The Sarrusophone – An Annotated Bibliography

*This is an older article I wrote back in 2004/2005.  At the time, it was the most comprehensive collection of scholarly articles about the sarrusophone compiled. 

The Sarrusophone is one of the most uncommonly encountered wind instruments.  Invented in 1856 by Pierre Louis Gautrot, the Sarrusophone was intended as a replacement for the Oboe and Bassoon, which the French government had recently eliminated from their military bands.  The Sarrusophone was named after Pierre-Auguste Sarrus a French bandmaster who possibly came up with the idea of creating a family of metal double reed instruments.  The problem with the Oboe and Bassoon was not their timber, but rather the fact that they were not able to project while marching.  Ten years prior to the invention of the Sarrusophone, Adolph Sax patented his Saxophone; a conical bore single reed instrument made of metal, which seems to have led the way to the construction of the Sarrusophone, a conical bore double reed instrument made of metal.  In keeping with French tradition, the Sarrusophone was made in a variety of sizes.  At first only six sizes appeared the B-flat Soprano, E-flat Alto, B-flat Tenor, E-flat Baritone, B-flat Bass and E-flat Contrabass.  Several years later, three additional sizes of Sarrusophone were developed, the E-flat Sopranino, the CC Contrabass, and the BB-flat Contrabass.  These last three sizes are extremely rare.

Though not the first to use the instruments, to Camille Saint-Saens the credit must be given for introducing the Sarrusophone into the orchestra.  When his opera Les Noces de Promethee was premiered, the composer had provided an important Contrabassoon part, but the only Contrabassoon to be had was a poor instrument in ill repair.  At the last minute, the suggestion to substitute a Contrabass Sarrusophone for the Contrabassoon was given and Saint-Saens as well as several generations of future French composers were so impressed with the sound that all future Contrabassoon parts were exclusively preformed upon the Sarrusophone.  The last major incident in the obscure history of the Sarrusophone came in the late 1950’s when Igor Stravinsky wrote a part of a Contrabass Sarrusophone in his 12-tone work Threni.


Baines, Anthony.  Woodwind Instruments and Their History.  New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

This is one of the classic texts on woodwind instruments by one of the foremost scholars on wind instruments.  The two-page entry on the Sarrusophone give many details on its use in French and Spanish Military Bands, but little evidence of its orchestral usage.  Of particular note is the footnote to the entry where the author gives the measurements of the reeds of the entire family.  Also included is a photo plate showing examples of two of the less commonly used members of the Sarrusophone family, the B-flat Tenor and BB-flat Contrabass.  The last mention of the Sarrusophone in this book is an entry from an 1870 instrument catalogue listing all nine members of the Sarrusophone family for sale at a price of £17.


Banks, Margaret D.  “Ask AMIS.”  Newsletter – American Musical Instrument Society Vol. XX 1991: 16.

This is a question and answer section from the journal where the topic is the Conn Contrabass Sarrusophone.  The answerer is Margaret Banks the noted historian of the C. G. Conn Company.  Conn was the only U.S. maker of the Sarrusophone and this article details some of the aspects of their existence (why they were made, how many were made, discontinuation date, and prices).  It states that they were available in finishes ranging from bare brass ($275) to gold finish ($440).  Omitted is the price for the silver plated model.  Brief mention is also given to the fact that along side the normal double reed Conn would also supply a single reed mouthpiece similar to a Soprano Saxophone mouthpiece.  Also included with the article is a copy of an original advertisement for the Conn Sarrusophone.


Beecham, Sir Thomas.  A Mingled Chime.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943.

This is the often-humorous autobiography of the famous English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.  Two chapters of this book deal with the Sarrusophone; namely it’s use in Apollo and the Seaman by Josef Holbrooke.  When presented with the score of this large work (which incidentally is the first ever work to use a multimedia presentation in 1907) he found himself confronted with the Sarrusophone, an instrument that “there seemed to be as many in the family as there are in a Biblical genealogy.”  Beecham and an assistant had to search all over France (none were to be found in England) for a Sarrusophonist.  When found, the player brought the wrong set of instruments.  Finally, during the performance, which almost was a complete disaster, the Sarrusophonist missed his important cue and never played a single note.  Upon arriving back to France, he was honored by having his portrait painted and exhibited, all for playing an important, if not silent, role in a musical spectacle.


