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Renard Artist model 220 bassoon by Fox, front and side views
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.112–71
(Double-reeded aerophone with keys)
DevelopedEarly 18th century
Related instruments

The bassoon is a musical instrument in the woodwind family, which plays in the tenor and bass ranges. [1] It is composed of six pieces, and is usually made of wood. It is known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, versatility, and virtuosity. [1] It is a non-transposing instrument and typically its music is written in the bass and tenor clefs, and sometimes in the treble. [1] There are two forms of modern bassoon: the Buffet (or French) and Heckel (or German) systems. [2] It is typically played while sitting using a seat strap, but can be played while standing if the player has a harness to hold the instrument. Sound is produced by rolling both lips over the reed and blowing direct air pressure to cause the reed to vibrate. Its fingering system can be quite complex when compared to those of other instruments. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature, and is occasionally heard in pop, rock, and jazz settings as well. One who plays a bassoon is called a bassoonist.



The word bassoon comes from French basson and from Italian bassone (basso with the augmentative suffix -one). [3] However, the Italian name for the same instrument is fagotto, in Spanish, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Romanian it is fagot, [4] and in German Fagott. Fagot is an Old French word meaning a bundle of sticks. [5] 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. However an early English variation, "faget", was used as early as 1450 to refer to firewood, which is 100 years before the earliest recorded use of the dulcian (1550). Further citation is needed to prove the lack of relation between the meaning "bundle of sticks" and "fagotto" (Italian) or variants. Some think that it may resemble the Roman fasces, a standard of bound sticks with an axe. 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.



Playing range of a bassoon
(A1) B1-E5 (A5) Bassoon Range.svg
Playing range of a bassoon
(A1) B1–E5 (A5)

The range of the bassoon begins at B1 (the first one below the bass staff) and extends upward over three octaves, roughly to the G above the treble staff (G5). [6] However, most writing for bassoon rarely calls for notes above C5 or D5; even Stravinsky's opening solo in The Rite of Spring only ascends to D5. Notes higher than this are possible, but seldom written, as they are difficult to produce (often requiring specific reed design features to ensure reliability), and at any rate are quite homogeneous in timbre to the same pitches on cor anglais, which can produce them with relative ease. French bassoon has greater facility in the extreme high register, and so repertoire written for it is somewhat likelier to include very high notes, although repertoire for French system can be executed on German system without alterations and vice versa.

The extensive high register of the bassoon and its frequent role as a lyric tenor have meant that tenor clef is very commonly employed in its literature after the Baroque, partly to avoid excessive ledger lines, and, beginning in the 20th century, treble clef is also seen for similar reasons.

Like other woodwind instruments, the lowest note is fixed, but A1 is possible with a special extension to the instrument—see "Extended techniques" below.

Although the primary tone hole pitches are a pitched perfect 5th lower than other non-transposing Western woodwinds (effectively an octave beneath English horn) the bassoon is non-transposing, meaning that notes sounded match the written pitch.


Parts of the bassoon Fagott-Bassoon.svg
Parts of the bassoon
A spectrogram of the bassoon's B in four octaves. Bassoon-octaves-spectrogram.png
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 bass joint (or long 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 (or tenor joint) (3), which extends from boot to bocal; and the bocal (or crook) (2), a crooked metal tube that attaches the wing joint to a reed (1) ( listen ).


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. Playing is facilitated by closing the distance between the widely spaced holes with a complex system of key work, which extends throughout nearly the entire length of the instrument. The overall height of the bassoon stretches to 1.34 m (4 ft 5 in) tall, but the total sounding length is 2.54 m (8 ft 4 in) considering that the tube is doubled back on itself. There are also short-reach bassoons made for the benefit of young or petite players.


A modern beginner's 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.


Bassoon reeds are usually around 5.5 cm (2.2 in) in length and wrapped in thread. Bassoon-reeds2.jpg
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 reed binding.jpg
Detail of binding around base of reed.

The art of reed-making has been practiced for several hundred years, some of the earliest known reeds having been made for the dulcian, a predecessor of the bassoon. [7] Current methods of reed-making consist of a set of basic methods; however, individual bassoonists' playing styles vary greatly and thus require that reeds be customized to best suit their respective bassoonist. Advanced players usually make their own reeds to this end. With regards to commercially made reeds, many companies and individuals offer pre-made reeds for sale, but players often find that such reeds still require adjustments to suit their particular playing style.

