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 instruments


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. 

The Catalogue

As mentioned before, the catalogue I created was an approach to the subject of small bassoons. I wanted to know how many they were, in what conditions and if there were variety and quantity of instruments to study. The ideal research would be having the means to travel around the world and visit the most important museums looking for those instruments. That though, was still out of my reach.

For people unfamiliar with the instruments, it is possible to click on the photos below. They are linked to the website source. Information such as measurements, crooks, details of the instrument, etc., can also be found on the table attached. 

First contacts with a copy of a fagottino

Advantages/ comparison with baroque bassoon:

  • Good range on the fagottino/ rather high register in a regular baroque bassoon.
  • Less stressed sound because fagottino is playing an octave lower/ tenor register on baroque bassoon is more difficult because of fingerings and sound production.
  • Smaller and lighter instrument/ we ussually use a neck strap on the regular sized bassoon and we need more space to play it.


When I was starting this research I was aware of going to a quite unexplored field. Of course there are not many texts or researchs on instruments that are not used today in the HIPP, that it is the case for the smaller-sized bassoons. They are not used either in a performative or pedagogical way. One of the main missions of this research is planting the seed of interest and love for the instruments, heading to further research and hopefully spreading the small bassoons. It would be ideal to play that hidden repertoire never performed before, and to have a great tool to initiate children on historical bassoon playing.

By the elaboration of the catalogue, there is a clear answer on the number of instruments on the collections around the world. Even with the limited amount of sources I could consult online, I could find many more instruments that what I was thinking on the beginning of the research. It is left for the future to explore those collections which are not online or even catalogued in museums. Due to this amount of instruments, it is clear that there was a common practice of playing and teaching on these instruments. It give us also the idea that the bassoon family had more possibilities and colours than nowadays. By making this catalogue, I also realised the fact that it can be really useful for other people that want to research more about the subject, and also for players and builders to have a handy document where the most important information can be checked with no need of going to many different sources.

This research also changed the point of view that I had towards the bassoon repertoire, not only on the music specifically written for small bassoons. Before thinking about the possibility of the use of smaller bassoons for regular bassoon repertoire, when I checked or looked to certain pieces I thought they were badly written or unnecessarily difficult. After I thought on the possibility of using a smaller bassoon (like a tenoroon), most of the difficulties are gone and suddenly the piece makes sense in every way. I cannot see a better example as Beethoven's trio WoO 37, mentioned before on this research. This piece would be ideally performed on a tenoroon in G. Although there are many more examples from the baroque to early romantic music.

Another of the main points of this research was the self-experimentation on a fagottino. I could clear up many details as setting up and playing the instrument. The goal of this part of the research can be heard on the presentation. I hope this encourages colleagues and early instruments lovers and pedagogues to keep researching the interesting world of the smaller-sized bassoons. Only by playing the instruments and the pieces written for them, we will be able to enlarge the repertoire and contribute to the enrichment of the sound of our current Early Music world.

Repertoire and Performers


The repertoire has two main points of discussion. There are few pieces specified for fagottino (octave-bassoon, quart-bassoon…) that have been preserved. The second group of pieces are those considered written for the normal-sized bassoon, because there is not specification of the usage of a smaller bassoon as Kopp mentions.9 After studying those pieces and with the possibilities of the bassoon of the time in mind, the absence of really low notes and the added difficulty of the continuous high register playing, hint that the performance was possibly done on a smaller bassoon.

About the pieces with a specified small –sized bassoon in the scoring we have several surviving examples. Steffen Voss writes about Johann Mattheson’s (1681 – 1764) oratorio, Das Größte in dem Kleinen, where there is an aria “Wenn Satan und Hölle” which calls for fagottini doubling violas.10 Also Friedrich Zachow (1663 – 1712) scored two bassonetti in the cantata “Dies ist der Tag”11, a score I have not yet access. H. Jean Hedlund found a manuscript in Zickau and published an article about it.12 He writes about a piece by Johann Kaspar Trost, Parthia no. IV. Both, piece and composer have unclear precedence even with serious doubts if the composer was Trost or Frost.13 The piece is scored for 2 corni in C’, 2 Fagotti = octavo, 2 Fagotti = quarto and 2 fagotti. Hedlund place the piece somewhere in the XVIII century because it has already features from Classical music such as a Menuet with Trio as a 3rd movement and crescendo and decrescendo markings.14 



















According to Kopp, the bassoon family was being used in many parts of Europe. For example, there are records of small-sized bassoons in the Danish royal oboe band and there was surely music written for the group. Kopp also mentions that Keiser had composed two suites for eight bassoons that he offered to the Württemberg Court, which owned a quint-bassoon around 1720’s.15 In the late XVIII century, Jakob Baur a clarinet builder, reed and sheet music supplier, advertised music for small bassoons. Later in time and further away from Europe, U. K. Hill published “Gov. Sullivan’s March” in New York in 1807. The score was set for two clarinets, tenoroon and bassoon.16 

