Introduction – I have always loved the bassoons. I have a special place for them being a bassoonist myself, so some of my observation in this chapter may be a little keener than the rest. The bassoons have an old, almost antique sound to them. My favorite quote about the Bassoon speaks to this very fact:
“The bassoon is one of my favorite instruments. It has a medieval aroma, like the days when everything used to sound like that. Some people crave baseball…I find this unfathomable, but I can easily understand why a person could get excited about playing the bassoon.”
It of course was not said by a bassoonist, or a traditional classical composer, but the musician Frank Zappa. I think Frank’s right.
Traditionally, the bassoon family has the smallest family of any woodwind instrument. I have never understood this. Going back to the Renaissance we had a family of bassoons (or more properly dulcians) that included six sizes. Today, at best we see two. Why did the other sizes die out? Best answer I can give here is that composers never (and to this point, I literally mean never) wrote for the other sizes of bassoon. With no literature, no one played them, and when no one played them manufacturers stopped producing them. Then, about twenty years ago, a modern manufacturer in Germany started producing small bassoons initially for children to play, but gradually professional players are taking these instruments up. Here for the first time, I will present the bassoon family as it should be.
Currently, five sizes of bassoon are being manufactured. We all know the regular Bassoon and Contrabassoon, but above this are three smaller members, the Alto Bassoon, and two sizes of Tenor Bassoon. Theoretically, a smaller size still, a Soprano Bassoon, could be manufactured (it would be the same as the old Soprano or Descant Dulcian). I also propose here that one additional member of the family be resurrected, the Semi-Contrabassoon pitched between the Bassoon and the Contrabassoon.