Modern bassoon reeds, made of Arundo donax cane, [7] 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 using a tool called a cane splitter. 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 profiled, 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 one, two, or 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 called a reamer, 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, or replaced completely. 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). Electrical tape can also be used as a wrapping for amateur reed makers. 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. Alternatively, hot glue, epoxy, or heat shrink wrap may be used to seal the tube of the reed. The thread wrapping (commonly known as a "Turban" due to the criss-crossing fabric) is still more common in commercially sold reeds.

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. 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 reed knife may be necessary, depending on the hardness, the 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 bass clef 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 using a pair of very sharp scissors or the equivalent. [8] [9]



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

Music historians generally consider the dulcian to be the forerunner of the modern bassoon, [10] 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 two keys, indicating that it could play in only a limited number of key signatures.

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; and, presumably for reasons of interchangeability, repertoire from this time is very unlikely to go beyond the smaller compass of the dulcian. 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 (transverse flute) and the hautbois (baroque oboe). 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. [11] 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. [12] 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 configuration

Increasing demands on capabilities of instruments and players in the 19th century—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 (or "French") system and the Heckel ("German") system. Most of the world plays the Heckel system, while the Buffet system is primarily played in France, Belgium, and parts of Latin America. A number of other types of bassoons have been constructed by various instrument makers, such as the rare Galandronome. Owing to the ubiquity of the Heckel system in English-speaking countries, references in English to the contemporary bassoon always mean the Heckel system, with the Buffet system being explicitly qualified where it appears.

Heckel (German) system

Heckel system bassoon from 1870 Bassoon 1870.jpg
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. His employment at Schott gave him the freedom 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, with other makers following. 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 20th 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.

Two views of a Fox model 220 bassoon FoxBassoon.png
Two views of a Fox model 220 bassoon

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 to be the best, although a range of Heckel-style instruments is available from several other manufacturers, all with slightly different playing characteristics.

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 key work, the development of the Buffet system consisted primarily of incremental improvements to the key work. This minimalist approach of the Buffet deprived it of improved consistency of intonation, ease of operation, and increased power, which is found in 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. The modern Buffet system has 22 keys with its range being the same as the Heckel; although Buffet instruments have greater facility in the upper registers, reaching E5 and F5 with far greater ease and less air resistance.

Compared to the Heckel bassoon, Buffet system bassoons have a narrower bore and simpler mechanism, requiring different, and often more complex fingerings for many notes. Switching between Heckel and Buffet, or vice versa, requires extensive retraining. French woodwind instruments' 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 sound has been utilised effectively in writing for Buffet bassoon, but is less inclined to blend than the tone of the Heckel bassoon. As with all bassoons, the tone varies considerably, depending on individual instrument, reed, 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.

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, where it originated. Buffet-model bassoons are currently made in Paris by Buffet Crampon and the atelier Ducasse (Romainville, France). The Selmer Company stopped fabrication of French system bassoons around the year 2012. [14] Some players, for example the late Gerald Corey in Canada, have learned to play both types and will alternate between them depending on the repertoire.

Use in ensembles

Ensembles prior to the 20th century


Prior to 1760, the early ancestor of the bassoon was the dulcian. It was used to reinforce the bass line in wind ensembles called consorts. [2] However, its use in concert orchestras was sporadic until the late 17th century when double reeds began to make their way into standard instrumentation. Increasing use of the dulcian as a basso continuo instrument meant that it began to be included in opera orchestras, in works such as those by Reinhard Keiser and Jean-Baptiste Lully. [1] Meanwhile, as the dulcian advanced technologically and was able to achieve more virtuosity, composers such as Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Johann Ernst Galliard, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Georg Philipp Telemann wrote demanding solo and ensemble music for the instrument. [1] Antonio Vivaldi brought it to prominence by featuring it in thirty-nine concerti. [1]

