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Bassoon
FoxBassoon.jpg
A Renard model 220 bassoon
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 422.112-71
(Double-reeded aerophone with keys)
Developed Early 18th century
Playing range
Range bassoon.svg
Related instruments
Tenoroon
Contrabassoon (double bassoon)
Dulcian
Oboe

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 1800s, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature. The bassoon is a non-transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character, and agility. Listeners often compare its warm, dark, reedy timbre to that of a male baritone voice.

Contents

Construction and range

Parts of the bassoon
Playing range of a bassoon
(About this sound listen )
A spectrogram of the bassoon's B in four octaves.

The bassoon disassembles into six main pieces, including the reed. The bell (6), extending upward; the tenor joint (5), connecting the bell and the boot; the boot (or butt) (4), at the bottom of the instrument and folding over on itself; the wing joint (3), which extends from boot to bocal; and the bocal (or crook) (2), a crooked metal tube which attaches the wing joint to a reed (1) (About this sound listen ).

The modern bassoon is generally made of maple, with medium-hardness types such as sycamore maple and sugar maple preferred. Less-expensive models are also made of materials such as polypropylene and ebonite, primarily for student and outdoor use; metal bassoons were made in the past but have not been produced by any major manufacturer since 1889. The bore of the bassoon is conical, like that of the oboe and the saxophone, and the two adjoining bores of the boot joint are connected at the bottom of the instrument with a U-shaped metal connector. Both bore and tone holes are precision-machined, and each instrument is finished by hand for proper tuning. The walls of the bassoon are thicker at various points along the bore; here, the tone holes are drilled at an angle to the axis of the bore, which reduces the distance between the holes on the exterior. This ensures coverage by the fingers of the average adult hand. Wooden instruments are lined with hard rubber along the interior of the wing and boot joints to prevent damage from moisture; wooden instruments are also stained and varnished. The end of the bell is usually fitted with a ring, either of metal, plastic or ivory. The joints between sections consist of a tenon fitting into a socket; the tenons are wrapped in either cork or string as a seal against air leaks. The bocal connects the reed to the rest of the instrument and is inserted into a socket at the top of the wing joint. Bocals come in many different lengths, depending on the desired tuning and playing characteristics.

Folded upon itself, the bassoon stands 1.34 m (4.4 feet) tall, but the total sounding length is 2.54 m (roughly 8.3 feet). Playing is facilitated by doubling the tube back on itself and by closing the distance between the widely-spaced holes with a complex system of keywork, which extends throughout nearly the entire length of the instrument. There are also short-reach bassoons made for the benefit of young or petite players.

The range of the bassoon begins at B-flat1 (the first one below the bass staff) and extends upward over three octaves (roughly to the G above the treble staff).[1] Higher notes are possible but difficult to produce and rarely called for; orchestral parts rarely go higher than the C or D, with even Stravinsky's famously difficult opening solo in The Rite of Spring only ascends to the High D. Low A at the bottom of the range is possible with a special extension to the instrument—see "Extended Techniques" below.

Development

Early history

Dulcians and racketts, from the Syntagma musicum by Michael Praetorius.

Music historians generally consider the dulcian to be the forerunner of the modern bassoon,[2] as the two instruments share many characteristics: a double reed fitted to a metal crook, obliquely drilled tone holes, and a conical bore that doubles back on itself. The origins of the dulcian are obscure, but by the mid 16th century it was available in as many as eight different sizes, from soprano to great bass. A full consort of dulcians was a rarity; its primary function seems to have been to provide the bass in the typical wind band of the time, either loud (shawms) or soft (recorders), indicating a remarkable ability to vary dynamics to suit the need. Otherwise, dulcian technique was rather primitive, with eight finger holes and generally one key, indicating that it could play in only a limited number of key signatures.

The dulcian came to be known as fagotto in Italy. However, the usual etymology that equates fagotto with "bundle of sticks" is somewhat misleading, as the latter term did not come into general use until later. Some think it may resemble the Roman Facis, a standard of bound sticks with an ax [3] [4] A further discrepancy lies in the fact that the dulcian was carved out of a single block of wood—in other words, a single "stick" and not a bundle.

Circumstantial evidence indicates that the baroque bassoon was a newly-invented instrument, rather than a simple modification of the old dulcian. The dulcian was not immediately supplanted, but continued to be used well into the 18th century by Bach and others. The man most likely responsible for developing the true bassoon was Martin Hotteterre (d.1712), who may also have invented the three-piece flûte traversière and the hautbois. Some historians believe that sometime in the 1650s, Hotteterre conceived the bassoon in four sections (bell, bass joint, boot and wing joint), an arrangement that allowed greater accuracy in machining the bore compared to the one-piece dulcian. He also extended the compass down to B by adding two keys[5] An alternate view maintains Hotteterre was one of several craftsmen responsible for the development of the early bassoon. These may have included additional members of the Hotteterre family, as well as other French makers active around the same time.[6] No original French bassoon from this period survives, but if it did, it would most likely resemble the earliest extant bassoons of Johann Christoph Denner and Richard Haka from the 1680s. Sometime around 1700, a fourth key (G♯) was added, and it was for this type of instrument that composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Bach, and Georg Philipp Telemann wrote their demanding music. A fifth key, for the low E, was added during the first half of the 18th century. Notable makers of the 4-key and 5-key baroque bassoon include J.H. Eichentopf (c. 1678–1769), J. Poerschmann (1680–1757), Thomas Stanesby, Jr. (1668–1734), G.H. Scherer (1703–1778), and Prudent Thieriot (1732–1786).

Modern history

Increasing demands on capabilities of instruments and players in the 1800s—particularly larger concert halls requiring greater volume and the rise of virtuoso composer-performers—spurred further refinement. Increased sophistication, both in manufacturing techniques and acoustical knowledge, made possible great improvements in the instrument's playability.

The modern bassoon exists in two distinct primary forms, the Buffet system and the Heckel system. Most of the world plays the Heckel system, while the Buffet system is primarily played in France, Belgium, and parts of Latin America.

