I’ve purposely skirted around the subject of Saxhorns throughout my run of this blog.  Saxhorns are really a complete mess of a family.  Adolphe Sax intended them to be a homogeneous family of valved brass instruments.  However, to say that these instruments are wholly his invention would be false.  All he did was make them uniform and slap his name on the family.

There are usually thought to be 7 members of the family

  1. E-flat Sopranino
  2. B-flat Soprano
  3. E-flat Alto/Tenor
  4. B-flat Tenor/Baritone
  5. B-flat Bass
  6. E-flat Bass/Contrabass
  7. B-flat Contrabass

In addition to this, there are references to a B-flat Piccolo and  E-flat and B-flat Subcontrabasses or Bourdons.

A performance and explanation (in German) of Adolphe Sax’s instruments using original instruments from Sax.

Numbers 1 through 4 can be thought of as one family, while numbers 5 though 7 can be thought of as a second.  Numbers 5, 6, and 7 are the easiest to deal with, so I shall tackle them first.

The Whole-Tube Saxhorns

A whole-tube instrument is a brass instrument that is able to play the fundamental (i.e. pedal) note with ease.  These are usually wide-bore conical instruments.  Today, we call these tubas.  Saxhorns number 5, 6, and 7 are simply nothing more than today’s Euphonium, E-flat Tuba, and B-flat Tuba, which Sax standardized and somewhat perfected.  Numbers 5 and 6 had four valves, while number 7 had only 3.

The Half-Tube Saxhorns

A half-tube instrument is a brass instrument that cannot play its fundamental pitch easily.  Saxhorns 1 through 4 can usually be placed in the half-tube grouping.  These instruments all have three valves.  Numbers 3 and 4 are virtually identical to today’s Alto/Tenor Horn and Baritone Horn.  In fact, in France, these are still sometimes referred to as Saxhorns.  Numbers 1 and 2 are a little trickier.  Some say that they are closer to cornets while others say they are closer to flügelhorns.  The truth is, they are probably somewhere in between cornets and flügelhorns.  A cornet is firmly a half-tube instrument while a flügelhorn is firmly a whole-tube instrument.  Sax’s original instruments probably could play the fundamental, but not easily.  What seems likely is the the early instrument, and most of those made by Sax himself were closer to cornets, while later instruments, notably those by other manufacturers, were closer to flügelhorns.

A later Sax-made Sopranino Saxhorn in flügelhorn style

A later Sax-made Soprano Saxhorn in flügelhorn style

Over-The-Shoulder Instruments

OTS saxhorns were a purely American take on the instrument.  These became popular during the Civil War when bands would march in front of the troops going in to battle.  These instruments had bells that pointed backward so that the sound pointed towards the marching troops.  There are several modern groups that use these instruments in Civil War reenactments.


Today, the saxhorns are still with us, but mostly under different names.

  1. E-flat Sopranino – E-flat Cornet
  2. B-flat Soprano – B-flat Cornet
  3. E-flat Alto – Alto Horn
  4. B-flat Tenor – Baritone Horn
  5. B-flat Bass – Euphonium
  6. E-flat Bass – E-flat Tuba
  7. B-flat Contrabass – B-flat Tuba

This is the standard make up of 80% of the modern British brass band, something that Adolphe Sax would immediately recognize.  The name Saxhorn has completely fallen out of use – save in one instance…

The French Orchestral Saxhorn

In France, there is still an instrument called simply the Saxhorn.  It is a bass instrument pitched in C a step above the modern Euphonium.  It has a minimum or four valves, though as many as six are common.  This was the standard French tuba for a large part of the 20th Century and the sound that many French composers, including Ravel, had in mind.  Due to the instrument being a whole-tube instrument and having extra valves, it is able to play most of the tuba repertoire despite being the smallest of the bass tuba instruments.


A New Ophicleide

Of all the things I thought would never happen, a new Ophicleide is one of them.  Turns out I was quite wrong.  A Chinese manufacturer has begun production of a brand new B-flat Bass Ophicleide.  This is totally unexpected (come on Chinese Sarrusophone!).

Turns out, it’s a really good instrument.  It’s a copy of a Gautrot from the 1860s (who was known for making some of the best Ophicleides).  This is the first Ophicleide produced in over 100 years (aside from a few one-offs in small shops).