Bloom, Jonathan.  “Saving a musical sound from extinction,” The Boston Globe.  Boston: July 15, 2004.

This article recounts a modern day Sarrusophonist’s tale of acquiring an instrument (an E-flat Baritone) for use in a concert band.  The player’s reason for use, outside of the novelty, is to produce more sound on the Bassoon parts in an outdoor concert band.  Includes snippets of an interview with a Berklee professor who knew hardly anything of the instrument, “that’s how rare it is.”


Carse, Adam.  Musical Wind Instruments.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1965.

This is one of the classic texts on wind instruments.  Only three pages are devoted to the Sarrusophone and mainly consist of a general description of the instrument in all sizes.  The general shape of all nine sizes is briefly described, and it has some information on bore size of the different models (i.e. Soprano and Contrabass bocal opening diameters and tone hole size in the Contrabass).  “The non-success of the Sarrusophone as an orchestral instrument has been accounted for thus: composers don’t write for it because players don’t use it, and players don’t use it because composers don’t write for it.”


Clappé, Arthur A.  The Wind-Band and its Instruments.  Portland, ME: Longwood Press Inc., 1976.

This is a modern reprinting of a 1911 text concerning the wind band.  From page one, high praises are to be had of the entire Sarrusophone family.  All members of the family are given instances where they might be used such as adding a Tenor Sarrusophone to the Bassoon section in order to give more of an upper range to the section.  The Alto is described as “a beautifully voiced instrument, worthy a place in the concert wind-band.”  Also included is a three-page foldout fingering chart that includes several notes above the general usable range.  Even in his section on how to balance a band, the Sarrusophone family is given a place of equal importance along side many other more established instruments.


Conrey, Dr. Goerge A.  “The Sarrusophone- An Update, Part 1” The Double Reed, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1988.

Dr. Conrey’s brief article is a follow up to the article in The Double Reed by Jolivet and Richart.  In this first part, he provides the world with the first biography of Pierre August Sarrus.  Before this article little was know about Sarrus including his first name.  Sarrus it turns out probably had very little to do with the invention of the Sarrusophone which was only named in honor of him.


Conrey, Dr. George A.  “The Sarrusophone- An Update, Part Two” The Journal of the International Double Reed Society, No. 17, 1989.  <;
The second follow up to Jolivet’s and Richart’s article “The Sarrusophone” contains biographical information on the instrument maker and inventor of the Sarrusophone, Pierre-Louis Gautrot.  The second part of the article deals with additional fingerings not noted by Jolivet and Richart.  The included fingering chart combines the ones used by Jolivet and Richart, Leruste and Mimart but not by Clappé.


Del Mar, Norman.  Anatomy of the Orchestra.  Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

This is a guide to the orchestra and more specifically the instrumental resources therein.  Del Mar discusses many of the pitfalls of various orchestral passages for all members of the orchestra.  The entry on the Sarrusophone is rather short and somewhat slighted against the instrument as the writer seems to think that the Contrabassoon can serve equally well or better than the Sarrusophone in works where the composer specifically calls for the Sarrusophone (e.g. Stravinsky’s Threni).


Forsyth, Cecil.  Orchestration.  New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1982.

This is a well-used orchestration text from the early part of the Twentieth Century.  It contains a longer than average entry on the Sarrusophone with range and transposition charts and musical examples.  The inclusion of musical examples sets this text apart from most others, but unfortunately the examples presented are from Josef Holbrooke’s Apollo and the Seaman, which has only been performed twice, both times around the time of this books original publication and offer the Orchestrator little in the way of how the instrument can truly function.


Gevaert, F. A.  A New Treatise on Instrumentation.  Paris:  Henri Lemoine & C.

Intended to be a supplement to Berlioz’s treatise, Gevaert gives a treatise that depicts orchestral usage at the end of the Nineteenth century.  This differs only slightly from Berlioz due to its inclusion of newer instruments (Saxophone, Sarrusophone, and the Wagner Instruments) and newer composers (Wagner).  Whereas the Saxophone is only briefly mentioned in Berlioz the instrument is given full coverage due to its, although still rather limited, inclusion in several important works of the time.  The same cannot be said of the Sarrusophone.  Whereas Berlioz makes no mention of it (due to the instrument was invented over a decade after he completed his Treatise) Gevaert only mentions briefly the members of the family, ranges and transpositions.  Like all French (or in the case Belgium) composers/orchestrators of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, he predicts that the Contrabass will soon replace the Contrabassoon with no reason to regret.