Heckel (German) system

Heckel system bassoon from 1870

The design of the modern bassoon owes a great deal to the performer, teacher, and composer Carl Almenräder. Assisted by the German acoustic researcher Gottfried Weber, he developed the 17-key bassoon with a range spanning four octaves. Almenräder's improvements to the bassoon began with an 1823 treatise describing ways of improving intonation, response, and technical ease of playing by augmenting and rearranging the keywork. Subsequent articles further developed his ideas. Working at the Schott factory gave him the means to construct and test instruments according to these new designs, and he published the results in Caecilia, Schott's house journal. Almenräder continued publishing and building instruments until his death in 1846, and Ludwig van Beethoven himself requested one of the newly-made instruments after hearing of the papers. In 1831, Almenräder left Schott to start his own factory with a partner, Johann Adam Heckel.

Heckel and two generations of descendants continued to refine the bassoon, and their instruments became the standard other makers followed. Because of their superior singing tone quality (an improvement upon one of the main drawbacks of the Almenräder instruments), the Heckel instruments competed for prominence with the reformed Wiener system, a Boehm-style bassoon, and a completely-keyed instrument devised by Charles-Joseph Sax, father of Adolphe Sax. F.W. Kruspe implemented a latecomer attempt in 1893 to reform the fingering system, but it failed to catch on. Other attempts to improve the instrument included a 24-keyed model and a single-reed mouthpiece, but both these had adverse effects on tone and were abandoned.

Coming into the 20th century, the Heckel-style German model of bassoon dominated the field. Heckel himself had made over 1,100 instruments by the turn of the century (serial numbers begin at 3,000), and the British makers' instruments were no longer desirable for the changing pitch requirements of the symphony orchestra, remaining primarily in military band use.

Except for a brief 1940s wartime conversion to ball bearing manufacture, the Heckel concern has produced instruments continuously to the present day. Heckel bassoons are considered by many the best, although a range of Heckel-style instruments is available from several other manufacturers, all with slightly different playing characteristics. Companies that manufacture Heckel-system bassoons include: Wilhelm Heckel, Yamaha, Fox Products,[7] W. Schreiber & Söhne, Püchner,[8] The Selmer Company, Linton,[9] Moosmann[10] Kohlert, Moennig/Adler,[11] B.H. Bell[12] and Guntram Wolf. In addition, several factories in the People's Republic of China are producing inexpensive instruments under such labels as Laval, Haydn, and Lark, and these have been available in the West for some time now. However, they are generally of marginal quality and are usually avoided by serious players.

Because its mechanism is primitive compared to most modern woodwinds, makers have occasionally attempted to "reinvent" the bassoon. In the 1960s, Giles Brindley began to develop what he called the "logical bassoon", which aimed to improve intonation and evenness of tone through use of an electrically activated mechanism, making possible key combinations too complex for the human hand to manage. Brindley's logical bassoon was never marketed.

Buffet (French) system

The Buffet system bassoon achieved its basic acoustical properties somewhat earlier than the Heckel. Thereafter it continued to develop in a more conservative manner. While the early history of the Heckel bassoon included a complete overhaul of the instrument in both acoustics and keywork, the development of the Buffet system consisted primarily of incremental improvements to the keywork. This minimalist approach deprived the Buffet of the improved consistency, ease of operation, and increased power found in the Heckel bassoons, but the Buffet is considered by some to have a more vocal and expressive quality. The conductor John Foulds lamented in 1934 the dominance of the Heckel-style bassoon, considering them too homogeneous in sound with the horn.

Compared to the Heckel bassoon, Buffet system bassoons have a narrower bore and simpler mechanism, requiring different fingerings for many notes. Switching between Heckel and Buffet requires extensive retraining. Buffet instruments are known for a reedier sound and greater facility in the upper registers, reaching e'' and f'' with far greater ease and less air pressure. French woodwind tone in general exhibits a certain amount of "edge", with more of a vocal quality than is usual elsewhere, and the Buffet bassoon is no exception. This type of sound can be beneficial in music by French composers, but has drawn criticism for being too intrusive. As with all bassoons, the tone varies considerably, depending on individual instrument and performer. In the hands of a lesser player, the Heckel bassoon can sound flat and woody, but good players succeed in producing a vibrant, singing tone. Conversely, a poorly played Buffet can sound buzzy and nasal, but good players succeed in producing a warm, expressive sound, different from—but not inferior to—the Heckel.

Though the United Kingdom once favored the French system [13], Buffet-system instruments are no longer made there and the last prominent British player of the French system retired in the 1980s. However, with continued use in some regions and its distinctive tone, the Buffet continues to have a place in modern bassoon playing, particularly in France. Buffet-model bassoons are currently made in Paris by Buffet Crampon and The Selmer Company. Some players, for example Gerald Corey in Canada, have learned to play both types and will alternate between them depending on the repertoire.

Use in ensembles

Earlier ensembles

Orchestras first used the bassoon to reinforce the bass line, and as the bass of the double reed choir (oboes and taille). Baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully and his Les Petits Violons included oboes and bassoons along with the strings in the 16-piece (later 21-piece) ensemble, as one of the first orchestras to include the newly-invented double reeds. Antonio Cesti included a bassoon in his 1668 opera Il Pomo d'oro (The Golden Apple). However, use of bassoons in concert orchestras was sporadic until the late 17th century when double reeds began to make their way into standard instrumentation. This was largely due to the spread of the hautbois to countries outside of France. Increasing use of the bassoon as a basso continuo instrument meant that it began to be included in opera orchestras, first in France and later in Italy, Germany and England. Meanwhile, composers such as Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Michel Corrette, Johann Ernst Galliard, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Telemann wrote demanding solo and ensemble music for the instrument. Antonio Vivaldi brought the bassoon to prominence by featuring it in 37 concerti for the instrument.

By the mid 18th century, the bassoon's function in the orchestra was still mostly limited to that of a continuo instrument—since scores often made no specific mention of the bassoon, its use was implied, particularly if there were parts for oboes or other winds. Beginning in the early Rococo era, composers such as Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, Johann Christian Bach, Giovanni Battista Sammartini and Johann Stamitz included parts that exploited the bassoon for its unique color, rather than for its perfunctory ability to double the bass line. Orchestral works with fully-independent parts for the bassoon would not become commonplace until the Classical era. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony is a prime example, with its famous bassoon solos in the first movement. The bassoons were generally paired, as in current practice, though the famed Mannheim orchestra boasted four.