As I continue through a brief tour of historical wind instruments, I come next to yet another double reed instrument, the dulcian or curtal.  Why am I spending so much time on double reeds?  Because historically, double reeds made up the bulk of all woodwind instruments.

The dulcians were the predecessor of the modern bassoons, but they are significantly different in sound and range to qualify them as a separate instrument.  There are two main differences. One is the shortened range.  At most, a dulcian was capable of only two and a half octaves, although a range of two octaves was far more common.  The second difference is the existence of a complete family of instruments.  Dulcians came in no less than six sizes from the small Soprano Dulcian, for which no corresponding size of modern bassoon exists, to the large Contrabass Dulcian, which is the same range as today’s Contrabassoon.

The most popular size was by far the Bass Dulcian, which was the same size as today’s Bassoon.  This was followed by the Tenor Dulcian (equivalent to the Tenor Bassoon) and the Great Bass Dulcian (equivalent to the non-existent Semi-Contrabassoon).  Alto and Soprano sizes were far less common, while the Contrabass was extremely rare with possibly only one extant instrument left.

Technique on the dulcian is both impaired and at the same time simpler than on the bassoons.  The bottom fifth of the instrument is completely diatonic.  However, within the middle range, speed is very easy in keys close to the home key of the instrument.  The speed of dulcian players is evident from the extant literature from the mid-1600s.

To my ears, the dulcian is the most pleasing of all the Renaissance wind instruments.  It is a very vocal and fluid sound that is unobtrusive and expressive.  Perhaps this is why it was used well into the 1800s in parts of Spain.

In a band or orchestral setting, the dulcians could be used as an easy doubling instrument for the bassoon section.  Any bassoonist can learn the instrument fairly quickly.  It could be used for more folksy elements or pastoral scenes.  Unlike the bassoons, the dulcians can also be used in a complete family from soprano to contrabass without any gaps in the sound.

While normally used by early music specialty groups, there seems to be no reason to exclude the dulcian based on antiquity.  While it may be an odd choice for sure, it could very well be an effective one.

An introduction to dulcians – Bass, Tenor, and Great Bass Dulcians

Alto Dulcian

Bass Dulcian – Bertoli Sonata 1

Soprano and Bass Dulcians



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).

Tiny range?

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




And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

A relic of times gone by, the Ophicleide is a monster amongst the brass instruments.  It’s been maligned out of existence by critics and composers and performers, yet it remains an important part of both the orchestral and band literature and history.

The name Ophicleide means “keyed serpent.”  The Serpent was a wooden instrument shaped in a twisted s-shape (hence the name serpent) that was not played by a reed but rather by a mouthpiece like a horn or trumpet.  The Serpent had been the bass of the brass family since at least the 1500s.  It was almost exclusively restricted to the realm of the church and the high mass.  Only rarely did it ever see inclusion in the orchestra.  The Ophicleide was an early 19th Century invention to make the cumbersome and awkward Serpent more playable.  The instrument is Bassoon-like in that it is a double parallel tube and held to the right side.  It has large keys that make it look like a saxophone.  In fact, the Ophicleide’s main claim to fame is that it is the possible ancestor of the saxophone.  The legend goes that Adolphe Sax placed a Bass Clarinet mouthpiece on a Bass Ophicleide and thus the saxophone was born.  As Sax’s father was a manufacturer of Ophicleides, it is quite possible that this happened, though there is no evidence to it whatsoever.

Unlike the Serpent, the Ophicleide was immediately introduced into the orchestra.  It became the first usable bass brass instrument.  We find it first coming to prominence in a work like Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz in 1830 (remember, this is only 3 years after Beethoven had died).  Berlioz invoked two Ophicleides and four Bassoons to chant out the Dies Irae, the song of the dead.  Today when this piece is played, the Ophicleide parts are always played by two tubas, but the effect is all but lost.  The parts are too high for comfort for most tuba players, and the sound of the tuba drowns out four Bassoons who try their hardest to keep up.

Dies Irae excerpt

Symphonie Fantastique Movement 5 – Note this performance is played on all period instrument including two Ophicleides.

We think of the Ophicleide as an early 19th Century instrument, but it was used until at least the 1870s in some places, and in South America until the early 20th Century.  Both Wagner and Verdi used the instrument, the latter in his famous Requiem.  Only once in a great rare while will we ever hear an actual Ophicleide play the parts intended for it.