Klaus Hubmann suggested that the tenor bassoon was used freely when considered necessary or more comfortable.17 So, it was not specified but the performer had the freedom to choose which instrument. Some good examples are the three sonatas by Dürnitz and other works by Ritter, Malzat, Stamitz and Pfeiffer. Another remarkable example would be the Sonata K. 292 by Mozart which bassoon part only reaches a F2, being possible to be played on a tenoroon.18

In later music, there are two pieces by Beethoven that are awkwardly written for a normal-sized bassoon of the time.19 One of them is the “Romance cantabile in e minor” for flute bassoon, piano with orchestra accompaniment (only strings and two oboes). This incomplete piece displays a bassoon part which is only reaching the low F#2 and reaching more than once the high B4, a note that was not in the common practice of the time. The other one is the "Trio for flute, bassoon and piano" WoO 37 that even reaches the high C4 and plays around in this register. We see that also the lowest notes are similar to the Romance reaching generally an F#2. The Variation III of the last movement though, reaches both low D2 and low E2 and I could not yet find an explanation for that. Neither the sources that I am consulting make a point about that.


My colleague and friend Giovanni B. Graziadio discovered a letter by Boccherini tohis editor Vernier about publishing his quintets (ca. 1771) . In that letter Boccherini wrote that he was obliged to write his quintets G265-270, G 277-282, G 289-294 with two violoncelli. Apart from that, he asks Vernier to transpose (adapt) the first violoncello part to an instrument of his choice, suggesting the viola or bassoon. He trusted in the skills by Vernier to do it himself according to his taste and the market.

Concerning performers the I could find only limited information. There is of course material about the pedagogical use. Georg Gotthelf Liebeskind was the son of a bassoonist from Altenburg. Georg learnt the bassoon so early as to become a skilled player at the age of eight. Carl Bärmann is known for being one of Ritter’s pupils (Mozart wrote his solo bassoon pieces for Ritter). W. Waterhouse mentions that Bärmann was taught by Ritter on the tenor bassoon when he was ten years old.20 Heading into the XIX century, Almenräder described pedagogical use. He recommended starting teaching a pupil with a quart-bassoon and then switching to the big bassoon when the hands and fingers were able.21 

In the meantime, some soloists were giving concerts in Europe with small-sized bassoons. Among them we find names such as: Reickmans and Espaignet in Bordeaux in the 1830’s; Jancourt's recitals recitals in Paris just before the turn to 1840’s with an instrument by Savary tuned in Eb.22 Pagnocelli was a bassoonist from Naples who was successfully performing in Italy and France in the 1870’s on a tenoroon in G. Some years after that, E. F. James from England was occasionally using the tenoroon as a solo instrument.23 

I borrowed a copy of a Denner Baroque fagottino made by the instrument maker G. Wolf. It is a surprisingly small instrument in a compact case with some accessories, but no reeds included. It is important to mention that the instrument is in 440hz, having some disadvantages that will be discussed later. I decided to start testing it with my old modern bassoon reeds but I would not start altering them until after recording these informal videos included here.

It is good to mention that at first controlling the sound and intonation of the instrument did not seem as difficult as I expected, even with notes that are out of tune in these videos that I made the first day. As the reed setting was not known in advance, I thought that I would have to experiment further once I got to know the instrument better. With the full-sized baroque bassoon I had spent months to reach a convincing reed set-up.  

These pictures show the first experiments changing modern bassoon reed to what I suspected could work for the fagottino and a comparation between both instruments. Processing a reed from the beginning with smaller dimensions was not possible for me, but I had a lot of modern bassoon reeds from my past. The first quality that had to be corrected was the tube and the link to the crook, which was considerably smaller. So I cut some material of the back of the reed and used new wires for the new crook dimensions. With that, strange air fluctuations that hinders the emission of sound are avoided, something we fight against in the normal-sized bassoon too. Another problem to fix, was the intonation and response in the extreme registers. That needed two steps, that according to my previous experience: scraping the reed in order to make it lighter and find a compromise between the typical bassoon shape and the oboe shape (more straight from the throat to the tip of the reed).


A pedagogical encounter

In the meantime, I wanted to observe how a child who played the bassoon already would behave and react when confronting an instrument such as this Denner fagottino. On tour with The Orchestra of the 18th Century I met Antonio Clares who mentioned that his daughter had played the regular-sized modern bassoon for two years. Inés Clares is 9 years old and it was hard to believe she could play and enjoy playing a modern bassoon at her age, but she does. When she first saw the instrument, she was really excited; she had never seen anything like it before. I gave her the experimental reeds to try and she felt more comfortable with the lighter one. I believe the best way to discover an instrument is through pure experimentation, so I took some time before giving her instructions but recorded her trials.