Another important use of the bassoon during the Classical era was in the Harmonie, a chamber ensemble consisting of pairs of oboes, horns and bassoons; later, two clarinets would be added to form an octet. The Harmonie was an ensemble maintained by German and Austrian noblemen for private music-making, and was a cost-effective alternative to a full orchestra. Haydn, Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Krommer all wrote considerable amounts of music for the Harmonie.

Modern ensembles

The modern symphony orchestra typically calls for two bassoons, often with a third playing the contrabassoon. Some works call for four or more players. The first player is frequently called upon to perform solo passages. The bassoon's distinctive tone suits it for both plaintive, lyrical solos such as Maurice Ravel's Boléro and more comical ones, such as the grandfather's theme in Peter and the Wolf. Its agility suits it for passages such as the famous running line (doubled in the violas and cellos) in the overture to The Marriage of Figaro. In addition to its solo role, the bassoon is an effective bass to a woodwind choir, a bass line along with the cellos and double basses, and harmonic support along with the French horns.

A wind ensemble will usually also include two bassoons and sometimes contra, each with independent parts; other types of concert wind ensembles will often have larger sections, with many players on each of first or second parts; in simpler arrangements there will be only one bassoon part and no contra. The bassoon's role in the wind band is similar to its role in the orchestra, though when scoring is thick it often cannot be heard above the brass instruments also in its range. La Fiesta Mexicana, by H. Owen Reed, features the instrument prominently, as does the transcription of Malcolm Arnold's Four Scottish Dances which has become a staple of the concert band repertoire.

The bassoon is also part of the standard wind quintet instrumentation, along with the flute, oboe, clarinet, and horn; it is also frequently combined in various ways with other woodwinds. Richard Strauss's "Duet-Concertino" pairs it with the clarinet as concertante instruments, with string orchestra in support.

The bassoon quartet has also gained favor in recent times. The bassoon's wide range and variety of tone colors make it ideally suited to grouping in like-instrument ensembles. Peter Schickele's "Last Tango in Bayreuth" (after themes from Tristan und Isolde) is a popular work; Schickele's fictional alter ego P. D. Q. Bach exploits the more humorous aspects with his quartet "Lip My Reeds", which at one point calls for players to perform on the reed alone. It also calls for a low A at the very end of the prelude section in the fourth bassoon part. It is written so that the first bassoon does not play; instead, his or her role is to place an extension in the bell of the fourth bassoon so that the note can be played.

Jazz

The bassoon is infrequently used as a jazz instrument and rarely seen in a jazz ensemble. It first began appearing in the 1920s, including specific calls for its use in Paul Whiteman's group, the unusual Octets of Alec Wilder, and a few other session appearances. The next few decades saw the instrument used only sporadically, as symphonic jazz fell out of favor, but the 1960s saw artists such as Yusef Lateef and Chick Corea incorporate bassoon into their recordings; Lateef's diverse and eclectic instrumentation saw the bassoon as a natural addition, while Corea employed the bassoon in combination with flautist Hubert Laws.

More recently, Illinois Jacquet, Ray Pizzi, Frank Tiberi, and Marshall Allen have both doubled on bassoon in addition to their saxophone performances. Bassoonist Karen Borca, a performer of free jazz, is one of the few jazz musicians to play only bassoon; Michael Rabinowitz, the Spanish bassoonist Javier Abad, and James Lassen, an American resident in Bergen, Norway, are others. Lindsay Cooper, Paul Hanson, the Brazilian bassoonist Alexandre Silverio, and Daniel Smith are also currently using the bassoon in jazz. French bassoonists Jean-Jacques Decreux[14] and Alexandre Ouzounoff[15] have both recorded jazz, exploiting the flexibility of the Buffet system instrument to good effect.

Popular music

The bassoon is even rarer as a regular member of rock bands. However, several 1960s pop music hits feature the bassoon, including "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Jennifer Juniper" by Donovan, "59th Street Bridge Song" by Harpers Bizarre, and the oompah bassoon underlying The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral". From 1968 to 1978, the bassoon was played by Lindsay Cooper in the British avant-garde band Henry Cow, and in the 1970s it was used by the British medieval/progressive rock band Gryphon (played by Brian Gulland) as well as by the American band Ambrosia (played by drummer Burleigh Drummond).

In the 1990s, Madonna Wayne Gacy provided bassoon for the alternative metal band Marilyn Manson as did Aimee DeFoe, in what is self-described as "grouchily lilting garage bassoon", in the indie-rock band Blogurt from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[16] More recently, These New Puritans's 2010 album Hidden makes heavy use of the instrument throughout; their principal songwriter, Jack Barnett, claimed repeatedly to be "writing a lot of music for bassoon" in the run-up to its recording.[17]

The rock band Better Than Ezra took their name from a passage in Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast in which the author comments that listening to an annoyingly talkative person is still “better than Ezra learning how to play the bassoon,” referring to Ezra Pound.

Technique

Female bassoon player

The bassoon is held diagonally in front of the player, but unlike the flute, oboe and clarinet, it cannot be supported by the player's hands alone. Some means of additional support is required; the most common ones used are 1) a seat strap attached to the base of the boot joint which is laid across the chair seat prior to sitting down, or 2) a neck strap or shoulder harness attached to the top of the boot joint. Occasionally a spike similar to those used for the cello or the bass clarinet is attached to the bottom of the boot joint and rests on the floor. It is possible to play while standing up if the player uses a neck strap or similar harness, or if the seat strap is tied to the belt. Sometimes a device called a balance hanger is used when playing in a standing position. This is installed between the instrument and the neck strap, and shifts the point of support closer to the center of gravity.

The bassoon is played with both hands in a stationary position, the left above the right, with five main finger holes on the front of the instrument (nearest the audience) plus a sixth] that is activated by an open-standing key. Five additional keys on the front are controlled by the little fingers of each hand. The back of the instrument (nearest the player) has twelve or more keys to be controlled by the thumbs, the exact number varying depending on model.

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To stabilize the right hand, many bassoonists use an adjustable comma-shaped apparatus called a "crutch" which mounts to the boot joint; players use a thumb screw to secure the crutch and vary the distance that it protrudes from the bassoon. Players rest the curve of the right hand where the thumb joins the palm against the crutch. The crutch also keeps the right hand from tiring and enables the player to keep put the finger pads flat on the finger holes and keys.