Gorgerat, Gérald.  Encyclopédie de la Musique pour instruments á vent.  Paris: Éditions Recontre Lausanne, 1955.

This is a French encyclopedia of wind instruments.  Very little of note is to be found on the Sarrusophone in this text.  However three of the members of the family are illustrated: the Soprano, Bass, and E-flat Contrabass.  This entry also mentions the one and only time that the entire family been used in a composition namely Chorale et Musette of Gounod.


Grainger, Percy.  Hill Song Nr. 1.  Vienna: Universal Edition, 2002.

This is the full score to the second scoring of Grainger’s Hill Song 1, which is the only work know that uses either the Sopranino Sarrusophone or the Tenor Sarrusophone.  Grainger gives advice to the conductor in the preface to not try and subdue the natural reediness of the Sarrusophones and Saxophones and that they should be played with plenty of vibrato.  In the case of their absence the Sopranino can be replaced by a second Oboe and the Tenor by either a Bass Oboe or a Heckelphone.  No performance with the original Sarrusophone parts has ever been given.


Grainger, Percy.  “Possibilities of the Concert Wind Band from the Standpoint of a Modern Composer” Metronome Orchestra Monthly 34/11, November 1918: 22-23

This article (reprinted in Grainger on Music, eds. Malcolm Gillies and Bruce Clunies Ross) outlines Grainger philosophies on scoring for the Wind Band.  Many of his thoughts are taken from Clappé’s treatise.  His general idea is that complete families of instruments should be present in the modern band.  This means all sizes of Clarinet from E-flat down to Contrabass, Oboe, English Horn and Bass Oboe/Heckelphone, fives sizes of Saxophones (including Soprano and Bass) and six Sarrusophones.  With these additions the woodwind section would have a proper bass disassociated from the brass sound of the tuba.  It is quite unfortunate that Grainger never fulfilled his own prophecy.


Harlow, Lewis A.  “Then I Had Five Sarrusophones.”  The Instrumentalist

This is a wonderful article about the use of a Sarrusophone quintet (Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass, and E-flat Contrabass) by a Boston Shiners band in the 1920’s.  The author describes how the instruments arrived after being shipped in a crate from France.  The sound description of the instruments if wonderful: “like a string quartet playing continuously sforzando on genuine Stradivarius instruments.”  Special note is made to the reeds.  The instruments were originally supplied with five reeds each.  The players were told that there were no more where they came from so several adapted English Horn, Bassoon, and Contrabassoon reeds to work, while one player learned to make his own.  In the area of literature the author describes how the quintet would often play transcriptions of Renaissance madrigals being that the tone of the Sarrusophones reminded the players of the Renaissance Schalmey-Pommer bands.  The author also talks about the Soprano Sarrusophone, which at the time of purchase had been discontinued.  Also provided with the article is a photo of the ensemble.  This is one of the few photos in existence that show all the members (save the extremities) in relation to each other and to the players.


Horwood, Wally. “Brief moments of Glory.”  Crescendo International 22: 8 Mar – Apr 1985: 8.

Horwood’s follow-up article to his “Grappling with the Past” gives the full story behind Sydney Bechet’s one-time use of the Sarrusophone in his recording of “Mandy Make up Your Mind.”  Evidently, Bechet saw the instrument in a pawnshop on the way to a gig, and after playing the gig on the Sarrusophone he promptly returned the instrument to the pawnshop.  Also included is a mention of the early dance band The Savoy Orpheans who apparently used a Sarrusophone as part of their general instrumentation.


Horwood, Wally. “Grappling with the past.”  Crescendo International June/July 1984: 4.

This is a short article musing about old instruments namely the Ophicleide.  The author does make some note of the Sarrusophone and mentions that at the time the Dutch firm of Schenkelaars was producing a Tenor Sarrusophone “with a beautiful sound between the bassoon and saxophone.”


