[ Exhibits ]

Yale CMI Lends Two Objects to the Yale Center for British Art for Display in its Exhibit

The seventeenth-century painting The Paston Treasure (ca. 1663) is an enigmatic masterpiece. Commissioned by either Sir William Paston, first Baronet (1610–1663), or his son Robert Paston, first Earl of Yarmouth (1631–1683), the identity of the painter, a Dutch itinerant artist working out of a makeshift studio at Oxnead Hall, remains unresolved, although candidates have been proposed. Adding to its mystique, the painting defies categorization because it combines several art historical genres: still life, portraiture, animal painting, and allegory. It has provided the opportunity to think anew about seventeenth-century studio practice and the painter-patron relationship. The painting now makes its North American debut at the Yale Center for British Art in an exhibition organized in partnership with the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, UK.

Exploring the world of the Pastons, a landowning family of Norfolk famous for their medieval letters, this display includes nearly 140 objects from more than fifty international institutional and private lenders. On view are five treasures from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that appear in The Paston Treasure painting: one of a pair of silver-gilt flagons, a Strombus shell cup, two unique nautilus cups, and a perfume flask with a mother-of-pearl body, which are gathered together for the first time in more than three centuries. A host of other objects, many with Paston provenance, tell the rich story of collecting within the family from the medieval period until the moment of the making of the painting.

The Collection of Musical Instruments has lent two objects to the exhibit, each resembling musical instruments in the painting: a violin by Pieter Rombouts (1667 – 1740), Amsterdam, c. 1700, and a Baroque-style bow by contem- porary maker David Hawthorne, Cambridge, Massachusetts, c. 2011. It is difficult to say whether the violin in the painting was inspired by an English, Dutch or Italian example, as none of the Paston family’s violins has survived. In any case, the exaggerated corners and seemingly oversized f-holes of the instrument suggest that the painter may have exercised artistic license in depicting these particular features.

The Hawthorne bow is modeled after a “short” bow, ca. 1680, in the collection of Robert Seletsky.  The replica has a round, snakewood stick; clip-in, pernambuco frog; and black hair.

The Paston Treasure exhibition is on display now through Sunday, May 27th.

Published May 2, 2018
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Serpent and Ophicleide Exhibit


D’Almaine and Company
London, 1834-1858

Inscribed on the scalloped brass ferrule at the upper end of the tube:
D’Almaine & Co. / 20 Soho Sq. London

The serpent is a wind instrument that is sounded through a lip-vibrated mouthpiece.  The bass member of the cornetto family of instruments, it is believed to have come into existence ca. 1590 at the hands of Edmé Guillaume, a canon of Auxerre.  Initially, the instrument was used to reinforce the male voices of Gregorian chant.  Later, it served as a bass instrument in military bands, civic ensembles and, eventually, symphony orchestras.

​The serpent’s body is sometimes made from a number of short pieces of wood (often walnut) that have been hollowed out, joined together and covered with leather.  An alternative method of construction consists of hollowing out two complete halves of the instrument, gluing these together and covering the whole with leather.  The instrument’s serpentine shape brings the instrument’s finger holes and mouthpiece within reach of the player.  Its adjustable, brass extendor (or crook) allows the player to hold the instrument vertically, horizontally or at any angle.
Today, the serpent is rarely heard in performance, yet it is still enjoyed by a small number of players, including members of the London Serpent Trio (Phil Humphries, Andy Kershaw, and Nicholas Perry), Michel Godard, Patrick Wibart, and Douglas Yeo – retired bass trombonist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  
Although the instrument functioned as a fundamental member of the wind section, it has not always been held in high esteem.  The French composer and conductor Hector Berlioz wrote in his Treatise on Instrumentation (rev. Richard Strauss, trans. Theodore Front): 
The essentially barbaric tone of this instrument would be much better suited for the bloody cult of the Druids than for that of the Catholic church, where it is still in use — as a monstrous symbol for the lack of understanding and the coarseness of taste and feeling which have governed the application of music in our churches since times immemorial.  Only one case is to be excepted: masses for the dead, where the serpent serves to double the dreadful choir of the Dies Irae.  Here its cold and awful blaring is doubtless appropriate…

On the other hand, serpentist Douglas Yeo points out a more positive quote about the serpent from Thomas Hardy’s, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), “‘Yet there’s worse things than serpents,’ said Mr. Penny. ‘Old things pass away, ’tis true; but a serpent was a good old note; a deep, rich note was the serpent.'”