c. 1760–1830

While the bassoon was still often used to give clarity to the bassline due to its sonorous low register, the capabilities of wind instruments grew as technology advanced during the Classical era. This allowed the instrument to play in more keys than the dulcian. Joseph Haydn took advantage of this in his Symphony No. 45 ("Farewell Symphony"), in which the bassoon plays in F-sharp minor. [2] Following with these advances, composers also began to exploit the bassoon for its unique color, flexibility, and virtuosic ability, rather than for its perfunctory ability to double the bass line. Those who did this include Ludwig van Beethoven in his three Duos for Clarinet and Bassoon (WoO 27) for clarinet and bassoon and Niccolo Paganini in his duets for violin and bassoon. [15] In his Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K. 191, W. A. Mozart utilized all aspects of the bassoon's expressiveness with its contrasts in register, staccato playing, and expressive sound, and was especially noted for its singing quality in the second movement. [2] This concerto is often considered one of the most important works in all of the bassoon's repertoire, even today. [1]

The bassoon's similarity to the human voice, in addition to its newfound virtuosic ability, was another quality many composers took advantage of during the classical era. After 1730, the German bassoon's range expended up to B♭4, and much higher with the French instrument. [16] Technological advances also caused the bassoon's tenor register sound to become more resonant, and playing in this register grew in popularity, especially in the Austro-Germanic musical world. Pedagogues such as Josef Frohlich instructed students to practice scales, thirds, and fourths as vocal students would. In 1829, he wrote that the bassoon was capable of expressing "the worthy, the virile, the solemn, the great, the sublime, composure, mildness, intimacy, emotion, longing, heartfulness, reverence, and soulful ardour." [2] In G.F. Brandt's performance of Carl Maria von Weber's Concerto for Bassoon in F Major, Op. 75 (J. 127) it was also likened to the human voice. [2] In France, Pierre Cugnier described the bassoon's role as encompassing not only the bass part, but also to accompany the voice and harp, play in pairs with clarinets and horns in Harmonie, and to play in "nearly all types of music," including concerti, which were much more common than the sonatas of the previous era. [2] [1] Both Cugnier and Étienne Ozi emphasized the importance of the bassoon's similarity to the singing voice. [2]

The role of the bassoon in the orchestra varied depending on the country. In the Viennese orchestra the instrument offered a three-dimensional sound to the ensemble by doubling other instruments such as violins, as heard in Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro , K 492. where it plays a rather technical part alongside the strings. [2] He also wrote for the bassoon to change its timbre depending on which instrument it was paired with; warmer with clarinets, hollow with flutes, and dark and dignified with violins. [2] In Germany and Scandinavian countries, orchestras typically featured only two bassoons. But in France, orchestras increased the number to four in the latter half of the nineteenth century. [16] In England, the bassoonist's role varied depending on the ensemble. Johann Christian Bach wrote two concertos for solo bassoon, and it also appeared in more supportive roles such as accompanying church choirs after the Puritan revolution destroyed most church organs. [2] In the American colonies, the bassoon was typically seen in a chamber setting. After the Revolutionary War, bassoonists were found in wind bands that gave public performances. [2] By 1800, there was at least one bassoon in the United States Marine Band. [2] In South America, the bassoon also appeared in small orchestras, bands, and military musique (similar to Harmonie ensembles). [2]

c. 1830–1900

The role of the bassoon during the Romantic era varied between a role as a supportive bass instrument and a role as a virtuosic, expressive, solo instrument. In fact, it was very much considered an instrument that could be used in almost any circumstance. The comparison of the bassoon's sound to the human voice continued on during this time, as much of the pedagogy surrounded emulating this sound. Giuseppe Verdi used the instrument's lyrical, singing voice to evoke emotion in pieces such as his Messa da Requiem . [2] Eugene Jancourt compared the use of vibrato on the bassoon to that of singers, and Luigi Orselli wrote that the bassoon blended well with human voice. [2] He also noted the function of the bassoon in the French orchestra at the time, which served to support the sound of the viola, reinforce staccato sound, and double the bass, clarinet, flute, and oboe. [2] Emphasis also began to be placed on the unique sound of the bassoon's staccato, which might be described as quite short and aggressive, such as in Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 in the fifth movement. Paul Dukas utilized the staccato to depict the image of two brooms coming to life in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. [16]

It was common for there to be only two bassoons in German orchestras. [16] Austrian and British military bands also only carried two bassoons, and were mainly used for accompaniment and offbeat playing. [2] In France, Hector Berlioz also made it fashionable to use more than two bassoons; he often scored for three or four, and at time wrote for up to eight such as in his l’Impériale. [2]