Jolivet, Michael.  “The Sarrusophone, A lecture and Demonstration.”  International Double Reed Society Annual Convention.  The Banff Centre Music & Sound Program, Max Bell Auditorium.  August 6, 2002

Dr. Jolivet, a Veterinarian with a love for Double Reed instruments especially the Sarrusophone, presents a wonderful lecture on the instrument with some exquisite playing.  While six sizes were present at the lecture only the Bass Sarrusophone was played which has a sound like a Violoncello played with the attack of a reed instrument.  Almost all music is a transcription from some other instrument.  Some information and history of the instrument is given, but primarily it is Jolivet’s playing on show here.  This is probably the first solo recital for the Sarrusophone. Hopefully, more will follow.


Jolivet, Michael, Robert Richart.  “The Sarrusophone” The Double Reed Vol. 8, No. 2, 1985.

This is a general essay on the Sarrusophone with some information on the history and use of the instruments.  Of special note is the inclusion of the name of Emile Coyon, one of the first Sarrusophonists from the 1860’s.  Also included are detailed diagrams of the reed for the E-flat Contrabass including overall measurements and blade thickness.  Also included is a brief bibliography.


Joppig, Gunther.  Die Entwicklung der Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente von 1850 bis heute und ihre Verwendung in Orchester-und Kammermusik.  Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Das Musikinstrument, 1980.

This book on the double reed instruments since 1850 includes one of the most detailed surveys of the Sarrusophone.  Included are many detailed pictures of the Soprano and Contrabass with much focus placed upon key work and maker’s labels.  The Soprano is placed side-by-side with a Soprano Saxophone to give some idea of the bore difference between the two families.  Also included is an excerpt from a modern German score including the Contrabass and a graphic portraying the bores of the higher double reed instruments (Oboe, Oboe d’Amore, English Horn, Musette, Soprano Sarrusophone and Soprano Saxophone).  Some information on the production of these instruments is given.


Joppig, Gunther.  The Oboe and the Bassoon.  Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1988.

This is one of the more scholarly books on the double reed family written by one of the world foremost authorities on double reed instruments.  The author not only is a scholar on the subject of the Sarrusophone he is an avid performer on the instrument as seen in a photo of him participating in a performance upon the instrument.    This book contains the longest entry on the Sarrusophone of any book currently available including history, manufacturing, and use.  Also included is a (although rather illegible) fingering chart for the Alto and Tenor Sarrusophones.  Every member (except the Sopranino, Bass, and CC and BB-flat Contrabasses) is show in photographs, and some photos show them in actual performance.  Only CC and BB-flat Contrabasses are not pictured.  Also, there are two musical excerpts for the Sarrusophone from Stravinsky’s Threni and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.


Joppig, Gunther.  “Sarrusophone, Rothophone (Saxorusophone) and Reed Contrabass” The Journal of the International Double Reed Society No. 17, 1989.

The German scholar Joppig gives his most detailed account of the Sarrusophone in this article about all of the various metal double reed instruments of the Nineteenth Century.  A long introduction is given giving the state of the French military band and its unbalanced nature.  The long section on the Sarrusophone encompasses history, manufacture, performance, and use in bands.  Very little time is spent on the orchestral literature or its use past the 1920’s.  Various quotes dating from the latter part of the Nineteenth Century show in great detail the rise and sudden decline in the use of the whole family.  Of particular note is an illustration taken from the original patent and compared side by side with Adolph Sax’s patent for the Saxophone.  This article also contains information on two close relatives of the Sarrusophone, the Rothophone, and the Reed Contrabass.  The former is essentially a narrow bore rewrapped Sarrusophone that has the appearance of a Saxophone.  The latter is a wide bore Contrabass instrument with simple fingerings intended for use in large military bands.


Kear, Madeline.  “the Sarrusophone Returns…”  International Film Music Services.  July 7, 2001. <;

This is an interview with David Chatterton, professor of Contrabassoon at the Royal Academy of music in London and Sarrusophonist.  His instrument is a new CC Contrabass with a redesigned body and key work made by Benedikt Eppelsheim.  Chatterton plays the instrument in the movie The Mummy Returns as well as a recent recording of Stravinsky’s Threni.


Kiefer, Thomas.  “Anmerkungen zur Produktion von Sarrusophonen bie der Firma Buffet-Crampon.”  Tibia Vol. 15, No. 2, 1990: 112-120.