Originally, there were three sizes of Ophicleide: the Alto or Quintclave, the Bass (pitched in both C and B-flat), and the Contrabass.  The Alto had only a brief popularity in the 1830s and 1840s, and has never been used much since.  The Contrabass is easily the rarest of all brass instruments with a single instrument in playable condition – a modern replica made in the 1980s.

The decline of the Ophicleide came from multiple angles.  In the orchestra, composers wanted a more powerful bass instrument with a lower range, and the tuba won the day.  In the band, a completely different story of extinction arose.  For the winner of solo competitions held for the leading Ophicleide players of the day, the prize was a brand new, top of the line Euphonium.  Manufacturer marketing killed the instrument.  It is possible that no new Ophicleides have been made since the late 1800s save for a few modern replicas.

All of the orchestrators who mention the Ophicleide (which is pretty much Berlioz’s original text – all others being side notes), mention nothing good coming from the instrument except for a few places where a held note has some added benefit in chorales or to evoke the dead.

I believed this for the longest time.

Then I finally heard what a player could accomplish on the instrument.  And I realized that Berlioz was wrong.  Like the Bassoon, the Ophicleide is not a bass instrument.  It’s a tenor.  It has a gorgeous singing voice that cannot be matched by any other brass instrument.  The sound is almost a cross between a Euphonium and a Bassoon.  It is an agile and lyrical instrument.

The reason I quoted from Lewis Carroll at the beginning is that I can just envision the Ophicleide being the monster Jaberwock just rising up from its slumber.  The word “burbled” describes the sound perfectly.  I picture a duet in rising thirds over a murmur of clarinets, just beginning to evoke the woodland creatures awaking after a dawn shower.

As there are two different versions of the Bass Ophicleide, the C and the B-flat, it would be best to only write for the instrument in C (which descends to a low B below the bass clef) and leave it to the player to produce whatever instrument they happen to possess.

I’d love to see a revival of the instrument, but alas I don’t think it will ever happen.  However, there are a few valiant players making an attempt to revive the extinct.

Weber’s Andante and Hungarian Rondo. As a Bassoonist, I’m ashamed to say that this performer plays this better than I ever could on an extinct instrument.

An example of a rare Alto Ophicleide or Quintclave.  This instrument is pitched in E-flat a minor third above the C Bass (and a 4th above the B-flat Bass).

A modern composition for Ophicleide and orchestra.




            Bear with me for a bit to take a historical look at bandestration.  Don’t know what a sarrusophone is?  Don’t worry; most musicians have no clue either.  This was a family of double reed instruments made of metal designed around the middle of the 1800s.  They were intended to replace the Oboes and Bassoons in the French regimental bands.  There are great similarities between the sarrusophones and the saxophones (in fact Sax sued the sarrusophone manufacturer for patent infringement).  These similarities include the family size (each sarrusophone corresponds to a member of the saxophone family), instrument range, and fingering system. Surprisingly, the sarrusophone was adopted into the orchestra fairly quickly, whereas the prejudice against the saxophone, to some extent, still endures.  The French found that the Contrabass Sarrusophone was a perfect substitute for the Contrabassoon, which was a poor instrument at best.  However, with the perfection of the French Contrebasson, the sarrusophone’s days were numbered. The main reason I include the sarrusophone in the volume is the use by Percy Grainger.  Grainger was a huge advocate of the sarrusophone, and wanted to see the entire family included in the band (he even owned a complete set of the instruments).  Many of Grainger’s most popular band works (Colonial Song, Children’s March, etc.) include parts for the E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone.  This size is the only sarrusophone ever made in the U.S., and was meant to be included in all Army regimental bands in the 1920s. Originally, the sarrusophone was made in nine sizes: E-flat Sopranino B-flat Soprano E-flat Alto B-flat Tenor E-flat Baritone B-flat Bass E-flat Contrabass C Contrabass (Orchestral instrument) B-flat Contrabass Each of these sizes corresponds to the exact same size of saxophone.  The Sopranino and the B-flat and C Contrabasses are extremely rare.  Despite orchestration books claiming that the C Contrabass is the most used, it is likely that only a few instruments were ever manufactured for the largest French orchestras. The sarrusophones were, and to this day remain, the only family of double reed instruments that encompass soprano to contrabass members.  They were the only uniform double reed sound. All this said, I am a former sarrusophonist, and have some admiration for the instrument.  It has been said that the sound of a sarrusophone ensemble is quite memorable and musical, not unlike the sound of Renaissance double reeds. Could sarrusophones be used in a modern band?  Absolutely!  The most common instrument is of course the E-flat Contrabass.  I once wrote for the instrument (which I played myself) and scored it in the role of an evil monster who inhabits the woods.  For a sinister and malevolent sound, the sarrusophone is bar-none the most perfect sound available. Were I to have my perfect world, I would love to have a group of sarrusophones at my disposal.  A sarrusophone sextet of Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass, and E-flat Contrabass could be another valuable tone color in our bands.  However, sarrusophones are not being produced anymore (save by rare special order from one manufacturer in Italy), and their availability is at most poor. Movie composers/orchestrators could get quite interesting effects from the sarrusophone, if they were available.

