Introduction to the instruments

The oldest member of the tuba family is the serpent. It is told that the serpent was invented by Canon Edmé Guillaume in Auxere, France, in 1590. A local minister asked him to develop an instrument from the tenor cornett that could support the church choir. During those times, the organ was a rare instrument and the cantor would occasionally play an instrument such as the serpent alongside the choir. The shape of the serpent is a snakelike S and it was made from maple and horse intestines. The bocal was already at this point metallic. The mouthpieces were made from cow horns or wood. There are six sound holes in the instrument.

In some countries, the instrument is still referred to as the church serpent due of its original purpose.

Nicolas and Harri will play with instruments built by Swiss Stephan Bergen.

Later, around 1635, there were first attempts to build the serpent from metal. A new key mechanism was also built to create one more sound hole in the instrument.

In the course of time, there has been a large family of the serpent instruments in different sizes and pitches. in 1790, the shape of the instrument experienced a massive change. The instrument that was easier to march with was wanted for marching orchestras. The serpent was traditionally placed in front of the feet or too far along in the side of the musician.

The instrument was straightened and now there was also at least one key to ease playing. The instrument was known by different names in different areas. The most known name nowadays is the Russian bassoon. Originally the name was Bassoone Prusse and it was designed for the use of the Prussian military. When Prussia vanished from our maps, the letter P was removed from the name. Other names for approximately the same instrument were: Serpent Foreville, Contrebasson Autrichien, Contra-bass-horn, Serpent droit and Serpentone.
The Russian bassoon is mainly built from maple and it has a metallic bell.

The instrument was already in orchestral use, Mendelssohn and Verdi were among composers recorded of using it. In addition, Beethoven’s 5th and 9th symphonies have been performed with the serpent replacing the contrabassoon in the ensemble.

Harri has ordered a Russian Bassoon and it is being built by French Jerome Wiss. At the same time, the first ophicleide was built. The name could be translated as ”a keyed snake”. The first version is presumably made by Frichot in London in 1790. The instrument was patented in 1821. The owner of the patent is Jean Hilaire Asté Paris.

The instrument is fully made from metal and it has 9-12 keys. There are no longer any unkeyed holes. The instrument had a strong sound it became very popular. From those times, there are over 1000 pieces where ophicleide is used. One of the great orchestrators, Hector Berlioz, used the instrument extensively and thus, the awareness of the instrument spread.

Later in his orchestration guide Berloiz, however, presents some fairly critical notions of the instrument.

The keys invented for the ophicleide ended up in the saxophone later.

The baritone horn is an instrument closely related to euphonium. It was patented in 1838. The beautiful-sounding, limber instrument is fairly rarely used in symphony orchestras. On the other hand, it is one the most used melody instruments in brass orchestras and British brass bands. The French tuba looks very similar to the baritone horn but is from another instrument family. The inventor of it is Adolph Sax, who, in addition to inventing an entire brass family, invented the saxophone with the key mechanisn first used in the ophicleide.

From 1892 onward, the French tuba was always C or Bb tuned and there were six valves in the professional model. The instrument was used in orchestrations of the French-speaking area up until 1970. For instance, Ravel and Stravinsky were among the composers who used it.

In the concert, Nicolas plays a 1950s Couesno. The cimbasso is an instrument invented by Verdi. At first, he used the Russian bassoon in his operas, then the ophicleide, and for Aida, he needed more sound, so it was time to invent the cimbasso.

During those times, the trombone was a valve instrument and resembled the modern cimbasso. The cimbasso is, indeed, a contrabass trombone with valves.