At this point, composers expected bassoons to be as virtuosic as the other wind instruments, as they often wrote solos challenging the range and technique of the instrument. Examples of this include Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's bassoon solo and cadenza following the clarinet in Sheherazade, Op. 35 and in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser , which required the bassoonist to triple tongue and also play up to the top of its range at an E5. [2] Wagner also used the bassoon for its staccato ability in his work, and often wrote his three bassoon parts in thirds to evoke a darker sound with noticeable tone color. [2] In Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain , the bassoons play fortissimo alongside other bass instruments in order to evoke "the voice of the Devil." [16]

20th and 21st century ensembles

At this point in time, the development of the bassoon slowed. Rather than making large leaps in technological improvements, tiny imperfections in the instrument's function were corrected. [2] The instrument became quite versatile throughout the twentieth century; the instrument was at this point able to play three octaves, a variety of different trills, and maintained stable intonation across all registers and dynamic levels. [2] The pedagogy among bassoonists varied among different countries, and so the overall instrument itself played a variety of roles. As was a common theme in previous eras, the bassoon was valued by composers for its unique voice, and its use rose higher in pitch. A famous example of this is in Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in which the bassoon must play in its highest register in order to mimic the Russian dudka. [2] Composers also wrote for the bassoon's middle register, such as in Stravinsky's "Berceuse" in The Firebird and Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, op. 82 by Jean Sibelius's. [2] They also continued to highlight the staccato sound of the bassoon, as heard in Sergei Prokofiev's Humorous Scherzo. [2] In Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, the part of the grandfather is played by the bassoon.

In orchestral settings, most orchestras from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present have three or four bassoonists, with the fourth typically covering contrabassoon as well. [16] Greater emphasis on the use of timbre, vibrato, and phrasing began to appear in bassoon pedagogy, and many followed Marcel Tabuteau's philosophy on musical phrasing. [2] Vibrato began to be used in ensemble playing, depending on the phrasing of the music. [2] The bassoon was, and currently is, expected to be fluent with other woodwinds in terms of virtuosity and technique. Examples of this include the cadenza for bassoons in Maurice Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole and the multi-finger trills used in Stravinsky's Octet. [2]

Edgar Degas, L'Orchestre de L'Opera, (1868) Edgar Degas - The Orchestra at the Opera - Google Art Project 2.jpg
Edgar Degas, L'Orchestre de L'Opera, (1868)

In the twentieth century, the bassoon was less of a concerto soloist, and when it was, the accompanying ensemble was made softer and quieter. [2] In addition, it was no longer used in marching bands, though still existed in concert bands with one or two of them. [2] Orchestral repertoire remained very much the same Austro-Germanic tradition throughout most Western countries. [2] It mostly appeared in solo, chamber, and symphonic settings. By the mid-1900s, broadcasting and recording grew in popularity, allowing for new opportunities for bassoonists, and leading to a slow decline of live performances. [2] Much of the new music for bassoon in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, often included extended techniques and was written for solo or chamber settings. One piece that included extended techniques was Luciano Berio's Sequenza XII , which called for microtonal fingerings, glissandos, and timbral trills. [2] Double and triple tonguing, flutter tonguing, multiphonics, quarter-tones, and singing are all utilized in Bruno Bartolozzi's Concertazioni. [1] There were also a variety of concerti and bassoon and piano pieces written, such as John Williams's Five Sacred Trees and André Previn's Sonata for bassoon and piano. There were also "performance" pieces such as Peter Schickele's Sonata Abassoonata, which required the bassoonist to be both a musician and an actor. [2] The bassoon quartet became prominent at this time, with pieces such as Daniel Dorff's It Takes Four to Tango. [2]


The bassoon is infrequently used as a jazz instrument and rarely seen in a jazz ensemble. It first began appearing in the 1920s, when Garvin Bushell began incorporating the bassoon in his performances. [2] Specific calls for its use occurred 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 (see, e.g., The Centaur and the Phoenix (1960) which features bassoon as part of a 6-man horn section, including a few solos) 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. Katherine Young plays the bassoon in the ensembles of Anthony Braxton. Lindsay Cooper, Paul Hanson, the Brazilian bassoonist Alexandre Silvério, Trent Jacobs and Daniel Smith are also currently using the bassoon in jazz. French bassoonists Jean-Jacques Decreux [17] and Alexandre Ouzounoff [18] have both recorded jazz, exploiting the flexibility of the Buffet system instrument to good effect.