Rothphone/Rothophone/Saxarrusophone These are all the same instrument under slightly different names.  They were sarrusophones folded to look exactly like saxophones of the same size.  Very few were made.  They can be substituted one-for-one with the similar sarrusophone. It is interesting to find that there are far more double reed families than there are flute or single reed families: oboes, bassoons, sarrusophones, dulcians, shawms, crumhorns, etc. I have looked for years for recordings of all the various members of the sarrusophone family, but have never been able to hear the higher members.  I have heard Tenor, Baritone, Bass, and E-flat Contrabass, but never Alto or Soprano.

Jazz demo of an E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone

Sidney Bechet playing the Contrabass Sarrusophone in the most famous solo ever recorded for the instrument.  Note, Bechet, a saxophone and clarinet player, is using a single reed mouthpiece on the instrument and not a double reed.

A comparison of a Contrabassoon and a Contrabass Sarrusophone.

Range and Transposition for all Sarrusophones (Note the use of Bass Clef for the Contrabass in C)

full range

Individual Characteristics

Sopranino Sarrusophone

Range of the Sopranino Sarrusophone sopranino

            Written                                                Sounding (up a minor third)

The Sopranino Sarrusophone is quite possibly the rarest of all the Sarrusophones as can be attested by its exclusion in many well-known treatises.  It is pitched at exactly the same range as the Sopranino Saxophone.  It is made of a straight conical tube and is the only Sarrusophone to be made without a bocal.  In the vast world of classical music only one example can be given of its use; Percy Grainger’s 1922-23 scoring of Hill Song no. 1.  In fact the Sopranino Sarrusophone begins the piece with a solo. Unfortunately, this version, with Grainger’s original instrumentation has never been performed.  The Grainger Museum in Melbourne still has Grainger’s Sopranino Sarrusophone which can attest to the fact the Grainger himself intended the part to be performed upon the Sopranino Sarrusophone, although in the elastic scoring of Grainger finding a substitute would be no big problem.  It seems in this piece that Grainger wanted to have as raucous and uncontrolled of a tone as possible to imitate the sound of a bagpipe or the Italian Piffaro (a type of folk Shawm/Bagpipe).  The Sarrusophone it seems would have served the purpose quite well. Excerpts: Hill Song no. 1 (1922/23 Scoring) – Percy Grainger

Soprano  Sarrusophone

Range of Soprano Sarrusophone

          soprano    Written                         Sounding (a major second lower)

The Soprano Sarrusophone seems to have been one of the more common sizes of Sarrusophone, for instruments of this size seem to turn up with more regularity that do those of either the Alto of Tenor.  Like the Sopranino the Soprano is straight but it possesses a small slightly angled bocal not unlike an Oboe d’Amore bocal, and like the Sopranino, very little can be found in the way of literature for the Soprano.  The Parisian civilian band La Sirène for many years used three Soprano Sarrusophones in place of Oboes, which were not allowed.  The use of covering Oboe parts seems to have been the only function that the Soprano Sarrusophone has ever served.  In the later part of the twentieth century Hans-Jochim Hespos has used the Soprano Sarrusophone in a handful of his compositions including Go. Excerpts: Go: Hans-Jochim Hespos

The short solos about a minute and a half in from this 1941 recording is said the be a Soprano Sarrusophone.  I have some reservations, but there is a double reed attack that seems to indicate that it is not a saxophone.