This is a wonderful article presenting the history of Sarrusophone production by the firm of Buffet-Crampon who produced the instrument from 1903 to 1925.  Included are many illustrations and charts.  Of note is a copy of a price list from 1907 which includes not only the whole family of instruments from Sopranino to BB-flat Contrabass but also a range of accessories including cases, reeds, and bocals.  Also included is an American ad from 1932 (after the production run had ended) for the six “normal” sizes.  Detailed pictures give some idea of the key work and show four original reeds for Alto, Tenor, Bass, and Contrabass.  The most unique feature is the chart showing the production of instruments year by year and what instruments were manufactured.  It turns out that only two Sopraninos, three CC Contrabasses, and three BB-flat Contrabasses were made by this company.  The fact that there are so few CC Contrabasses is surprising, as this was the French “orchestral” Contrabassoon.


Kling, H.  Modern Orchestration and Instrumentation.  Boston: Carl Fischer, Inc., 1905.

This is an orchestration treatise originally written in German and translated into English from the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The entry on the Sarrusophone is only half a page long and mainly consists of range excerpts.  The unique aspect of this book however is the full page of an arrangement of the Fantasia in C minor for Piano by Mozart for Sarrusophone sextet consisting of B-flat Soprano, E-flat Alto, B-flat Tenor, E-flat Baritone, B-flat Bass, and BB-flat Contrabass.  The Sarrusophone is only talked about in the realm of wind band composition and never as an orchestral instrument.


Langwill, Lyndsay G.  The Bassoon and Contrabassoon.  New York:  W W Norton & Company Inc., 1965.

This is one of the primary sources for bassoon information.  Unfortunately the Sarrusophone seems to be somewhat slighted being relegated to the section on unsuccessful 19th century Contrabassoon models.  It does however give a reference to Saint-Saëns having an instrument built at his own expense for the production of one of his operas.  It does have some useful background sources in the chapter’s bibliography.


Leruste, Roger.  “Le Sarrusophone” Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire.  Paris: C. Delagrave.  1929.

The entry by Leruste in Lavignac’s Encyclopedia is the single most influential document on the Sarrusophone ever written.  M. Laruste was the Sarrusophonist for l’Orchestre de l’Opera-Comique in the early part of the Twentieth century.  At this time the Sarrusophone was still very much a part of French orchestrations.  Diagrams of all sizes of instrument are given as well as a half size diagram of all nine sizes of reeds from Sopranino to BB-flat Contrabass.  A three octave fingering chart for the Alto and Tenor instruments give more notes than does any other source (though whether or not the instruments are actually capable of performing these is doubtful).   Many pages of orchestral excerpts (with full orchestration) are presented to give the composer some idea of how to use the Contrabass (usually the orchestra C instrument).  This entry can also be found in an English translation by Michael Jolivet in The Double Reed Vol. 24, No. 3, 2001.


Lowe, George.  Josef Holbrook and His Work.  London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.  1920.

Josef (Joseph) Holbrook (AKA “The Cockney Wagner”) is one of a lost generation of British composers who were quite popular around 1900 and were never heard from again.  His work, Apollo and the Seaman, has one of the most celebrated Sarrusophone parts in the literature if only for its inclusion in Forsyth’s Orchestration and Beecham’s autobiography.  This unique piece (the first ever to use a multimedia presentation in 1907) has only been performed twice both times in the early decades of the Twentieth Century.  Lowe tries to rally a cause for Holbrooke in this book published during the composer’s lifetime but to no avail.  In this book however we do learn some thing about the Sarrusophone and its part in Apollo and the Seaman.  Whereas Beecham leaves his struggling Sarrusophonist nameless with Lowe we learn his name is M. Doloville.  It also seems that the parts for the Sarrusophones (Alto and E-flat Contrabass) are marked ad lib. in the score but seem to have quite important parts that would be completely missing if the instruments were not present.  This is a work that is screaming out to be played, if not for it being a masterpiece of music, then at least for its historic import of multimedia.


Miller, Roy M.  Practical Instrumentation for the Wind Band.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963.

This short text on instrumentation gives a rather warm description of the Sarrusophone.  While this book does not add anything new to the knowledge of the Sarrusophone it does seem to skew the normal Sarrusophone timeline.  Namely, that when this book was printed (1963) the Sarrusophone, by most accounts, was a thing of the past.  This book, however, lists it as being a viable resource available to a select few bands.