The contemporary quintet Edmund Wayne at the Treefort Music Fest EdmundWayneBassoon.JPG
The contemporary quintet Edmund Wayne at the Treefort Music Fest

In conjunction with the use of electronic pickups and amplification, the instrument began to be used more somewhat in jazz and rock settings. [2] [1] However, the bassoon is still quite rare as a regular member of rock bands. Several 1960s pop music hits feature the bassoon, including "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (the bassoonist was Charles R. Sirard [19] ), "Jennifer Juniper" by Donovan, "59th Street Bridge Song" by Harpers Bizarre, and the oompah bassoon underlying The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral". From 1974 to 1978, the bassoon was played by Lindsay Cooper in the British avant-garde band Henry Cow. The Leonard Nimoy song "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" features the bassoon. In the 1970s it was played, in the British medieval/progressive rock band Gryphon, by Brian Gulland, as well as by the American band Ambrosia, where it was played by drummer Burleigh Drummond. The Belgian Rock in Opposition-band Univers Zero is also known for its use of the bassoon.

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. [20] 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.

British psychedelic/progressive rock band Knifeworld features the bassoon playing of Chloe Herrington, who also plays for experimental chamber rock orchestra Chrome Hoof.

Fiona Apple featured the bassoon in the opening track of her 2004 album Extraordinary Machine .

In 2016, the bassoon was featured on the album Gang Signs and Prayers by UK ”grime" artist Stormzy. Played by UK bassoonist Louise Watson, the bassoon is heard in the tracks "Cold" and "Mr Skeng" as a complement to the electronic synthesizer bass lines typically found in this genre.

Appearance in Television

The Cartoon Network animated series Over the Garden Wall features a bassoon in episode 6 entitled "Lullaby in Frogland", where the main character is encouraged to play the bassoon to impress a group of frogs.

The character Jan Bellows in the Hulu series Only Murders in the Building is a professional bassoonist.


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See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brass instrument</span> Class of musical instruments

A brass instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones or labrophones, from Latin and Greek elements meaning 'lip' and 'sound'.

The clarinet is a single-reed musical instrument in the woodwind family, with a nearly cylindrical bore and a flared bell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oboe</span> Double-reed woodwind instrument

The oboe is a type of double-reed woodwind instrument. Oboes are usually made of wood, but may also be made of synthetic materials, such as plastic, resin, or hybrid composites.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone</span> Single-reed woodwind instrument

The saxophone is a type of single-reed woodwind instrument with a conical body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument's body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Uilleann pipes</span> National bagpipe of Ireland

The uilleann pipes, sometimes called Irish Bagpipes, are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. Earlier known in English as "union pipes", their current name is a partial translation of the Irish language terms píobaí uilleann, from their method of inflation. There is no historical record of the name or use of the term uilleann pipes before the 20th century. It was an invention of Grattan Flood and the name stuck. People mistook the term 'union' to refer to the 1800 Act of Union; this is incorrect as Breandán Breathnach points out that a poem published in 1796 uses the term 'union'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sarrusophone</span> Family of metal double-reed wind instruments

The sarrusophones are a family of metal double reed conical bore woodwind instruments patented and first manufactured by French instrument maker Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856. Gautrot named the sarrusophone after French bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813–1876), whom he credited with the concept of the instrument, though it is not clear whether Sarrus benefited financially. The instruments were intended for military bands, to serve as replacements for oboes and bassoons which at the time lacked the carrying power required for outdoor marching music. Although originally designed as double-reed instruments, single-reed mouthpieces were later developed for use with the larger bass and contrabass sarrusophones.

The contrabassoon, also known as the double bassoon, is a larger version of the bassoon, sounding an octave lower. Its technique is similar to its smaller cousin, with a few notable differences.