Alto  Sarrusophone

Range of the Alto Sarrusophonealto

              Written                   Sounding (down a major sixth)

The Alto Sarrusophone has one of the most distinguishing features of any woodwind instrument.  The bottom bow of the instrument, which is roughly shaped like a Bassoon, is actually not part of the instrument proper at all, but rather dummy tubing.  This was apparently done so that the instrument would rest easier on or against the player’s leg.  Since the Soprano was used to cover Oboe parts it seems only natural that the Alto covered English Horn parts in French bands.  Again very little can be found in the way of literature for the Alto Sarrusophone although Arthur Clappé in his treatise on band instrumentation described the Alto Sarrusophone as “a beautifully voiced instrument, worthy a place in the concert wind-band.”  Interestingly, the only known orchestral use of the instrument comes not from the French but from the English where the instrument was little know and extremely hard to acquire.  Josef Holbrooke’s Apollo and the Seaman contains a part that is marked “Soprano Sarrusophone in E-flat,” but this is almost assuredly an Alto part as the Sopranino, even then, was exceedingly rare.  A rather comical story about this piece and the woeful Sarrusophonist who participated in its first performance can be found in Sir Thomas Beecham’s hilarious autobiography, A Mingled Chime.

Excerpts: Apollo and the Seaman – Josef Holbrooke

Tenor Sarrusophone

Range of the Tenor Sarrusophonetenor

             Written                  Sounding (major ninth lower)

The Tenor Sarrusophone is quite similar to the Alto in many ways.  Both are quite hard to come by and both share a similar Bassoon-like shape, although the Tenor does not possess the dummy tubing like the Alto.  The Tenor has a nasal sound sort of similar to a Bass Oboe or Heckelphone with a tinge of Saxophone thrown into the mix.  As with all of the higher Sarrusophones only one piece can be found that uses the Tenor Sarrusophone, and again it is Percy Grainger’s Hill Song no. 1 (1922/23 scoring).  Grainger does seem to show a little pity on the performers by providing an alternate part for Bass Oboe or Heckelphone, which are only slightly less obscure.  There are also a few Jazz recordings that use the Tenor Sarrusophone as an alternate instrument to the Tenor Saxophone as both instruments are quite similar in their playing capabilities.

A light jazz tune that uses the Tenor Sarrusophone played by Lenny Pickett of Saturday Night Live fame.

Baritone Sarrusophone

Range of the Baritone Sarrusophone baritone

Written                      Sounding (down an octave an a major sixth)

The Baritone Sarrusophone, sometime affectionately called the “Combat Bassoon” seems to have been more popular than either the Alto or Tenor varieties.  One possible reason for this is the fact the it could quite easily covered most bassoon parts in the French bands, although a Tenor would be needed for uncommonly high passages above concert A-flat and a Bass would be needed for anything below concert D-flat.  The Baritone has a similar shape to the Alto and Tenor but it has a very pronounced loop in the neck, which is not unlike that of the Baritone Saxophone.  Although it is the exact same pitch as the Baritone Saxophone the Sarrusophone is much smaller due to the more compact design of the instrument.  There does not seem to be any know composition that includes a Baritone Sarrusophone in its scoring.

A Baritone Rothophone (Sarrusophone in saxophone shape).  Note: this instrument is played with a single reed mouthpiece.

Bass Sarrusophone

Range of the Bass Sarrusophonebass

The Bass Sarrusophone is approximately the same shape as the Baritone only larger.  The Bass Sarrusophone seems to have been the second most used Sarrusophone behind the Contrabasses.  It shares the exact same range and transposition as the Bass Saxophone.  The sound of the Bass can truly be described as a pure mixture of Bassoon and Baritone or Bass Saxophones.  When played well the Bass Sarrusophone has a unique character that reminds one of the lyricism of the Bassoon with the tone color of something more ominous.  With its unique tone quality the Bass Sarrusophone can be a wonderful solo Bass voice and can be almost string-like at times.  Surprisingly the instrument has some agility in the hand of someone who knows their way around an instrument which will more than likely be an antique.  The reed of the Bass Sarrusophone is slightly larger than that of the Bassoon but not quite as large as that of the Contrabassoon.  Some possible ideas for the use of the Bass Sarrusophone include pairing it with Bassoons or Saxophones as a bass voice.  It can be used in conjunction with the Trombones to give them a more ominous shading.  When used with the strings it can add a bite to a lower Cello or higher Double Bass line.  In its higher register it can blend quite well with the Horns and can even be used as a lower member of the Horn ensemble securing some questionable lower notes or even providing an extended range.  There at one time existed a solo for Bass Sarrusophone and brass band written by Blauckemann but it unfortunately seems not to have survived.  Outside of this one lost solo there is no true literature for the Bass Sarrusophone. There also seems to be evidence of a Bass Sarrusophone pitched in C whose lowest note would correspond to that of the Bassoon, thus enabling easy covering of all Bassoon parts upon this instrument with no transposition.


