Contrabass Digest

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Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 18:47:12 -0500
From: John Howell <>
Subject: Comments on several questions

Stuart wrote:
>Thanks! I didn't realize the contras even existed in the 30s, as I read in a
>1950s orchestration book that the contra clarinets were extremely rare.

One of my favorite lines is from Henry Mancini's book on orchestration.  He
goes through the flute family, and then says, "The bass flute is a very
rare instrument.  Here's an example where I used four of them."

Grant Green (I think) either asked or answered:
>> Were any of these like professional instruments (keywork as opposed to
>>holes, stable & decent tone, etc.)?  What's the point of a curved crumhorn
>>when there's the straight cornamuse?  Are Krummhorn, Crumhorn, and Cromorne
>>all the same thing?

Yes, those are the German, English, and Italian forms of the name.  They
refer to the same instruments.

>All of these were played by "professional musicians" of their time.  I
>doubt that "professional" horns had more keys: they tended to have only as
>many keys as were required, with most accidentals produced by forked or
>cross-fingerings.  The idea of having multiple keys came about during the
>Baroque or later.

We can pretty much assume that a majority of the instruments that survive
from the 16th century WERE professional instruments.  Musical amateurs
tended to play instruments like the recorder and viola da gamba (for which
the very first instruction books were published) and the harpsichord and
lute.  The other wind instruments and the violin family instruments were
played by professionals.  Both churches and courts would own their own
instruments, built to be in tune with the organ or whatever pitch level was
the local standard, and musicians would use those rather than owning their
own instruments.  Sets or "chests" of instruments were likewise built in
sets and tuned to each other.  Henry VIII had quite a few sets of crumhorns
in his various castles, but I wouldn't bet on any two sets being in tune
with any others.

The first keys were used as extensions of the fingers on larger instruments
like bass and lower recorders, tenor and bass shawms, and bass and lower
crumhorns.  The metal work was expensive (and still is!), and was often
protected by wooden fontanelles pierced to let the sound out.  The single
key of the 18th century flute was NOT a finger extension.  It functioned
both to allow a reliable Eb and to open up a whole lot of cross fingerings
that opened up the 3rd octave.  The adding of more and more keys for
specific reasons was a 19th century development, and continued through the
end of the century alongside the development of alternative fingering
systems that became standard in the 20th century.  I have a copy of an
American Bandmaster's manual from the 1810s, in which the one-keyed flute
was still considered the normal one and fingerings are also given for the
then-new four-keyed "patent flute."  The 3 additional keys were for
individual notes that were the dullest-sounding or the most difficult to
tune on the one-keyed flute, and also were useful as trill keys.

>The crumhorn is louder than the cornamuse, which has a gentler, slightly
>muffled tone compared to the crumhorn.

That is certainly true of modern reproductions.  However, there is a marked
difference in tone quality and volume between various makes of crumhorns,
which is partly due to the material used for the reed and partly the
overall design of the instruments.  I'm not sure that ANY of the surviving
museum crumhorns had upper "throat" keys, although modern makers have added
them to increase the basic range of a 9th to a 10th or 11th.

>> Is a sarrusophone essentially a brass bassoon???  The list discusses
>>sarrusophones often, but I don't really know about them.  What is the
>>compass of one, and what instrument is its fingering most like?

My understanding (not necessarily accurate) is that the sarrusophone
familiy was not only intended to be a brass bassoon but a brass bassoon
with a saxophone-like Boehm system of keywork.  Apparently it had some
success on its own, but did not sound enough like a bassoon to replace it
in the orchestra.  Those who own and play sarrusophones would know better
than I about that.


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411   Fax (540) 231-5034


Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 15:48:01 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: CD Review

CD Review

Daniel Kientzy "Pur-Sax" (1996 Nova-Musica, NMCD5103).  "Pur-Sax" is pure
saxophone, ranging from sopranino to contrabass, all played by DK using
overdubbing.  *Lots* of overdubbing.  Most of the works are scored for one
or more solo instruments, plus an ensemble of saxophones.  The tracks are
[solo instruments + ensemble instruments]:

Where CB is contrabass (and 2CB means 2 contras), Bs is bass, B is bari, T
is Tenor, A is alto, S is soprano, and Sn is sopranino.

This is a French import I obtained through Tower Records online.  The works
are dense, modern, and extremely interesting to listen to.  The sort of
thing my kids plead desparately for me to turn off... ;-)



Grant Green  

Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 19:38:00 EDT
Subject: Lion King

I was watching Lion King today and i was wondering about an unuaual bass part
i heard.  When Scar is singing to the Hyenas about taking over the throne,
there's a weird part every once in a while.  Its 5 notes, Increasing to the
3rd note, and then decreasing again.  I don't think it's a bassoon, but it
sounds kinda like the (very bad) recording of a Contrabass Sarrusophone i've
heard.  I'm also wondering about the solo at the end of the Long John
Silver's commercial with the Goldfish.  Does anybody know which instrument
played either of those parts?  Thanks in advance.