Mimart, Paul.  Method for Alto and Bass Clarinets and Sarrusophones.  Boston: The Cundy-Bettoney Co. 1922.

Although others were written, notably by Coyon and Laruste, this is the only available method book for the Sarrusophone.  A brief summary of the instrument is given along with a fingering chart.  Unfortunately the etudes are not numerous and rather simplistic in nature employing only the key of C.  As far as etudes, a Sarrusophonist would do well to use a Saxophone or Oboe method book.  A new book on this subject would be most welcome.


Ravel, Maurice.  Daphnis and Chloe.  New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1989.

This is a great example showing the interchangeability in the French vocabulary of Contrebasson and Sarrusophone.  The instrumentation page and all headings read Contrabassoon (C.Basson or C.Bon).  However, on page 14 at rehearsal number nine where the third Bassoon and Contra share their line for the first time the abbreviation “Sarr.” appears attached to the lower part (Contra).   This shows that in Ravel’s mind, the two instruments were synonymous in 1912 as the French Contrabassoon had yet to have been perfected.  This throws into light the question of whether all of Ravel’s and all other French Impressionist composer’s Contrabassoon parts were initially intended for Sarrusophone.


Read, Gardner.  Style and Orchestration.  New York: Schirmer Books, 1979.

This is a text on various composers’ use of orchestration.  With regards to the Sarrusophone, little can be said although use of the instrument is given brief mention in the works of Debussy, Delius, and Stravinsky.


Slattery, Thomas C.  Percy Grainger: The Inveterate Innovator.  Evanston, IL: The Instrumentalist Co., 1974.

While this biography does not shed any new light onto the Sarrusophone itself it does give us a glimpse into Grainger’s fondness for the instrument.  The Sarrusophone is mentioned twice in the text.  The first reference is that Grainger often practiced his Tenor Sarrusophone on the third floor of his new White Plains, NY home.  The second mention is photographic.  One of the photo plates shows Grainger, his wife Ella, and the conductor William Durieux playing respectively the Soprano (or Sopranino), Tenor, and Contrabass (size cannot be determined from the picture, but it is presumably in E-flat) Sarrusophones.  Incidentally, included on the same page is a photo of Ella playing the Staff Bells which Grainger included in so many compositions.


Rogers, R. Mark.  “The Hill-songs of Percy Aldridge Grainger an Historical and Analytic Study With a New performance Edition.”  Dissertation.  University of Texas at Austin, 1987.

Rodgers gives quite an in depth look into the Hill Songs of Percy Grainger with particular interest to the First Hill Song.  Hill Song 1, in the later 1922/23 scoring, contains parts for both Sopranino and Tenor Sarrusophones.  Rodgers gives detailed information on these parts and states that this version is almost never played due to the inclusion of the Sarrusophone parts (neither version is frequently heard although they are true masterworks by the composer).


Wagner, Joseph.  Band Scoring.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1960.

A somewhat out of date text written to give a general idea of how a traditional concert band works (most of the ideas are geared toward transcription).  The author briefly mentions the Sarrusophone as an occasional substitute for the Contrabassoon and mentions the geographical use of the E-flat (USA) and C (France) contrabasses.  On a down side, the transposition for the E-flat Contrabass is wrong.  The book lists the range as being one octave higher that it actually is putting it in unison with the Baritone Saxophone.


Widor, Charles-Marie.  The Technique of the Modern Orchestra.  London: Joseph Williams Limited, 1946.

Written by the great organist and noted composer Widor, this book gives one of the most glowing descriptions of the Sarrusophone.  In can be inferred from Widor’s writing that, at the time of original publication (1906), the French Contrabassoon was a weak and dismal instrument.  Widor states that the Sarrusophone is far superior on all counts.  His treatment of the other members of the family is not so kind stating that their range is better suited by the Saxophones.  However, he states that the Bass Saxophone is a poor instrument and the Contrabass Sarrusophone should be employed instead.  Of particular note is the attention paid to articulation and breath sustaining power.  He however stated erroneously that the Bassoon and Sarrusophone share like fingerings, they do not.  In addition to Widor’s writing the British composer Gordon Jacob adds an appendix in which he states that the Sarrusophone is still largely unknown in England and notes the vast improvements to the modern Contrabassoon.