An aspect of bassoon technique not found on any other woodwind is called flicking. It involves the momentary pressing, or 'flicking', of the high A, C and D keys by the left hand thumb at the beginning of certain notes in the middle octave in order to eliminate the cracking, or brief microphonic that happens without the use of the key.

Flicking is not universal amongst bassoonists; some American players, principally on the East Coast, use it sparingly, if at all. The rest use it virtually 100% of the time—it has become in essence part of the fingering.

The alternative method is 'venting' which requires that the register key be used as part of the full fingering as opposed to being open momentarily at the start of the note.

A new automatic octave key system is available as an add-on, invented by Arthur Weisberg. When installed, the Weisberg system completely eliminates the need to 'flick' in the upper octave. Only a few years old, it has yet to be offered as standard equipment by any of the major bassoon manufacturers.

While bassoons are usually critically tuned at the factory, the player nonetheless has a great degree of flexibility of pitch control through the use of breath support and embouchure and reed profile. Players can also use alternate fingerings to adjust the pitch of many notes.

Extended techniques

Many extended techniques can be performed on the bassoon, such as multiphonics, flutter-tonguing, circular breathing, double tonguing, humming and playing simultaneously, and harmonics. In the case of the bassoon, fluttertonguing may be accomplished by "gargling" in the back of the throat as well as the conventional method of rolling Rs.

Also, using certain fingerings, notes may be produced on the instrument that sound lower pitches than the actual range of the instrument. These "impossible notes" tend to sound very gravelly and out of tune, but technically sound below the low B. Alternatively, lower notes can be produced by inserting a small paper or rubber tube into the end of the bell, which converts the lower B into a lower note such as an A natural; this lowers the pitch of the instrument, but has the positive effect of bringing the lowest register (which is typically quite sharp) into tune. A notable piece that requires the use of a low A bell is Carl Nielsen's Wind Quintet, op. 43. Nielsen requires the low A for the final cadence of the third movement. Frequently, multi-woodwind players are known to use the end bell segment of an English horn or clarinet instead of a specially made extension. This often yields unsatisfactory results, though, as the resultant A is quite sharp. The idea of using low A was begun by Richard Wagner, who wanted to extend the range of the bassoon. Many passages in his later operas require the low A as well as the B-flat above. (This is impossible on a normal bassoon using an A extension as the fingering for the B-flat yields the low A.) These passages are typically realized on the contrabassoon, as recommended by the composer. Some bassoons have been made to allow bassoonists to realize similar passages. These bassoons are made with a "Wagner bell", which is an extended bell with a key for both the low A and the low B-flat. Bassoons with Wagner bells suffer similar intonational deficiencies as a bassoon with an A extension. Another composer who has required the bassoon to be chromatic down to low A is Gustav Mahler.

Learning the bassoon

Due to the complicated fingering system and the problem of reeds, the bassoon is more difficult to learn than some of the other woodwind instruments[18]. In North America, schoolchildren typically take up bassoon only after starting on another reed instrument, such as clarinet or saxophone.[19]

Reeds and reed construction

Modern reeds

Bassoon reeds are usually around 5.5 cm (2.2 in) in length and wrapped in thread.
Detail of binding around base of reed.

Bassoon reeds, made of Arundo donax cane, are often made by the players themselves, although beginner bassoonists tend to buy their reeds from professional reed makers or use reeds made by their teachers. Reeds begin with a length of tube cane that is split into three or four pieces. The cane is then trimmed and gouged to the desired thickness, leaving the bark attached. After soaking, the gouged cane is cut to the proper shape and milled to the desired thickness, or profile, by removing material from the bark side. This can be done by hand with a file; more frequently it is done with a machine or tool designed for the purpose. After the profiled cane has soaked once again it is folded over in the middle. Prior to soaking, the reed maker will have lightly scored the bark with parallel lines with a knife; this ensures that the cane will assume a cylindrical shape during the forming stage. On the bark portion, the reed maker binds on three coils or loops of brass wire to aid in the final forming process. The exact placement of these loops can vary somewhat depending on the reed maker. The bound reed blank is then wrapped with thick cotton or linen thread to protect it, and a conical steel mandrel (which sometimes has been heated in a flame) is quickly inserted in between the blades. Using a special pair of pliers, the reed maker presses down the cane, making it conform to the shape of the mandrel. (The steam generated by the heated mandrel causes the cane to permanently assume the shape of the mandrel.) The upper portion of the cavity thus created is called the "throat", and its shape has an influence on the final playing characteristics of the reed. The lower, mostly cylindrical portion will be reamed out with a special tool, allowing the reed to fit on the bocal.

After the reed has dried, the wires are tightened around the reed, which has shrunk after drying. The lower part is sealed (a nitrocellulose-based cement such as Duco may be used) and then wrapped with thread to ensure both that no air leaks out through the bottom of the reed and that the reed maintains its shape. The wrapping itself is often sealed with Duco or clear nail varnish (polish). The bulge in the wrapping is sometimes referred to as the "Turk's head"—it serves as a convenient handle when inserting the reed on the bocal.

To finish the reed, the end of the reed blank, originally at the center of the unfolded piece of cane, is cut off, creating an opening. The blades above the first wire are now roughly 27–30 mm (1.1–1.2 in) long. In order for the reed to play, a slight bevel must be created at the tip with a knife, although there is also a machine that can perform this function. Other adjustments with the knife may be necessary, depending on the hardness and profile of the cane and the requirements of the player. The reed opening may also need to be adjusted by squeezing either the first or second wire with the pliers. Additional material may be removed from the sides (the "channels") or tip to balance the reed. Additionally, if the "e" in the staff is sagging in pitch, it may be necessary to "clip" the reed by removing 1–2 mm (0.039–0.079 in) from its length.[20][21]

Playing styles of individual bassoonists vary greatly; because of this, most advanced players will make their own reeds, in the process customizing them to their individual playing requirements. Many companies and individuals do offer reeds for sale, but even with store-bought reeds, the player must know how to make adjustments to suit his particular playing style.

Early reeds

Little is known about the early construction of the bassoon reed, as few examples survive, and much of what is known is only what can be gathered from artistic representations. The earliest known written instructions date from the middle of the 17th century, describing the reed as being held together by wire or resined thread; the earliest actual reeds that survive are more than a century younger, a collection of 21 reeds from the late 18th century Spanish bajon.

