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Semi contrabassoon: Wikis

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A lesser branch of the Bassoon family is that consisting of instruments pitched between the Bassoon and the Contrabassoon. These instruments are generally known as Semi- or Half-Contras. These are pitched in either F (Quint bass) or G (Quart bass) a fifth or fourth respectively below the Bassoon. These instruments were used mostly in the 18th century and are remnants of the old Quartbass Dulcians. Generally these were considered to be easier to make than a full Contrabassoon due to its more compact size. These were shaped like over-sized Bassoons between five and six feet tall with a long descending bocal. Little literature exists that indicate that these instruments were used, although it is possible that they may have been used to some extent in military bands. No attempt to revive this instrument in the present day has yet been made. It could very well be a valuable asset to performers and composers alike. These would be perfect for second bassoon parts that have a low tessitura as the low register of the bassoon has great inflexibility. Also when a true Contrabassoon is not needed the smaller Semi-Contra could easily cover the part. The great organist Charles Marie Widor in his book on orchestration greatly expected that the Semi-Contra would be quickly added to the orchestra’s roster.

The basson-quinte has not yet been made, but bassoon-players are calling for it. It would form the true bass of the Woodwind group, a fifth below the standard instrument, descending consequently to Eb, a semitone lower than the double bass. The low A, which Wagner wrote below Bb is admirably rich and full; 'then', say professionals, 'why not descend to Eb, with the same fingering and the same capabilities as the ordinary bassoon?' We have already seen that the low fifth, from double Bb to double F, is sufficiently robust to bear any weight of sound; the "new" low fifth would be still more robust. The basson- quinte is said do be easy of construction; we look to instrument makers to provide us with it in the near future. (See C. Pierre, La facture instrumentale à Exposition de 1889).

Unfortunately, no instruments were ever constructed on his instigation. It can be noted however that Widor remarks come in light of the dismal state of the French Contrabassoon in the late 1800’s, which was replaced with a Contrabass Sarrusophone in most instances. One interesting side note is that the famous operetta composer Arthur Sullivan is said to have owned a semi-contra in F and included parts for it in some of his operettas. Aside from the Great (Quart) Bass Dulcians, the only modern reproductions of historical Semi-Contras are being made by Guntram Wolf of Germany.

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