E-Flat Contrabass Sarrusophone

Range of the E-flat Contrabass e-flat contrabass

Written (in treble clef)    Written (in bass clef)             Sounding

The E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone was the most widely used of all the Sarrusophones; it was so common in fact that it alone is sometimes referred to as just “Sarrusophone” as most people know nothing of the other varieties.  This was the only member of the family to be constructed in the United States by the aforementioned C.G. Conn Company.  The tone color is somewhat similar to the Contrabassoon, but again like that of the Bass Sarrusophone it as much more presence and bite to its sound.  Technically (the remainder of the paragraph applies not only to the Contrabass but to all varieties) it can be quite awkward, as many of the modern developments in fingering systems have left this instrument behind.  Whereas the Saxophone (which has a very similar fingering system) has three fingerings for middle and high B-flat (treble clef notation) the Sarrusophone has only one and it is the most awkward of the three fingerings available on Saxophone.  Another fingering difference is actually a blessing; the low B-flat (again treble notation) is positioned so that the left thumb operates the key, which makes some low range passages less cumbersome.  The other major difference can be either a hindrance or a help; there are three independent octave keys (the smaller varieties from Baritone up have only two octave keys) which although inhibit faster tempi do allow for the use of harmonics by the use of alternate octave keys and combinations of the three.  Through these harmonics (which are from any note from high D and up) one could possible play higher than is marked in the range chart. A skill that is positively essential for any one who plays the Contrabass Sarrusophone is that of transposition.  The instrument normally pitched in E-flat and reading treble clef, is most often called upon to play parts that are written in C and in bass clef.  Whether playing an original Sarrusophone part from a French symphonic score or reading a Contrabassoon part in a community band, 90% or more of all parts for this instrument are in bass clef.  When played by a Bassoonist (as is most often the case) this presents little problem (aside from the normal problems of playing the instrument).  When played by a Saxophonist, who should generally find the instrument very similar to his own, the matter of sight transposing might present issues as the will see and finger notes that are dissimilar. The sound of the Contrabass Sarrusophone is quite impressive.  Where a normal Contrabassoon struggles to be heard a single Contrabass Sarrusophone can possibly out play a large band of 150 plus.  This is the extreme of volume and is almost never (if absolutely ever) needed.  At the other end of the spectrum the soft side cannot match the solemnity of the Contrabassoon, which provides such a wonderful bass to many orchestral passages including Brahms and Mahler.  This if not for any other reason may be the one contributing factor to the non-use of the Contrabass Sarrusophone.  The tone seems to mix well with the lower members of the brass family.  It sometimes can be used to bolster a strong line in the lower strings, although its rough sound will be quite present.  Only very rarely has the Contrabass Sarrusophone been used for anything other than the foundation of the woodwind choir where it is generally a substitute for the Contrabassoon, but a few examples where the sound of the Sarrusophone is indeed meant for its special tone color.  One of the main examples of this is Ignace Jan Paderewski’s Symphony in B minor “Polonia” where the composer uses not one but THREE of these instruments along with a Contrabassoon and Bass Clarinet to fill out the bottom of the woodwind choir.  Paderewski’s use of the instrument is self defeating though, in the entire eighty minute long work the Sarrusophones play for at most forty bars, or once in each movement where there presence is absolutely needed as they play solo.  The main problem that one encounters with this piece is that is it really justifiable to hire three Sarrusophonists (let alone find three Sarrusophones) for forty some-odd bars?  Another composition that uses the Sarrusophone for its unique qualities is the relatively late work of Igor Stravinsky’s, Threni.  In the work, no Bassoons are present so the Sarrusophone comprises the entire low reed sound along with Alto and Bass Clarinets.  This instrument also features quite prominently in the works of Percy Grainger.  New editions of his band music are coming out which preserve the original instrumentation, and it turns out many of them (Children’s March, Molly on the Shore, and Colonial Song) are originally scored for the E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone (or in Grainger’s blue-eyed English, Double Bass Sarrusophone).    