Click on the PDF link below to see a page excerpt from Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle (1636) that depicts the serpent.

Mersenne Serpent Excerpt

Gift of Mr. Corning White
Accession Number 3676.1976

Speical thanks to Douglas Yeo and The London Serpent Trio for providing source material!

The London Serpent Trio

Click the link below to see a concert program, instrument description, and press release from the London Serpent Trio’s 1989 performance at Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments.

London Serpent Trio Promotional Materials

To hear how the serpent sounds, listen to this YouTube clip of the London Serpent Trio.



Unknown maker
Probably French, early 19th century

The ophicleide was designed to be an improvement upon the serpent.  Its name comes from the Greek words “ophis” and “kleid,” meaning “serpent” and “keyed.”  This example is made of brass in five sections: mouthpiece, crook, wing (or tenor) joint, U-joint, long (or bass) joint flaring into bell.  The keys are activated by flat brass springs.

Like the serpent, the ophicleide was used in military bands.  Once it came to the attention of composers such as Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, and Felix Mendelssohn, it appeard in orcehstral scores.  In his original manuscript of Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz made use of both the ophicleide and serpent in the fifth movement, where the two instruments play the Dies Irae chant in unison.  After the invention of the tuba, the ophicleide gradually fell from use.


Given in memory of Harold Sears Arnold, MD, by his wife and children: Mars. Harld Sears Arnold (nee Justine Ingersoll), Charles Ingersoll Arnold, Justine Arnold Linforth, and Anne Arnold Hunt
Accession Number 3660.1971

Click on this PDF link to see some excerpts from Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 21 to see the ophicleide part:

Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Score

Méthode de Serpent

Pour le Service du Culte et le Service Militaire
trans: Serpent Method – for the service of worship and military service

This method book was written by three authors: Nicolas Roze, the librarian of the Conservatoire de Paris, François-Joseph Gossec, a composer, and Étienne Ozi, a bassoonist. The Conservatoire released the Méthode de Serpent in 1814, despite having discontinued serpent classes in 1802.

Click on the PDF links below to view more pages from the 1974 Minkoff reprint of Méthode de Serpent.

Cover Pages

Serpent Etudes

On loan from Yale Music Library
MT 520 M592+


Use of the serpent and the ophicleide in Symphonie Fantastique and other works

In Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation, he wrote about the serpent, “The essentially barbaric tone of this instrument would be much better suited for the bloody cult of the Druids than for that of the Catholic church.  Only one case is to be excepted: masses for the dead, where the serpent serves to double the dreadful choir of the Dies Irae.”  In his piece, Symphonie Fantastique, he used the Dies Irae chant as a theme in the fifth movement and scored for both the serpent and ophicleide to play the chant in his original 1830 score.  Below are page excerpts from his manuscript where the two instruments play in unison.

Symphonie Fantastique 1830 Manuscript

The serpent was also known to composers such as Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and George Frideric Handel.   Haydn scored for the serpent in his Divertimento in F Major, Hob. II:45 and Beethoven found use for the serpent in his March for Military Band, WoO24.  It is believed that Handel originally wrote a part for the serpent in his Music for the Royal Fireworks, but then crossed it out.  Below you will see a PDF link to the first page of the score to Music for the Royal Fireworks, and at the bottom of the page you can see the supposed crossed out serpent part.

