History of the Bassoon
The bassoon is a member of the woodwind family which includes the English Horn, oboe, and the contrabassoon. It is distinguished by its long cylindrical body, usually made out of maple, and is held diagonally across the body. Another distinguishing feature is its curved pipe that holds the double reed. The modern day bassoon has a range of three and a half octaves, making it versatile in both bass and tenor registers. The bassoon is often called “the clown of the orchestra”1 due to its nasally tone quality especially when playing staccato passages. However, the bassoon can also produce warm tones which adds to its versatility. To really understand the modern day bassoon, we first need to understand where it came from. The modern day bassoon is the result of many centuries of experimentation and perfecting.
Early forms of double reed instruments, dating back to the Egyptian era, were made using pressed barley straws that were attached to long pipes. Similar to the Egyptians, in the 12th century, Romans developed cone shaped-double reed instruments called the Shawm. In the 14th century, the bass shawm was developed as an extension to the treble Shawm. The bass shawm was the first double reed instrument that had a slight resemblance to the modern day bassoon. Prior to the 16th century, most woodwind instruments had holes as apposed to keys that were pressed. As the bassoon continued to develop, keys were added and the shape was altered. Alfranio Canon invented a bassoon like instrument with a tube that bent back on itself. The curtal, or dulcian, was a later development based on the shawm. Invented by Hieronymus Bassano, the curtal originally had eight holes and could be played in two keys. The bassoon was developed from the curtal in the 17th century along with the contrabassoon. One of the main differences between this bassoon and the curtal was the fact that it now could be dismantled into four pieces. Originally, the contrabassoon...
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