Within the last few years the Sarrusophone has started a revival and is attracting new players and composers, yet little reliable information is to be had on performance practices on the instrument.  If the instrument is the be made a viable tone color for future performers and composers the following materials are desperately needed: an in depth method book focusing on the idiosyncrasies of the Sarrusophone, an orchestral and bad excerpt book, reordering of all the members of the family (only Contrabass and Tenor recordings are available commercially), and a company to take the giant step and produce high quality instruments with modern keywork.  While the last suggestion is merely a pipe dream, the method book, excerpt book, and recordings are quite feasible by anyone with the proper knowledge of the instrument.  These wonderful instruments should not be treated as odd museum curiosities but as viable instruments worth of a place in our modern ensembles.

Sarrusophones Part 2 – Sarrusophones in the Band

A year ago, I posted about the Sarrusophones.  However, I only wrote about them in a cursory manner.  Today I will give them a deeper look.

Several years back, I did some extensive research into the history, literature, technique, and compositional possibilities of the Sarrusophones.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read and studied every word ever written on Sarrusophones in 4 different languages (English, French, German, and Italian).

I hadn’t thought much about them as viable instruments until a thought struck me today.  I’ll get back to that thought in a bit.  The main potential of the Sarrusophones is that they form a continuous family from Soprano to Contrabass of similar double reed sounds – something the oboe and bassoon families cannot do.

In general, only the Contrabass is available.  But, I’d like to think about the possibilities of a larger ensemble.  After all, this blog is nothing else but the exploration of possibilities.

This is where I had my idea today.  The sarrusophone, singular, appears in far more common scores than does another rare instrument, the Wagner Tuben.  However, the Wagner Tuben always get played on that instrument and the sarrusophone is scrapped.  True, the Contrabassoon can cover the notes, but it cannot cover the sound.  We would never think of using a Horn to play Wagner Tuben parts.  Wagner conceived of his new instruments as the sound of a magical place (Valhalla).  Bruckner used them as a vision of heaven.  And here is where the sarrusophone comes in.  The sarrusophone is no vision of the beauty of an otherworldly realm, but a vision of something maleficent and evil – a glimpse into Hell itself.

Wagner used a quintet of four Wagner Tuben and on Contrabass Tuba.  I envision something something similar with five sarrusophones.

  1. E-flat Alto Sarrusophone
  2. B-flat Tenor Sarrusophone
  3. E-flat Baritone Sarrusophone
  4. B-flat Bass Sarrusophone
  5. E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone

A smaller group of just a single Bass and Contrabass Sarrusophone could add a lot of punch to the low end of the winds.

Note: I have left out the Soprano and Sopranino from these lists.  Soprano might be more common than either the Alto or the Tenor, but I have no knowledge of how it sounds.  I’ve looked for years to find it.  My best guess is that like a lot of instruments, intonation of the higher species is far more suspect than it is in the lower instruments.  Sopranino is almost unheard of.  Perhaps less than 10 of these instruments were ever made.  With the lowest member, the B-flat Contrabass, all that anyone seems to know about it is the lone picture of one that exists in Baines’ Woodwind Instruments and their History.  A surviving example has not surfaced in decades.

To get the most effect out of the sarrusophones, they should be played senza vibrato to contrast the oboes and bassoons who are almost always warmed by the effect.

As an ensemble, the sarrusophones can cut through the mass of woodwinds with their rough and racous texture, even more so than the saxophones.  Imagine a whirling texture where all the woodwinds are blazing, their fingers flying, and out of the clamor, the sound of 5 sarrusophones in a sinister harmony rise up to open a window into a pit of musical fire.

Doubling between other instruments is possible, but it will always be a toss-up as to whether or not it will be played by a bassoonist or a saxophonist.  Ideally, the player plays all three instruments.

Yes, sarrusophones are still very rare, but they are out there.  The players who have them are fanatics for something new and exciting to play.

Save for the mechanism of the low B-flat, and the method of production of the upper half octave, the fingerings are exactly the same as all saxophones (though with less of the interconnecting mechanisms like the articulated G-sharp).

One last note.  I have in my possession an article about a band from Boston in the 1920s (Aleppo Shrine I believe) that had a section of 5 sarrusophones (Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass, and Contrabass).  The author describes the sound of the instruments as equivalent to a string quartet playing genuine Stradivarius instruments at a constant sforzando. I have yet to hear this sound.