Score Music for Royal Fireworks

-Timothy Feil, Museum Intern

Published March 16, 2018
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[ Russian Bassoon Description ]

Russian Bassoon

Russian Bassoon

Fratelli Garignani (Garignani Brothers)
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 as an improvement on the 16th century serpent.  It was shaped to be easier to carry and play while marching than the serpent.  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


The Russian Bassoon in Orchestration

From Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation (rev. Richard Strauss, trans. Theodore Front), Berlioz writes that the Russian Bassoon is “related to the serpent” and “lacks steadiness and hence purity of intonation.  In my opinion it might be dropped from the family of wind instruments withouth the least injury to the art.”  He then goes on to explain the instrument’s range.1

For an expandable view, click the link below:

Berlioz Russian Bassoon Description

The Invention of the Russian Bassoon

According to Grove Music Online, “Its origin may be found in Régibo’s serpent, which was announced in Framery’s Calendrier universel musical for 1789 in the following terms:

J.J. Régibo, Musicien à la Collégiale de St. Pierre à Lille, vient d’inventer un serpent nouveau qui est fait de même qu’un basson; il se démonte en trois parties et est plus fort que le serpent ordinaire, et plus aisé à jouer; il a la même embouchure, est du même diapason et même gamme. Il a été présenté à MM. du Chapître dans une musique à grande symphonie, et a fait l’admiration des auditeurs par son effet; ils l’ont reçu dans leur musique ordinaire. Ceux qui veulent s’en procurer peuvent s’adresser à l’auteur, rue Pétérinck, Paroisse St. Pierre à Lille. Le prix est 3 louis.”2

Translation from Google Translate:

J.J. Régibo, Musician at the Collegiate Church of St. Pierre in Lille, has invented a new snake which is made like a bassoon; it is disassembled into three parts and is stronger than the ordinary serpent, and easier to play; it has the same mouthpiece, is of the same tuning fork and even range. He was introduced to MM. of the Chapter in a music of great symphony, and admired by listeners for its effect; they received it in their ordinary music. Those who want to get some can contact the author, rue Pétérinck, Paroisse St. Pierre in Lille. The price is 3 louis.



-Timothy Feil, Museum Intern



1. Berlioz, Hector. Treatise on Instrumentation, Enl. and Rev. Edited by Richard Strauss. Translated by Theodore Front, E.F. Kalmus, 1948.

2. Morley-Pegge, R. (2001). Russian bassoon. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 12 Apr. 2018, from http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000024169.


Published March 15, 2018
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[ exhibits ]

November’s Instrument of the Month

In preparation for a forthcoming exhibit of brass instruments, the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments is displaying these post horns as November’s instrument of the month.

Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Dworkin. Accession no. 3602 and 3603.

The instruments are made of copper and brass which are soldered together into a single coil. These instruments are made in coiled form for carrying in the pocket.

The post horn is scored for in Mozart’s Serenade for Orchestra No. 9 in D Major, which was later nicknamed “Posthorn” for its short post horn solo in the second trio of the Minuetto movement. The post horn is also referenced in Schubert’s Die Post from Winterreise when the piano accompaniment includes a post horn-like fanfare. Also, in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in d minor, Mahler writes a solo part that is supposed to resemble the sound of the post horn. Today, that solo is often played on a Fürst Pless post horn (with rotary valves), Flugelhorn, or Trumpet.


The stamp pictured to the left was featured in the MOPHILA International Stamp Exhibition in Hamburg (1985) for modern stamp collecting, or Moderne Philatelie, from which MOPHILA takes its name.



Come to 15 Hillhouse Avenue to view these two post horns in person or visit our Digital Collection to see our entire collection.