It was difficult to finish the session, as I had the impression she would have like to play for hours. Then she verbally expressed how much she enjoyed the instrument. It made me realise that because she enjoyed so much, she faced the difficulties of the historical instruments in a really natural and comprehensive way. Would this be the best way to introduce children to playing the baroque bassoon? I believe so.



BAINES, ANTHONY, Woodwind Instruments and their History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1957)


BERLIOZ, HECTOR, Grand Traité d’Instrumentation et d’Orchestration Modernes (Paris: Schonenberger, 1843–44). Translated by Mary Cowden Clarke, 1858)


HUBMANN, KLAUS, ‘Hoch gestimmte Fagotte (Tenorfagotte) in der Musik vom späten 16. bis zum späten 18. Jahrhundert’, in Christian Ahrens und Gregor Klinke (ed.), Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette und Fagott: Holzbalsinstrumente bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (Tage Alter Musik in Herne 2008; München–Salzburg: Katzbichler, 2011).


HEDLUND, H. JEAN, ‘Ensemble Music for Small Bassoons’, Galpin Society Journal, xi (1958), 78–84.


KOPP, JAMES B., The Bassoon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).


LANGWILL, LYNDESAY G., The Bassoon and the Contrabassoon (London: Ernest Benn, 1965).


VOSS, STEFFEN, ‘Die Verwendung der Holzblasinstrumente in Werken Hamburger Opernkomponisten der Barockzeit’, in Christian Ahrens und Gregor Klinke (ed.), Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette und Fagott: Holzbalsinstrumente bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (Tage Alter Musik in Herne 2008; München–Salzburg: Katzbichler, 2008).


Interviews and skype sessions with Giovanni Battista Graziadio and Donna Agrell (2015 - 2017)

As shown in these clips, I could manage something which was far from being perfect but enough to investigate the qualities of the instrument. On that first day I could reach the following range (Bb2 – F5) but I believed with the proper reed dimensions and scraping, the high register could be extended and its intonation improved. Regarding the fingerings, I did not have to invest much time in them as the normal baroque bassoon fingerings worked perfectly on it, except for the high notes which feltslightly low and dark. I imagined I could not blame the fingerings, but the reed style and dimensions were making things much more complicated.

To approach this new instrument, I had to be aware of certain aspects and try to unlink all the common normal-sized bassoon practice from my brain. First of all, I realised that I was approaching a 4-foot instrument, as opposed to an 8-foot instrument that is the regular-sized bassoon. So the next thing to work on was adapting, building and using a reed that fit a 4-foot instrument. As said before and seen in the videos, my first trials on the instrument were done on a modern bassoon reed. A modern bassoon reed is much smaller and harder than a baroque one, and the tube and throat of the reeds are built to play one octave lower.

I felt she was really having a good time, in addition to the great talent I think she has. She was already asking questions and only thinking other thing about playing this tiny instrument. I decided to give her the first clear instructions, also explaining the differences of fingerings (do not forget the fact that she was approaching it from the modern bassoon point of view, where most of the fork figerings are replaced by keys). She could finally play a F major scale, something really difficult to achieve for a girl who has never tried a historical instrument before.  

Approaching a performance on a baroque fagottino

It was one of my main goals in this research, to be able to play a piece for my research presentation at an acceptable level. But there were several problems that I had to face in order to choose a piece. The first problem had to do with the characteristics of the Denner copy (Baroque style) I am using. That would not be a problem in normal circumstances, but it is tuned to 440 Hz. Other wind instruments that could play with me in the presentation were unable  because they are tuned in 415 Hz. 

I finally decided to perform a piece for bassoon that is suitable for the instrument, something I already discussed in the chapter “repertoire and performers”. Taking a look at several pieces that could be completely playable on the fagottino without arranging, I found the Six Sonatas op.3 by Luigi Merci (1695 – 1750). The first one is perfectly playable when transposing an octave lower on the fagottino. That means that the music would sound in the same octave but the color would be different. It would also prove that the practice of playing music which is regularly notated in high range for the bassoon, could be played on a smaller one. I must also mention that this practice was done more regularly using a tenoroon. I also found that some pieces composed by Jean-Daniel Braun and published in Paris in 1740 were ideally suited for the range of the fagottino. 

After working in both pieces, I found some advantages and disadvantages by playing them on fagottino:


  • Going into the low register requires fingering with thumbs, making passages and ornaments a bit more complicated.
  • Only suitable for pieces that comply a certain range or that are written for the instrument.
  • As bassoonist are used to play regular sized bassoon and the historical fagottino is not used nowadays, the performer needs time to build new reeds (process that can take even weeks) and getting used to the instrument.