Bassoon repertoire

Baroque

A collection of historical bassoons, from early baroque to modern, including a classical contrabassoon.
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Classical

Romantic

Twentieth century

Pieces featuring famous bassoon passages

Notable bassoonists

Currently active

See also

References

  1. ^ http://www.wfg.woodwind.org/bassoon/basn_alt_3.html
  2. ^ Morin, Alexander J.; Harold C. Schonberg (2002). Classical Music: The Listener's Companion. San Francisco: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 1154. . "Its direct ancestor is the dulcian, a hairpin-shaped instrument with a long, folded bore and a single key; developed in the first half of the 16th ceentury, it remained in use until the 17th."
  3. ^ Facis Image
  4. ^ Jansen, 1978
  5. ^ Lange and Thomson, 1979
  6. ^ Kopp, 1999
  7. ^ Fox Products
  8. ^ Püchner
  9. ^ Linton
  10. ^ Moosmann
  11. ^ Moennig/Adler
  12. ^ B.H. Bell
  13. ^ Langwill, 1965
  14. ^ Review of the CD "FAAA". International Double Reed Society
  15. ^ Review of the LP "Palisander's Night". International Double Reed Society. The Double Reed, Vol. 12, No. 2 Fall 1989.
  16. ^ Blogurt, official website
  17. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/xbd3
  18. ^ http://www.idrs.org/Publications/DR/DR4.2/few.html — Paragraph 7
  19. ^ Elsa Z. Powell (1950) This is an Orchestra Houghton Mifflin, page 70
  20. ^ Popkin and Glickman, 2007
  21. ^ McKay, 2001
  22. ^ "Rosetti Bassoon Concertos — Catalog and Track Listing". Naxos Records. 2003. http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.555341. Retrieved 7 September 2008.  The E concerto is mentioned in the notes to the recording, see the link on the left.
  23. ^ Klaus Thunemann Instituto Internacional de Música de Cámara de Madrid

Sources

  • "The Double Reed" (published quarterly), I.D.R.S. Publications (see www.idrs.org)
  • "Journal of the International Double Reed Society" (1972–1999, in 2000 merged with The Double Reed), I.D.R.S. Publications
  • Baines, Anthony (ed.), Musical Instruments Through the Ages, Penguin Books, 1961
  • Jansen, Will, The Bassoon: Its History, Construction, Makers, Players, and Music, Uitgeverij F. Knuf, 1978. 5 Volumes
  • Kopp, James B., "The Emergence of the Late Baroque Bassoon", in The Double Reed, Vol. 22 No. 4 (1999).
  • Lange, H.J. and Thomson, J.M., "The Baroque Bassoon", Early Music, July 1979.
  • Langwill, Lyndesay G., The Bassoon and Contrabassoon, W. W. Norton & Co., 1965
  • McKay, James R. et al. (ed.), The Bassoon Reed Manual: Lou Skinner's Techniques, Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Popkin, Mark and Glickman, Loren, Bassoon Reed Making, Charles Double Reed Co. Publication, 3rd ed., 2007
  • Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, s.v. "Bassoon", 2001
  • Spencer, William (rev. Mueller, Frederick), The Art of Bassoon Playing, Summy-Birchard Inc., 1958
  • Stauffer, George B. (1986). "The Modern Orchestra: A Creation of the Late Eighteenth Century". In Joan Peyser (Ed.) The Orchestra: Origins and Transformations pp. 41–72. Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Weaver, Robert L. (1986). "The Consolidation of the Main Elements of the Orchestra: 1470–1768". In Joan Peyser (Ed.) The Orchestra: Origins and Transformations pp. 7–40. Charles Scribner's Sons.

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Fagott-Bassoon.png

The Bassoon

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that plays in the tenor range and below. It is also called fagott in German, fagotto in Italian, and basson in French. Appearing in its modern form in the 1800s, the bassoon is a part of orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature. It is known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character, and agility.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BASSOON (Fr. basson; Ger. Fagott; Ital. fagotto), a woodwind instrument with double reed mouthpiece, a member of the oboe family, of which it is the bass. The German and Italian names of the instrument were bestowed from a fancied resemblance to a bundle of sticks, the bassoon being the first instrument of the kind to be doubled back upon itself; its direct ancestor, the bass pommer, 6 ft. in length, was quite straight. The English and French names refer to the pitch of the instrument as the bass of the wood-wind.

The bassoon is composed of five pieces, which, when fitted together, form a wooden tube about 8 ft. long (93 in.) with a conical bore tapering from a diameter of 1 3/4 in., at the bell, to 3/16 - in. at the reed. The tube is doubled back upon itself, the shorter joint extending to about two-thirds of the length of the longer, whereby the height of the instrument is reduced to about 4 ft. The holes are brought into a convenient position for the fingers by the device of boring them obliquely through the thickness of the wood. The five pieces are: - (1) the bell; (2) the long joint, forming the upper part of the instrument when played, although its notes are the lowest in pitch; (3) the wing overlapping the long joint and having a projecting flap through which are bored three holes; (4) the butt or lower end of the instrument (when played) containing the double bore necessitated by the abrupt bend of the tube upon itself. Both bores are pierced in one block of wood, the prolongation of the double tube being usually stopped by a flat oval pad of cork in the older models, whereas the modern instruments have instead a U-shaped tube; (5) the crook, a narrow curved metal tube about 12 in. long, to which is attached the double reed forming the mouthpiece.

The performer holds the instrument in a diagonal position; the lower part of the tube (the butt joint) played by the right hand resting against his right thigh, and the little bell, turned upwards, pointing over his left shoulder; a strap round the neck affords additional support. The notes are produced by means of seven holes and 16, 17, or 19 keys. The mechanism and fingering are very intricate. Theoretically the whole construction of the bassoon is imperfect and arbitrary, important acoustic principles being disregarded, but these mechanical defects only enhance its value as an artistic musical instrument. The player is obliged to rely very much on his ear in order to obtain a correct intonation, and next to the strings no instrument gives greater scope to the artist.