C Contrabass  Sarrusophone

Range of the CC Contrabass Sarrusophone c contrabass Written                                         Sounding

The Contrabass in C is hardly ever seen outside of France where it was the “Contrabassoon” of choice for nearly sixty years from 1860 to 1920.  This is the instrument for which most orchestral Contrabassoon parts of the time were conceived.  Outside of range it can be treated exactly like the Contrabass in E-flat, except that it is only written in the Bass Clef sounding one octave lower than written.  It is odd, howeve, that this remains one of the most elusive of the Sarrusophones as it has the most literature written for it.  Upon looking at records from Buffet-Crampon it is revealed that that firm ever constructed only three CC Contrabasses.  It is quite possible that the CC Contrabass was only ever constructed for use in French Orchestras and Opera Houses and was never used by and other ensembles (unlike the E-flat Contrabass which was readily used by many military and civilian bands).  Recently new CC Contrabass Sarrusophones have been made and have even featured in several movie scores.

B-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone

Range of the BB-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone b-flat contrabass

Written (in treble clef)            Written (in bass clef)          Sounding

This, along with the Sopranino, is the rarest of all the Sarrusophones.  Only rarely is the depth of this instrument needed.  In fact the only know instance of a Sarrusophone part descending below the bottom B-flat of the CC Contrabass is in Delius’ Eventyr where both the Bassoons and Sarrusophone (no size is indicated) descent to a bottom B-double-flat which is generally out of range for both instruments.  This instrument is generally the same size as the E-flat Contrabass but is characterized by a double loop in the bocal.  Except for the Octo-Contra Clarinets of Leblanc and the new Sub-Contrabass Tubax (Saxophone) which descends to the same low A-flat, this is the lowest woodwind instrument ever built.

Recorders Part 3 – Technique


Recorder technique is slow and cumbersome due to the lack of keys.  They are best kept in diatonic passages with few chromatics.  At most, three flats or three sharps away from the home key of the instrument is as remote as recorders are comfortable with.  This means, for an Alto Recorder in F, something in A-flat or F minor is an extreme key, but doable.  D-flat major is considerably harder (but possible).

At the bottom of the register the two lowest chromatic notes (the C-sharp and the D-sharp on a C instrument, or the F-sharp and the G-sharp on an F instrument) are only produced by means of sliding the fingers to uncover a small half-hole.

All Baroque recorders have a standard range of 2 octaves and a major second.  Notes above this are possible up to a range of 2.5 octaves.  However, in order to make this range chromatic, the player must cover the end of the recorder with the leg, which makes technique up here very slow and cumbersome.

Note, the Garklein only has a range of 1.6 octaves.

Renaissance recorders usually only have a range of 1.5 octaves.

Transposition – Except for octave shifts, recorders do not transpose.  Players must learn two different sets of fingerings for the F and C instruments.  The bandestrator should not take the liberty to transpose recorder parts.

Dynamics – Recorders cannot do dynamics.  No crescendos, diminuendos, fortes, or pianos.  This is part of the quaintness of the recorder.

Articulation – All notes on the recorder are generally articulated (tounged).  This is part of standard technique.  Rarely are true slurs employed in Baroque music.  Today, players slur easily, though some of the higher notes can only come out with aid of the tongue.  Techniques such as flutter tonguing and double/triple tonguing are relatively easy on the recorder.

Need for a Modern Recorder

There really is a need for a modern recorder with keywork in order for it to be able to compete technically with the rest of the woodwinds.  It wouldn’t take much to accomplish this.  This could be done so easily.  Three keys for the right pinky (F, F-sharp, G-sharp or C, C-sharp, D-sharp), and one for the left pinky (G-sharp or C-sharp).  Any competent instrument repair man should be able to install these keys on an existing recorder.

Oh look, someone has made one!

Listen to the difference a modern sound concept makes:

An instrument like this is only used in a soloistic capacity with modern instruments.

Of course if you want to hear the extent of recorder technique, look no further to jazz: