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A VERY Short History of Bassoon

The history of both the oboe and basson can be traced back to an instrument called the shawm . This instrument was quite popular in the Medieval Period. There were four sizes of shawms; soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The bass shawm was over six feet in length and was very awkward to play, particularly when marching with the instrument. It was partly due to the awkwardness of the bass shawm that the Renaissance predecessor of the bassoon, the dulcian, developed. The dulcian had the total length of the bass shawm, but in half the space, as there was a u-shaped bottom connecting the two separate lengths of tubing.

In the Baroque period both the oboe and basson became sectionalized and each had one key. During the classical period the main alteration to the instruments were the addition of more keys with the oboe normally having five keys and the bassoon having six.

It was during the 19th century that the instruments developed into what we know today. The oboes main changes were done by Theobald Boehm while the bassoon was improved by Karl Almenräder and Wilhelm Heckel. The main bassoon used today is known as the German System instrument. A French System instrument also developed in the 19th century and is still played in France as well as parts of Canada and South America.

Other double reed instruments include the english horn, contrabassoon, crumhorn, rackett, and heckelphone.


For further reading on the history of the bassoon, consult the following sources:

Waterhouse, William. "Bassoon." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. 29 vols. New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2001. 2: 873-95.

Langwill, Lyndesay G. The Bassoon and Contrabassoon. New York: W. W. Norton, 1965.

Joppig, Gunther. The Oboe and Bassoon, translated by Alfred Clayton. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1988.

Lipori, Daniel G. A Researcher's Guide to the Bassoon. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.

Double Reed Journal Free to members of the International Double Reed Society and available in many college libraries.



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