The bassoon has an eight foot tone, the compass extending from Bb bass 1 to Ab treble, or in modern instruments by means of additional mechanism to C or even or high notes are from their extreme sweetness called vox humana. The pitch of the bassoon apparently lies two octaves below that of the oboe, since the lowest note of both is B, but in reality the interval is only a twelfth, as may be ascertained by comparing their fundamental scales. On the bassoon the fundamental scale is that of F maj., obtained by opening and closing the holes; the notes downwards from F to Bb are extra notes obtained by means of interlocking keys on the long joint, worked by the left thumb; they have no counterpart on the oboe and do not belong to the fundamental scale of the bassoon. The fundamental scale of the oboe is that of C, although the compass has been extended a tone to Bb. Therefore the difference in pitch between the bassoon and the oboe is a twelfth.

1 At Wagner's instigation, the wind-instrument maker, W. Heckel of Biebrich-am-Rhein, made bassoons with an extra key, extending the compass downwards to A.

In the first register of the bassoon, seven semitones (Bb bass to E) are obtained, as stated above, by means of keys in the long joint and bell; the next eight notes (holes and keys) each produce two sounds - the fundamental tone, and, by increased pressure of the breath, its harmonic octave. The remaining notes are obtained by cross fingering and by overblowing the notes of the fundamental scale a twelfth as far as Ab treble which forms the normal compass. From A to Eb the vox humana notes are produced by the help of small harmonic holes opened by means of keys at the top of the wind joint; exceptional players obtain, without additional keys, two or more higher harmonic notes, which, however, are only used by virtuosi. This then forms the intricate scheme of fingering for the bassoon, and in order to appreciate the efforts of such instrument makers as Carl Almenräder in Germany, Triebert and Jancourt in France, Sax in Belgium, Cornelius Ward and Morton in England, to introduce improvements based upon acoustic principles, it is necessary to understand what these general principles are, and why they have been disregarded in the bassoon. In all tubes the note given by the vibrating air column is influenced directly by the length of the tube, but very little, if at all, by the diameter of the bore. The pitch, however, is greatly affected by the diameter of the opening, whether lateral or at the bell, through which the vibrating column of air is again brought into communication with the outer air. The tube only sounds the normal note in proportion to its length, when the diameter of the lateral opening is equal to the internal diameter of the tube at the opening. As in most of our early wood-wind instruments the holes would in that case have been too large to be stopped by the fingers, and key-mechanism was still primitive, instrumentmakers resorted to the expedient of substituting a hole of smaller diameter nearer the mouthpiece for one of greater diameter in the position the hole should theoretically occupy. This important principle was well understood by the Romans, and perhaps even by the ancient Greeks, as is proved by existing specimens of the aulos and by certain passages from the classics.1 Another curious acoustic phenomenon bears upon the construction of wind instruments, and especially upon the bassoon. When the diameter of the lateral opening or bell is smaller than that of the bore, the portion of the tube below the hole, which should theoretically be as though non-existent, asserts itself, lowering the pitch of the note produced at the hole and damping the tone; this is peculiarly noticeable in the A of the bassoon whose hole is much too high and too small in diameter. 2To cite an example of the scope of Carl Almenräder's improvements in the bassoon, he readjusted the position of the A hole, stopped by the third finger of the right hand, boring lower down the tube, not one large hole, but two of medium diameter, covered by an open key to be closed by the same finger from the accustomed position; one of these A holes communicates with the narrower bore in the butt joint, and the other with the wider bore. The effect is a perfectly clear, full and accurate tone. Almenräder's other alterations were made on the same principle, and produced an instrument more perfect mechanically and theoretically than Savary's, but lacking some of the characteristics of the bassoon. In Germany Almenräder's improvements 3 have been generally adopted and his model with 16 keys is followed by most makers, and notably by Heckel of Biebrich.4

The unwieldy bass pommers of the 15th and 16th centuries led to many attempts to produce a more practical bass for the orchestra by doubling back the long tube of the instrument. Thus transformed, the pommer became a fagotto. The invention of the bassoon or fagotto is ascribed to Afranio, a canon of Ferrara, in a work by his nephew. Theseus Ambrosius Albonesius, entitled Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam ... et descriptio ac Simulacrum Phagoti Afranii (Pavia, 1539). The illustration of the instrument, showing front and back views (p. 179), taken in conjunction with the detailed description (pp. 33-38), at once disposes of the suggestion that the phagotus of Afranio and the fagotto or bassoon were in any way related; the author himself is greatly puzzled as to the etymology of the word. The phagotus in fact, resembles nothing so much as the musical curiosity known as flûte-à-bec a colonne, 5 but double and played by bellows, assigned by G. Chouquet to the 16th century. This flute consisted of a column, with base and capital, both stopped, the vent and the whistle being concealed within perforated brass boxes, in the upper and lower parts of the column. Afranio's phagotus consisted of two similar twin columns with base and capital containing finger-holes and keys; between the columns in front was a shorter column for ornament, and at the back of it another still shorter whose capital could be lifted, and a sort of bellows or bag-pipe inserted by means of which the instrument was sounded. The first instrument was made, we are told, by Ravilius of Ferrara, from Afranio's design 6. Mersenne 2who does not seem to have any difficulty in understanding the construction of Afranio's phagotus, does not consider him the inventor of the fagotto or bassoon, but of another kind of fagotto which he classes with the Neapolitan sourdeline, a complicated kind of musette (see bag-pipe). Afranio's instrument consists, he states, of two bassons as it were interconnected by tubes and blown by bellows. As in the sourdeline, these only speak when the springs (keys) are open. He disposes of Theseus Albonesius's fanciful etymology of the name by showing it to be nothing but the French word fagot, and that it was applied because the instrument consists of two or more "flutes," bound or fagotées together. There is no evidence that the phagotus contained a reed, which would account for Mersenne calling the pipes flutes. Mersenne's statements thus seem to uphold the theory that Afranio's phagotus was only a double flûte à colonne with bellows. Evidence is at hand that in 1555 a contrabass wind instrument was well known as fagotto. In the catalogue of the musical instruments belonging to the Flemish band of Marie de Hongrie in Spain, we find the following: "Ala dicha prinçesa y al dicho matoto dos ynstrumentos de musica contrabaxos, que llaman fagotes, metidos en dos caos redondas como pareçe por el dicho entrego." 9 Sigmund Schnitzer 10 of Nuremberg (d. 1578), a maker of wind instruments who attained considerable notoriety, has been named as the probable author of the transformation of pommer into bassoon.

