woodwind instrument, the clarinet. References to many of these performance qualities combine to form detailed accounts of the sonorities, technical execution and expressive qualities evident in performances given by clarinet players in Paris and London.

This article draws upon a wide selection of audience reviews of clarinet players in performance in these two centres, c.1770 – c.1810, offering revealing insights into audience perceptions of both the instrument and clarinet players. The examination of reviews of clarinet performance published in Paris and London highlight a number of specific performance themes. These are identified and discussed in this article, creating a detailed picture of 18th-century audience responses to the newest woodwind instrument and early exponents of the clarinet in each centre.