Published November 12, 2017
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[ Exhibits ]

October’s Instrument of the Month

This month, the Collection of Musical Instruments is displaying a Sea Dragon Horn as its featured instrument. Traditionally referred to as the Dbang Dung, this Eastern Tibetan horn is a little more than a foot in length with a brass mouth piece indicative of an early brass horn. The narrow body terminates in the head of a serpent with jaw opened wide and a thin brass tongue poking out. Made primarily from light brass and possibly other metal alloys, it has what appears to be three shades of metal coloration. It is unclear whether these colors are due to discoloration over time or purposeful. Turquoise gemstones adorn the dragon’s head. Believed to be acquired sometime before the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950s, the Sea Dragon Horn was used in rural areas to call the attention of townfolk to ceremonies and festive occasions.

The Sea Dragon, known in Sanskrit as Makara, is a common mythological being relevant in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. In Hindu mythology, the Sea Dragon is the animal-vehicle of the Hindu God Ganga, the River Goddess. Tibetan Buddhism, on the other hand, developed a rather different view of the Sea Dragon as a symbolic weapon. Sea Dragons remain viewed as creatures of great tenacity and strength in Tibet.

The Dbang Dung was donated to the Collection by Theodore Woolsey Heermance along with many other instruments within his possession in the 1980s.

We invite you to come to 15 Hillhouse Avenue to view the Dbang Dung in person before it returns to our holdings!


Published October 10, 2017
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[ exhibits ]

November’s Instrument of the Month

This month the staff of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments is delighted to display examples of the Paul Munier Collection of Military Snare Drumsticks as the Featured Instruments of the Month.

15-015 YCMI, Munier drumsticks

Examples from the Paul Munier Collection of Military Snare Drumsticks.

Three pairs have been selected from his collection of sixty which highlight the various sizes, shapes, and materials used to construct drumsticks. One pair of solid steel practice drumsticks was used by F.G. Holt, a snare drummer in John Philip Sousa’s band. Another pair of Holt’s sticks are the “Tru Balance” model, hand turned by prominent drumstick manufacturer, George B. Stone & Sons, Inc. The third pair is made from the tropical hardwood cocobolo of Central America.

Come to 15 Hillhouse Avenue to view the three pairs of drumsticks in person. Or, visit our online Digital Collection to see the entire collection of drumsticks that Mr. Munier presented to Yale in 2012.

Published November 3, 2016
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[ exhibits ]

October’s Featured Instrument of the Month


The shofar made of animal horn.

After a brief hiatus, we are pleased to resume presentation of the Featured Instrument of the Month with the display of a shofar, a Hebrew ritual horn constructed from the naturally hollowed horn of an animal, such as a ram or kudu.

Since the instrument lacks any keys or fingerholes, the shofar’s pitch is controlled only by the player’s embouchure. It is used primarily in Jewish religious services, and is blown every weekday morning in the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah (Sunday, October 2nd – Tuesday, October 4th), as well as at the end of Yom Kippur (Tuesday, October 11th – Wednesday, October 12th).

Visit the Collection during October to see the instrument in person, or click here to learn more through our digital collection.

Published October 5, 2016
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[ exhibits ]

May’s Instrument of the Month

May’s featured instrument of the month is a Buddhist temple block. Also known as a Muyu or Mokugyo, this percussive block was used in Buddhist ceremonies, specifically to provide a rhythm for recitation.

More information can be found here or by visiting the museum in person.

Buddhist Temple Block

Buddhist Temple Block

Published May 1, 2016
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[ exhibits ]

April’s Instrument of the Month

April’s instrument of the month is our signal horn of silver and highly polished animal horn.


More information on the signal horn can be found here, or by visiting the Collection in person.


Published April 1, 2016
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[ exhibits ]

March’s Instrument of the Month

This month’s featured instrument is our Sudanese Sansa.

The Sansa (also known as a thumb piano or mbira) was popular in many regions of the African continent. Categorized as a 1325-01-medlamellophone, the metal tongues are plucked by the thumbs of the player, and the metal rings around them produce the instrument’s characteristic buzzing sound.

Visit the Collection to view the instrument in person, or click here for more information.


Published March 1, 2016
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