The idea of this study was to collect information about smaller-sized bassoons found in the XVIII and XIX centuries and explore the pedagogical and performance possibilities using a replica. These instruments are not used at all in the modern Historical Performance Practice, that is one of the reasons for this research to be made. Berlioz talks about the "quint bassoon"1, and "Fagottino" in his treatise about orchestration and smaller bassoons called "tenor", "octave", and "quart” are described in James Kopp's book, The Bassoon.2
Today the modern "fagottino" is used to teach children, as the contemporary bassoon is too big and heavy. But it has been considered that in XVIII and XIX centuries they were used also in performance and pieces were written for them. What was the tradition of using these instruments? Is there a (lost) tradition using these instruments in the XVIII and XIX centuries? What are the musical and technical advantages and disadvantages of performing a piece with fagottino?
I collected data about known instruments and also located various titles which are scored specifically for fagottino. According to J. Kopp, some of the usual full sized bassoon repertoire was probably also played on a tenoroon or fagottino.3 It was impossible to get an instrument copied from a museum in the scope of this project but, I have managed to borrow a historical fagottino (octave-bassoon) copy to carry out practical artistic research in performance and pedagogy. I will try to get as close as possible to the contexts in which people used these instruments.
This research project is a mixed work: the written part has background information about instruments, titles and performers. A description of practical experimentation approaching one work with fagottino, as well as the observation of a young player’s first confrontation with the instrument is included. Researching this topic may give us more information about early bassoon performance practice and pedagogy.
The bassoon is curiously the result of folding the lower family of another instrument, the shawm. In the processions, the bass shawm needed two people for performance: one who played it and one who carried it. To deal with that problem sometime before the 1600’s the dulcian was invented and spread through Europe, from Italy. With the consort tradition (playing the same kind of instruments in different pitches), the dulcian is made in all the sizes and pitches from lower to higher. This tradition remained with the development of the bassoon, not only as consort tool (which was in misuse), but as a practical one. As Kopp says, they were easier for children to play; they were more manageable to transport and to play on horses and small spaces.4
The first thing I did was to gather all the data about instruments I could find on the internet, and from colleagues and collectors. Of course, it would have been ideal to travel to every instrument museum around the world but this was out of the question. Finally, I created a table with more than 30 instruments and all known information about them. The catalogue can be viewed in the attached table and some examples are displayed in the next chapter.
There are surviving instruments from the beginning of the 1700’s until the middle of the 1800's. I found mainly French, German and English instruments with some exceptions. Some of them were built by very famous instrument builders like: Rothenburgh, Grenser family…; some others are by less known builders and there are quite a lot of experiments. There were attempts to create different ranges, sounds or facilitating the performance for players of other instruments than bassoon. For practical reasons I have only included those which have all the characteristics to be considered a bassoon in the catalogue.
This bring us to the discussion about small bassoons. This subject has been hardly considered since Anthony Baines’ book Woodwind Instruments and their History from 1957. The English organologist mentioned the large number of surviving smaller bassoons from the 1700s in his work about woodwind instruments but did not go far enough to give an explanation for the quantity of instruments, or reasons for their existence:
"A surprising number of small bassoons, both English and Continental, have survived from the eighteenth century. Some are octave-bassoons, or fagottini, about 25 inches tall and an octave above the ordinary, while others are tenoroons, usually build in G (rather than in F as later) and about 33 inches tall. Yet they do not seem to have been used in music. No source mentions them as being so used, even in local bands, and they do not appear in scores. . . . "5
Berlioz also mentions the quint-bassoon in his orchestration treatise:
“The basson-quinte is a diminutive of the preceding (bassoon); and its pitch is a fifth higher. It has about the same compass; and, like it, is written upon two clefs,-but transposing:-
Which produces in real sounds the following scale:-
The basson-quinte occupies the same position above the bassoon as does the corno inglese below the hautboy. The corno inglese should be written a fifth above the real sound, and the basson-quinte a fifth below; therefore the basson-quinte will play in F when the bassoons play in C, and in G when they are in D, &c. There is no such instrument in the generality of orchestras, where the corno inglese replaces it advantageously in its two upper octaves. Its quality of tone has less feeling, but more force than that of the corno inglese, and would be of excellent effect in military music. It is a great pity, and very detrimental to wind instrument bands, where masses of large and small bassoons might soften the harshness of its sound, that the bassoon-quinte should be entirely excluded from them.”6
These two references open a debate on the usage of the instrument in the music of the time. This will be later discussed by L. Langwill and J. Kopp with their discoveries about repertoire and players, also treated in this research. But what can be said now is that an article by Berlioz in his orchestration treatise proves that the instrument was used and known. Two main reasons: He writes a separate chapter about this instrument and he mentions that the instrument was not “usual in orchestras”. I can understand from the sentence that a few of them had tenoroons; anyway we must not forget that it is an orchestration treatise and chamber music is omitted.
According to Kopp, well-known baroque builders who made the surviving octave bassoons were I. C. Denner, C. A. Grenser, Kuteruf, Müller and Scherer. There is a surviving tenor bassoon in Prague by C. Schramme. Some of these instruments are mentioned in the catalogue of classical and romantic instruments that I compiled. From the classical era we can find octave bassoons by Bühner & Keller, Collings, Custodi, Delusse, H. Grenser, Jacoby, M. Lot, G. A. Rottenburgh and J. Schlegel. In the classical case we have a few more tenoroons existing by Adler, G. Babb, Blockley, Cahusac, J. S. Eisenbrandt, Gerock, H. Grenser, Hirsbrunner, I. Kraus, Peale, Saxton, Tauber, Tölcke, Tuerlinckx and Wussinger.7
There are surviving romantic instruments that evolved in the key system just as the bassoon did and even tenoroons with an early Boehm system. The builders of the preserved octave bassoons were Dupré, Hawkes & Son, Leiberz, Proff, Savary jeune, Stehle and G. Wood. The tenor bassoons are branded by Evette & Schaeffer, Gautrot, Hawkes & Son, Kies [Küss], Marzoli, W. Milhouse, Morton, de Rosa and Savary jeune. J. Kopp also mentions that Douglas B. Moore cited a tenoroon by Pelitti of Milan.8
The differences among all the surviving instruments known depend on the builder’s nationality, the time that it was built and the new techniques applied on the construction. Because of the limited amount of hours and the impossibility of a closer study of the instruments, I will not explain all those differences. In any case, a small bassoon is a small reproduction of a big one, sometimes with minor changes.