From: Mats 0ljare <>
Subject: French pages
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 1999 16:45:46 PDT

Whooa,it has a photo of the evil,hideously mutated trombone-like brass based lifeform from another planet!!! ( Anyhow,what´s the sudrophone?It looks like a kind of trumpet.

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Woodwindist,composer,technician,       av undermålig kvalitet.De ska
author,director,intermedia artist          förmodligen bort allihop."
Eskilstuna,Sweden                   Bo"Buller&Bång"Lönn,föreståndare        för Gallerian i Eskilstuna

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Date: Wed, 02 Jun 1999 21:53:39 -0400
From: RJ Carpenter <>
Subject: RE: Lion King

I don't know if it's the Long John Silver's commercial or not...  but
there's a commercial with a goldfish in a bowl that was playing not to long
ago; in which there was a solo (and pretty much just that) bass saxophone.
I think it might have been a Pepsi commercial; not sure.  Other than the
bass sax; I have a very vague recollection


From: "Aaron Rabushka" <>
Subject: Re: Comments on several questions
Date: Tue, 1 Jun 1999 22:11:42 -0500

Yes, I do seem to recall a studio album where Mancini used a quartet of bass
flutes--"The Days of Wine and Roses" or something like that. Another
interesting place to hear a bass flute is on Leo Addeo's arrangement of
"Bali Ha'i."

Aaron J. Rabushka


From: "Aaron Rabushka" <>
Subject: Re: CD Review
Date: Tue, 1 Jun 1999 22:13:08 -0500

Is the "C. Ioachimescu" listed below by some chance Calin Iochimescu?

Aaron J. Rabushka

>CD Review
>Daniel Kientzy "Pur-Sax" (1996 Nova-Musica, NMCD5103).  "Pur-Sax" is pure
>saxophone, ranging from sopranino to contrabass, all played by DK using
>overdubbing.  *Lots* of overdubbing.  Most of the works are scored for one
>or more solo instruments, plus an ensemble of saxophones.  The tracks are
>[solo instruments + ensemble instruments]:
>-Musique spectrale (C. Ioachimescu) [SAB + 2CB, 2Bs, 2B, 2T, A/S/4Sn]


Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 20:55:10 -0700 (PDT)
From: Adam Kent-Isaac <>
Subject: Lots of FUNNY stuff!

Adam Kent-Isaac

Well, I really lucked out here! I found so much old commentary on
instruments! You'll like these if you're into woodwinds or keyed brass.
 Some of this stuff is unbelieveably harsh and prejudiced, especially
the EXTREMELY biased comments about jazz!

>From the "Sax and Brass book" :

"…the surrusophone* and ophicleide appear to be the work of some genial lunatic."

*I KNOW sarrusophone is spelled wrong here. I'm just quoting the book.

>From "Musical Wind Instruments" by Adam Carse:

"The present century has seen the trumpet degraded to an extent which
was naver reached by the cornet even at its worst. Since it became the
chosen instrument of the American dance bands whose 'jazz' music swept
like a plague over the whole world, the trumpet has been subject to the
worst indignities that could possibly befall a musical instrument. Its
throat has been stuffed up with all sorts of tone-distorting mutes; It
has been made to produce all manner of nasal whimpering sounds of the
most drunken character, and portamento effects which are totally
foreign to its nature have been forced upon it by players whose style
is admirably described by their own word--'dirty.' The one-time noble
instrument, the former associate of kings and princes, now splutters
and hiccups in company with whining saxophones in the cosmetic-laden
atomsphere of the modern dance hall."

DAMN! This guy was VERY mean to jazz!

Also from "Musical Wind Instruments" :

"Since it became vulgarised by American dance bands, the production of
saxophones has increased by leaps and bounds, and silver-plating,
gilding, frosting and engraving have given the instrument a more showy
if somewhat tawdry appearance. When it became popular as a dance-band
instrument the saxophone lost status and dignity, and a style of
playing developed which was mercifully never known to the originator."

That too is very harsh.

>From "On Orchestration" by Hector Berlioz, about the bassoon:

"Its sonority is not very great, and its quality of tone, absolutely
devioid of brilliancy or nobleness, has a tendency towards the


And have a great summer!

Adam Kent Isaac

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Date: Thu, 3 Jun 1999 10:01:10 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Re: CD Review

>Is the "C. Ioachimescu" listed below by some chance Calin Iochimescu?
According to the CD booklet, the composer is Calin Ioachimescu.  Probably
the same person ;-)

Grant Green  

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