1 Macrobius in Somn. Scip. lib. ii. cap. 4.5.

2 Gottfried Weber, "Verbesserungen des Fagotts," in Cäcilia (Mainz, 1825), vol. ii. p. 123.

3 See Traité sur le perfectionnement du basson, avec 2 tableaux, par Charles Almenräder (Mayence, Schott), and also the above mentioned article by Gottfried Weber in Cäcilia, whose explanations are clearer than those of the inventor.

4 For a description of the modern instrument see Victor Charles Mahillon, Catalogue descriptif et analytique du musée instrumental du Conservatoire Royal de Musique (Bruxelles, 1896), vol. ii. pp. 275-276, No. 999.

5 As far as is known only three of these curious instruments are in existence; two in the museum of the Conservatoire, Paris, and one in Brussels; all three bear a trefoil as maker's mark; the smallest, in F, is reproduced in the Catalogue of the Musical Instruments exhibited at the Royal Military Exhibition, London, 1890, by Capt. C. R. Day (London, 1891), pl. iv. F. It is also described (without illustration) in Mahillon's Catalogue, p. 201, No. 189. The two flutes in Paris, measuring 73 cm. and 94 cm., are described by Gustave Chouquet, Le Musée du Conservatoire National de Musique - Catalogue descriptif et raisonné (Paris, 1884), Nos. 409 and 420, p. 106.

6 An Italian translation of the description is given by Count L. F. Valdrighi in Musurgiana, No. 4 (Milano, 1881), "Il Phagotus di Afranio," p. 40 et seq. (without illustration). An illustration of the phagotus is given by W. J. von Wasielewski in Gesch. d. Instrumentalmusik im XVI. Jahrh. (Berlin, 1878), pl. v. and vi., text P. 74

7 See L'Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636), part ii. p. 305.

8 Ibid., illustrated and described, bk. v. p. 293.

9 See Edm. van der Straeten, Hist. de la musique aux Pays-Bas, vol. vii. pp. 433, 436, 448.

10 J. J. Quantz, Frederick the Great's flute-master, gives France the credit of transforming the bombard (pommer) into the bassoon, and the schalmey into oboe, see Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversière zu spielen (Berlin, 1752), p. 24 and again p. 241, § 6.


We learn from an historical work of the 18th century, that he was renowned "almost everywhere" as a maker of fagotte of extraordinary size, of skilful workmanship and pure intonation, speaking easily. Schnitzer's instruments were so highly appreciated not only all over Germany, but also in France and Italy, that he was kept continually at work producing fagotte for lovers of music1.

An earlier chronicler of the artistic celebrities and craftsmen of Nuremberg, Johann Neudorfer, writing in 15492 names Sigmund Schnitzer merely as Pfeifenmacher und Stadtpfeifer. Had he been also noted as an inventor of a new form of instrument, the fellow-citizen and contemporary chronicler would not have failed to note the fact. If Schnitzer had been the first to reduce the great length of the bass pommer by doubling the tube back upon itself, he would hardly have been handed down to posterity as the clever craftsman who made fagottos of extraordinary size; Doppelmaier, who chronicles in these eulogistic terms, wrote nearly two centuries after the supposed invention of the fagotto, the value of which was realized later by retrospection.

An explanation may perhaps be found in Eisel's statement about the Deutscher Basson, which he distinguishes from the Basson (our bassoon). "The Deutsche Bassons, Fagotte or Bombardi, as our German ancestors termed them, before music was clothed in Italian and French style, are no longer in use" (Eisel wrote in 1738) "and therefore it is unnecessary to waste paper on them." 3 This refers, of course, to the bombard or bass pommer, the extraordinarily long instruments which Schnitzer made so successfully. From this it would seem that our bassoon was not of German origin. In the meanwhile we get a clue to the early history of the pommer in transition, but we find it under a different name in no way connected with fagotto. In order to shorten the unwieldy proportions of the tenor pommer in C, and to increase its portability, it was constructed out of a block of wood of rather more than double the diameter of the pommer, in which two bores were cut, communicating at the bottom of the instrument which was flat. The bell and the crook containing the double reed mouthpiece were side by side at the top. This instrument, which had six holes in front and one at the back as well as two keys, was known as the dulceian, dolcian, douçaine, and also in France as courtaud and in England as the curtail, curtal, 4 curtoll, &c., being mentioned in 1582 - "The common bleting musick of ye Drone, Hobius (Hautboy) and Curtoll." The next step in the evolution produced the double curtail, a converted bass pommer an octave below the single curtail and therefore identical in pitch as in construction with the early fagotto in C. The instrument is shown in fig. 2, the reproduction of a drawing in the MS. of The Academy of Armoury by Randle Holme, 5 written some time before 1688. At the side of the drawing is the following description: "A double curtaile.6

This is double the bigness of the single, mentioned ch. xvi. n. 6" (the MS. begins at ch. xvii. of bk. 3) "and is played 8 notes deeper. It is as it were 2 pipes fixed in on(e) thick bass pipe, one much longer than the other, from the top of the lower comes a crooked pipe of brass in which is fixed a reed, through it the wind passeth to make the instrument make a sound. It hath 6 holes on the outside and one on that side next the man or back part and 2 brass keys, the highest called double La sol re, and the other double B mi." We may therefore conclude that the satirical name fagotto, presumably bestowed in Italy, since the French equivalent fagot was never used for the basson, was not necessarily applied to the new form of pommer at the outset, but in any case before 1555; that the very term Phagoto d'Afranio, by which the instrument was known during its short fabulous existence, with its pretended Greek etymology, presupposes the pre-existence in Italy of another fagotto with which Afranio was acquainted, perhaps imperfectly. Afranio's was the age of ingenious mechanical devices applied to musical instruments, many of which, like Afranio's, being mere freaks, did not survive the inventor. A document selected from the valuable archives published by Edm. van der Straeten 7 suggests a satisfactory clue. In 1426 Louis Willay, a musical instrument maker of Bruges, sold to Philippe le Bon a triple set of wood-wind instruments, i.e. " 4 bombardes, 4 douçaines and 4 flûtes," to be sent as a gift to Nicolas III., marquis of Ferrara. The new instrument, the doucaine, we may imagine, by its unusual appearance provoked the satirical wit of some courtier, and was henceforth known as fagotto. Just a century later Ravilius of Ferrara made Afranio's first phagotus from the inventor's design.

