Contrabass Digest

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list                           Sat, 16 May 1998           Volume 1 : Number 75

In this issue:


Date: Fri, 15 May 1998 20:12:05 -0500
From: "Philip Newton" <>
To: <>
Subject: contrabass in orchestra

I figure it is about time to introduce myself.  I have been suscribing for
a couple of months now.  I play bassoon and baritone sax, and for some
strange reason I'm writing a symphony.  I think the general instrumentation
would appeal to about everyone on the list.  I am writing for bass and
contrabass (C) flute, bass oboe, two contra-alto and two contrabass
clarinets, bass sax, two contrabassoons, and eight sarrusophones (plus).
Also, can anyone comment on Percy Grainger's use of sarrusophone?  If
anyone has any comments they would readily accepted (its so rare that
anyone I know has even heard of a sarrusophone).  BTW, I think the
sarrusophone list is a great idea, why not a full web page for them,!?  I think that covers everything for now, I just
hope I'm not too eccentric for the list.


Bret Newton


Date: Fri, 15 May 1998 21:15:36 -0200
From: (Timothy Tikker)
Cc: Tikker <>
Subject: contra orchestration: bassoon vs. sarrusophone

As promised, here is an excerpt from Les Instruments d'Orchestre:  leurs
caracteres, leurs possibilites et leur utilisation dans l'orchestre
moderne by A.F. Marescotti (publ. Jean Jobert, Paris, 1950, pp. 38-41).
These are the sections on the (French) Contrabassoon and the C Contrabass
Sarrusophone (translated from the French by Yours Truly;  I've omitted some
of the more obvious/redundant things, e.g. the contrabassoon is a double
reed, reads bass clef...):


The Contra-Bassoon

Same mechanism and fingering as the bassoon.  Except for the first two
half-steps being missing [it goes from low Bb straight to C, skipping
B-natural], its notation is the same as the bassoon but the effect is an
octave lower.

Range (comprising all the chromatic steps):  actual pitches:

BBBb-CC-BBb:  good sonority
BB-F:  fairly good sonority but inferior to that of the bassoon
F#-eb:  mediocre sonority

Notation:  [same pitches an octave higher, same descriptions of ranges]

Slurs:  same as for the bassoon

Articulation:  heavy and pasty.  Avoid rapid pitches and only give it
long-held tones as much as possible.  With 16th-notes do not exceed 108-122
[metronome] to the 1/4-note (in the low range of the instrument);  do not
exceed 120-125 to the 1/4 for the high range of the instrument

Duration of breath:  the contra-bassoon consumes much air especially in the
low range where it is necessary not to exceed 2 or 2-1/2 measures of held
notes in a moderato tempo.  As to the high register, its use must be
avoided as much as possible;  in such cases, the bassoon is always

Trills and Tremolos:  detestable, thus to be avoided.  Its double reed,
larger than that for bassoons, produces a slow onset of tone and does not
lends itself to agility.

Its use in the orchestra:  Aside from the first low octave which has a good
sonority, the use of the other notes of the contra-bassoon is not to be

        Unlike the bassoon the instrument [contra] has no agility
whatsoever in detached notes.  On the other hand, the wind consumption is
such that the contra-bassoon cannot sustain a phrase which is at all

        Painfully heavy, its role in the orchestra will be all the more to
reinforce the bassoons or the contrabasses, using for this the low register
where it has some beautiful resonances, avoiding carefully longer held
tones, especially in forte passages, the performer being submitted to a
rude trial.

        It is often replaced by the sarrusophone which is superior to it as
to its promptness of attack and its intensity in the low range.

The Sarrusphone in C

written in bass clef [NB:  not treble, as are the transposing sarrusophones]

Compass (comprising all the chromatic steps):  the same as for the bassoon,
but an octave lower.

Actual pitches:

BBBb-Bb:  2 octaves of very beautiful sonority
Bb-g:  less good sonority
ab, a, bb:  the last three half-steps very mediocre

Notation:  [same pitches an octave higher, same comments on ranges]

All the pitches easy to attack p or f or even for crescendo or descrescendo.

Slurs:  As always, better ascending than descending.  Avoid too-long legato

Articulation:  Contrary to the contra-bassoon, its articulation is as
supple and clear as that of the ordinary bassoon.  The following staccato
will be very satisfactory: [a written passage in 16th notes in the low
range, staccato, 112 to the 1/4].

Duration of breath:  One can assign to it as a limit in a mezzo forte:

        in staccato:    low range -- 2 measures in 4/4
                                mid-range -- 3 measures in 4/4
                                high range -- 4 measures in 4/4

        held tones:     low range -- 2 measures in 4/4
                                mid-range -- 3 measures in 4/4
                                high range -- 5 measures in 4/4

Trills and Tremolos:  This instrument having a mechanism similar to the
bassoon, all that which has been written about it (see table) concerning
trills and tremolos on the bassoon, applies to the sarrusophone.  Always,
do not forget that the effect being an octave lower, the inherent heaviness
in low tones, will be here augmented further.

Its use in the orchestra:  Its timbre, somewhat nasal in the high register,
has a splendid sonority in the two lower octaves.  Full sonority, supple
and malleable which lends itself to all [dynamic] nuances.

        Much better than the contra-bassoon, it is the deep bass to the
woodwind group.  In other words, it is to the bassoons as is the contrabass
to the violoncelli and ought to be treated as such.


I find this a fascinating assessment of the sarrusophone's strengths vs.
the French contrabassoon, especially seeing that it was written as recently
as 1950.

Perhaps some readers would know if the French contrabassoon has changed
appreciably since then...?

- Timothy Tikker


Date: Sat, 16 May 1998 12:18:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jack Silver <>
To: contrabass <>
Subject: Re: list V1 #70

Actually it was an e flat contrabass sarrusophone that I lent Scott
Robinson for the CD.  It was his own Contrabass sax that he found in
Italy. Jack Silver

Jack Silver <>


End of list V1 #75

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