[ Russian Bassoon Description ]
Milan, Italy, ca. 1820
The term “Russian Bassoon ” is something of a misnomer, for this instrument is neither Russian nor bassoon. Rather, it is technically a bass-horn that has a lip-vibrated mouthpiece instead of a double reed. Because it was used in the Prussian Army, it maybe have acquired the name “Russian” from that association.
Its invention is credited to J. J. Regibo of France and the instrument was designed to be an improvement on the 16th century Serpent. The Russian Bassoon was made with a narrower bore than the Serpent in hopes of making the pitch steadier and the tone more focused. It was also shaped to be easier to carry and play while marching. After 1815, the bass-horn became popular in Europe and was a regular member of military bands throughout Europe until about 1830. Eventually, the ophicleide then the tuba and sousaphone superseded the bass-horn in marching bands.
The bassoon-like body of this instrument is made of maple in three joints. The ends of the joints are covered with brass ferrules. The crook and the mouthpiece are made of brass and the serpent head bell is metal. There are six finger holes and one thumbhole for the left hand; in addition, there are three holes that are covered by keys. Not all Russian Bassoons have a decorated serpent head bell, which was likely added to be more decorative than the more usual flaired, brass bell. The Buccin is another instrument from this era to have a decorative serpent head.
The Belle Skinner Collection
Accession Number 3659.1960