The bassoon has been a favourite with all the great masters, excepting Handel. Beethoven uses the bassoon largely in his symphonies, writing everywhere for it independent parts of great beauty and originality. Bach, in his mass in B min., has parts for two bassoons. Mozart wrote a concerto in Bb for bassoon, with orchestra (Kochel, No. 191). Weber has also written a concerto for bassoon in F (op. 75), scored for full orchestra.

See also Etienne Ozi, Nouvelle Methode du Bassoon (Paris, 1788 and 1800); J. B. J. Willent-Bordogny, Gran Methodo completo per il Fagotto (Milan, 1844), with illustrations of early bassoons (English edition, London, J. R. Lafleur & Son); Joseph Fröhlich, Vollständige Musikschule für alle beym Orchester gebräuchliche wichtigere Instrumente (many practical illustrations) (Cologne, Bonn, 1811); article "Bassoon," by W. H. Stone and D. J. Blaikley in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.); article "Fagott" in Mendel's Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon; for the history of the instrument, and of its prototypes, see Oboe and Bombard.

1 J. G. Doppelmaier, Historische Nachricht von den Nürnbergischen Mathematicis and Künstlern (Nürnberg, 1730), p. 293.

2 See Nachrichten von Künstlern and Werkleuten Nürnbergs aus dem Jahre 1549, in R. Eitelberger von Edelberg's Quellenschriften für Kunstgeschichte und Kunsttechnik des Mittelalters (Vienna, 1875), vols. viii.-x.

3 See J. J. Eisel, Musicus autodidactus oder der sich selbst informierende Musicus (Erfurt, 1738), pp. 104 and 100, and also J. Mattheson, Das neu-eröffnete Orchester (Hamburg, 1713), "Basson," from whom Eisel borrowed.

4 See the New English Dictionary, and Bateman upon Bartholinus, 423, 1, margin.

5 British Museum, Harl. MS. 2034, fol. 207b, a reference communicated by Augustus Hughes-Hughes from his valuable appendix to part iii. (Instrumental Music and Works on Music) of a Catalogue of MS. Music in the British Museum (London, 1908-1909). The Appendix contains a list of typical musical instruments represented in illuminated MSS., or described in other MSS. in the British Museum, with brief description and full references.

6 Compare Randle Holme's double curtail with the dolcian in C, pl. vi. H. of Capt. C. R. Day's catalogue, and with a dolcian or single curtail by J. C. Denner in Paul de Wit's Katalog des Musikhistorischen Museums von Paul de Wit (Leipzig, 1903), p. 127, No. 380, and illust. p. 121 (Collection now transferred to Cologne). Consult also Mersenne, op. cit., and Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum (Wolfenbüttel, 1618), both of whom describe and figure these forms of early bassoons.

7 Op cit. vol. vii. p. 38.

(K. S.)


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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Two Fox Products bassoons.]]

The bassoon is the lowest of the four main instruments of the woodwind family. Like the oboe, it has a double reed. The reed is attached to a curved metal mouthpiece called a "crook" or "bocal" which is joined to the main part of the instrument. This consists of two parts called ‘bass joint’ and ‘wing joint’ (or ‘tenor joint’). These two are joined at the bottom by a U-shaped piece called the ‘boot’. At the top of the instrument is the ‘bell joint’. The instrument is quite heavy. Some players have a neckstrap around their neck to support the weight, but usually they use a seat strap that connects at the bottom of the boot and the strap goes across the floor. The bassoonist then sits on that strap. The bassoon is held to the right side of the bassoonist and the top of the boot joint is usually level with the players hip. The bassoon, when played right, can sound very beautiful. The bassoon has one of the largest note ranges, going from low B flat to a high F on the top line of the treble clef. The basson can also play in tenor clef, but usually plays bass clef.

Some bassoons have a white, ivory ring round the top of the bell joint. These are German bassoons (called ‘Heckel’). French bassoons (called ‘Buffet’) do not have this ring, and also sound quite different to German bassoons. Bassoons have keys to help the player to cover all the holes, but these keys do not use the Boehm system like the other woodwind instruments. German bassoons use a system called the Heckel system, and French bassoons use the Buffet system.

Playing the bassoon

To play the bassoon, it is very important to have lots of breathing support. Like with the oboe, fast passages can be played using double tonguing (single tonguing is like saying “tu-tu-tu-tu-tu”, double tonguing is like saying “te-ke-te-ke-te-ke”). In most music, the bassoon will spend a lot of time playing a bass line, perhaps the same notes as the cello or tuba. It can sometimes sound quite amusing when playing an “um-cha-um-cha” accompaniment like in the “Dance of the Cygnets” from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It can sound very tuneful and sad as in the second movement of Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherazade. Listen to the opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring where it plays some quite high notes to fool people that it is the Cor anglais. Prokofiev uses the bassoon for grandfather’s tune in Peter and the Wolf. Also, to play the bassoon a player need long fingers because the bassoon's keys and holes are quite wide.

The holes are drilled in at an angle so that the upper register is not overblown and produces an unpleasant sound. Whisper Keys are also invented to prevent overblown. The bassoon is known for its reedy sound. Its upper register is shrill and sometimes scary. Middle register could be used for lullabyes because of its majestic and soothing tone. Its lower register is deep, dark, and could be used for scary movies and such.

History and repertoire

The bassoon developed from a Renaissance instrument called the curtal or dulcian. These were double reed instruments which often played with shawms. In the Baroque period the bassoon became popular as an instrument to play the bass line, perhaps playing the same as the cello. In the late Baroque period composers like Antonio Vivaldi wrote concertos for bassoon and orchestra. Some more famous bassoon concertos include one by Mozart, and in more recent times by Peter Maxwell Davies.

Contrabassoon

In some pieces with a large orchestra a contrabassoon is used. This plays an octave lower than a bassoon, taking it right down to bottom B flat on the piano. Some contrabassoons are made to play a note lower, i.e. the very lowest note of the piano (A). One might expect to see the contrabassoon sticking up high above all the other instruments in the orchestra, but in fact the tube keeps doing U-turns, making four parallel rows of tubing. They are usually made with the bell pointing downwards. The weight is supported by a peg to the floor.

The contrabassoon adds richness to the sound of a full orchestra. Listen carefully for the contrabassoon in the hymn-like introduction to the last movement of Symphony no 1 by Brahms. It can be clearly heard, growling away, in the opening of the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Ravel.








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