Overblowing is the manipulation of supplied air through a wind instrument that causes the sounded pitch to jump to a higher one without a fingering change or the operation of a slide. Overblowing may involve a change in the air pressure, in the point at which the air is directed, or in the resonance characteristics of the chamber formed by the mouth and throat of the player.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rackett</span> Renaissance predecessor of the bassoon

The rackett, raggett, cervelas, or sausage bassoon is a Renaissance-era double reed wind instrument, introduced late in the sixteenth century and already superseded by bassoons at the end of the seventeenth century.

The Western concert flute is a family of transverse (side-blown) woodwind instruments made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a “flautist” in British English, a “flutist” in American English.

A multiphonic is an extended technique on a monophonic musical instrument in which several notes are produced at once. This includes wind, reed, and brass instruments, as well as the human voice. Multiphonic-like sounds on string instruments, both bowed and hammered, have also been called multiphonics, for lack of better terminology and scarcity of research.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oehler system</span> System of keywork for the clarinet

The Oehler system is a system for clarinet keys developed by Oskar Oehler. Based on the Müller system clarinet, the system adds tone holes to correct intonation and acoustic deficiencies, notably of the alternately-fingered notes B♭ and F. The system has more keys than the Böhm system, up to 27 in the Voll-Oehler system. It also has a narrower bore and a longer, narrower mouthpiece leading to a slightly different sound. It is used mostly in Germany and Austria. Major developments include the patent C♯, low E-F correction, fork-F/B♭ correction and fork B♭ correction. Fingering charts can be found for example in this reference.

There are numerous techniques available for playing the harmonica, including bending, overbending, and tongue blocking.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ophicleide</span> 19th century keyed brass instrument

The ophicleide is a family of conical-bore keyed brass instruments invented in early 19th-century France to extend the keyed bugle into the alto, bass and contrabass ranges. Of these, the bass ophicleide in C or B took root over the course of the 19th century in military bands and as the bass of orchestral brass sections throughout Western Europe, replacing the serpent and its later upright derivatives. By the end of the 19th century however, it had been largely superseded by early forms of the modern tuba, developed from valved ophicleides.

Altissimo is the uppermost register on woodwind instruments. For clarinets, which overblow on odd harmonics, the altissimo notes are those based on the fifth, seventh, and higher harmonics. For other woodwinds, the altissimo notes are those based on the third, fourth, and higher harmonics. The altissimo register is also known as the high register.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Single-reed instrument</span> Class of woodwind instruments

A single-reed instrument is a woodwind instrument that uses only one reed to produce sound. The very earliest single-reed instruments were documented in ancient Egypt, as well as the Middle East, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The earliest types of single-reed instruments used idioglottal reeds, where the vibrating reed is a tongue cut and shaped on the tube of cane. Much later, single-reed instruments started using heteroglottal reeds, where a reed is cut and separated from the tube of cane and attached to a mouthpiece of some sort. By contrast, in a double reed instrument, there is no mouthpiece; the two parts of the reed vibrate against one another. Reeds are traditionally made of cane and produce sound when air is blown across or through them. The type of instruments that use a single reed are clarinets and saxophone. The timbre of a single and double reed instrument is related to the harmonic series caused by the shape of the corpus. E.g. the clarinet is only including the odd harmonics due to air column modes canceling out the even harmonics. This may be compared to the timbre of a square wave.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenoroon</span> A bassoon with a higher range

The tenor bassoon or tenoroon is a member of the bassoon family of double reed woodwind instruments. Similar to the alto bassoon, also called octave bassoon, it is relatively rare.

The Mazzeo system is a key system for the clarinet invented by Rosario Mazzeo in the 1950s, and is a modification of the Boehm system. Exclusive mass-production rights were given to the Selmer company, although only 13,000 were made.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone technique</span> Physical means of playing the saxophone

Saxophone technique refers to the physical means of playing the saxophone. It includes how to hold the instrument, how the embouchure is formed and the airstream produced, tone production, hands and fingering positions, and a number of other aspects. Instrumental technique and corresponding pedagogy is a topic of much interest to musicians and teachers and therefore has been subjected to personal opinions and differences in approach. Over the course of the saxophone's performance history, notable saxophonists have contributed much to the literature on saxophone technique.



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  10. 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 century, it remained in use until the 17th."
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  22. Benjamin Kohon (solo bassoon of New York Philharmonic) "A few notes on the bassoon". Reprinted from The Metronome, vol. XLVIII, no. 7, July 1932, p. 12.
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Further reading