To my knowledge, the crumhorn has never been incorporated into a band, or for that matter, in a traditional orchestral setting. The crumhorn is a Renaissance double reed instrument, but totally unlike any that are in use today. There are three defining characteristics of a crumhorn. One is a completely cylindrical bore. No other modern double reed instrument has such a bore. The second characteristic is the wind cap, a wooden cap that covers the entire reed of the instrument. Because of this cap, the player’s lips do not touch the reed, and thus cannot control the reed for pitch or volume. The last feature is the unusual J-shape of the instrument.
Due to the narrow cylindrical bore, the sound of the crumhorn is thin and buzzy. There is little projection, and because of the wind cap, the volume cannot be adjusted. In range, the crumhorn has the smallest range of all the wind instruments of only an octave and a second. In fingering, they are exactly like the recorder and will have the same sort of dexterity. Smaller sizes are more agile, while larger sizes are more cumbersome. I have played Soprano, Alto, and Bass Crumhorns personally, and can attest to this fact. The Bass Crumhorn was the most awkward instrument I have ever attempted (the finger span is nearly inhuman).
Unplayable finger span?
Why go to all this trouble for such an unusable instrument?
Because its sound is truly unique. No other instrument can make the joyous, buzzy sound of the crumhorn.
Five sizes of crumhorn exist: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, and Great Bass. These correspond to the exact same sizes of recorder, but sound one octave lower than the recorders of the same name.
Proposal for a New Instrument
As I’ve done a few times on this blog, I am calling for the creation of a new instrument. Oddly, these instruments are all double reed instruments, which I happen to play. I try to remain unbiased in this regard. Double reed instruments are the most undeveloped of all the instrument families.
If we look at all the wind instrument families, we see parallels. We see corresponding families of conical bore and cylindrical bore instruments. In the brass we have trumpets and trombones versus tubas and cornets, in the single reeds we have clarinets versus saxophones, in flutes we have traverse flutes versus recorders, but in the double reeds we only have conical bore instruments (oboes, bassoons, and the mostly extinct sarrusophones).
Our cylindrical bore double reed instrument will need to follow the pattern of the clarinet, as it will over blow the twelfth and not the octave like other double reeds. Therefore, the instrument will need a register key. It will also need a slight downward extension in order for the lower and upper registers to meet. Full or semi-full keywork would be a must for technical agility.
Such an instrument would be easy to make for most repairmen skilled in a lathe.
The question of a wind cap on the instrument would best be asked through experimentation.
Until such an instrument can be made, we have the crumhorn with all its imperfections to satisfy our desire for such an odd sound.
Alto, Tenor, and Bass Crumhorns
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass Crumhorns
Demonstration of Crumhorns