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BASS CLARINET

The origin of the name and family has not yet been explained. It undoubtedly stands in close connexion with the name of the province of Bessarabia, which oriental chroniclers gave in olden times to the whole of Walachia. The heraldic sign, three heads of negroes in the Bassarab shield, seems to be of late western origin and to rest on a popular etymology connecting the second half of the word with Arabs, who were taken to signify Moors (blacks). The other heraldic signs, the crescent and the star, have evidently been added on the same supposition of an oriental origin of the family. The Servian chroniclers connect its origin with their own nationality, basing this view upon the identification of Sarab with Sorb or Serbia. All this is mere conjecture. It is, however, a fact that the first appearance of the Bassarabs as rulers (knyaz, ban or voivod) is in the western part of Rumania (originally called Little Walachia), and also in the southern parts of Transylvania—the old dukedoms of Fogarash and Almash, which are situated on the right bank of the Olt (Aluta) and extend south to Severin and Craiova. Whatever the origin of the Bassarabs may be, the foundation of the Walachian principality is undoubtedly connected with a member of that family, who, according to tradition, came from Transylvania and settled first in Câmpulung and Tîrgovishtea. It is equally certain that almost every one of the long line of princes and voivods bore a Slavonic surname, perhaps due to the influence of the Slavonic Church, to which the Rumanians belonged. Starting from the 13th Century the Bassarabs soon split into two rival factions, known in history as the descendants of the two brothers Dan and Dragul. The form Drakul—devil—by which this line is known in history is no doubt a nickname given by the rival line. It has fastened on the family on account of the cruelties perpetrated by Vlad Drakul (1433-1446) and Vlad Tsepesh (1456-1476), who figure in popular legend as representatives of the most fiendish cruelty. The feud between the rival dynasties lasted from the beginning of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th.

The most prominent members of the family were Mircea (1386-1418), who accepted Turkish suzerainty; Neagoe, the founder of the famous cathedral at Curtea de Argesh (q.v.); Michael, surnamed the Brave (1592-1601); and Petru Cercel, famous for his profound learning, who spoke twelve languages and carried on friendly correspondence with the greater scholars and poets of Italy. He was drowned by the Turks in Constantinople in 1590 through the intrigues of Mihnea, who succeeded him on the throne of Walachia. The British Museum possesses the oldest MSS. of the Rumanian Gospels, once owned by this Petru Cercel, and containing his autograph signature. The text was published by Dr M. Caster at the expense of the Rumanian government. Mateiu Bassarab (1633-1654) established the first printing-press in Rumania, and under his influence the first code of laws was compiled and published in Bucharest in 1654. The Bassarab dynasty became extinct with Constantine Sherban in 1658. See Rumania: Language and Literature.  (M. G.) 


BASS CLARINET (Fr. clarinette basse; Ger. Bass-Klarinette; Ital. clarinetto basso or darone), practically the A, B♭ or C clarinet speaking an octave lower; what therefore has been said concerning the fingering, transposition, acoustic properties and general history of the clarinet (q.v.) also applies to the bass clarinet. Owing to its greater length the form of the bass clarinet differs from that of the clarinets in that the bell joint is bent up in front of the instrument, terminating in a large gloxinea-shaped bell, and that the mouthpiece is attached by means of a strong ligature and screws to a serpent-shaped crook of brass or silver. The compass of the modern orchestral bass clarinet is in the main the same as that of the higher clarinets in C, B♭ and A, but an octave lower, and therefore for the bass clarinet in C is Bass-clarinet 1.png; for the bass clarinet in B♭ the real sounds are one tone, and for the bass clarinet in A 1½ tone lower, although the notation is the same for all three.

Sometimes the treble clef is used in notation for the bass clarinet. It must then be understood that the instrument in C speaks an octave lower, the bass clarinet in B♭ a major ninth and the bass clarinet in A a minor tenth lower. The tenor clef is also frequently used in orchestral works.

The quality of tone is less reedy in the bass clarinet than in the higher instruments. It resembles the bourdon stop on the organ, and in the lowest register, more especially, the tone is somewhat hollow and wanting in power although mellower than that of the bassoon. In the lowest octave the instrument speaks slowly and is chiefly used for sustained bass or melody notes; rapid passages are impossible.

The modern orchestral model may be fitted with almost every kind of key-mechanism, including the Boehm, and the degree of perfection and ingenuity attained has removed the all but insuperable difficulties which stood in the way of the original inventors who, not understanding key-work, made many futile attempts to bridge the necessarily great distance between the finger-holes by making the bore serpentine, boring the holes obliquely, &c.

The low pitch of the bass clarinet (8 ft. tone) contrasted with the moderate length of the instrument—whose bore measures only some 42 to 43 inches from mouthpiece to bell, whereas that of the bassoon, an instrument of the same pitch, is twice that length—is a puzzle to many. An explanation of the fact is to be found in the peculiar acoustic properties of the cylindrical tube played by means of a reed mouthpiece characterizing the clarinet family, which acts as a closed pipe speaking an octave lower than an open pipe of the same length, and overblowing a twelfth instead of an octave. This is more fully explained in the articles Clarinet and Aulos.

The construction of the bass clarinet demands the greatest care. The bore should theoretically be strictly cylindrical throughout its length from mouthpiece to bell joint; the slightest deviation from mathematical accuracy, such as an undue widening of the bell from the point where it joins the body to the mouth of the bell, would tend to muffle the lower notes of the instrument and to destroy correct intonation.

The origin of the bass clarinet must be sought in Germany, where Heinrich Grenser of Dresden, one of the most famous instrument-makers of his day, made the first bass clarinet in 1793. The basset horn (q.v.) or tenor clarinet, which had reached the height of its popularity, no doubt suggested to Grenser, who was more especially renowned for his excellent fagottos, the possibility of providing for the clarinet a bass of its own. One of these earliest attempts in the form of a fagotto, stamped "A. Grenser, Dresden," with nine square-flapped brass keys working on knobs, is in the Grossherzogliches Museum at Darmstadt and was lent to the Royal Military Exhibition, London 1890.[1] Two other early specimens,[2] belonging originally to Adolphe Sax and to M. de Coussemaker, are now respectively preserved in the museums of the Brussels Conservatoire and of the Berlin Hochschule (Snoeck Collection). The tubes are of great thickness and the holes are bored obliquely through the walls. Both instruments are in A.

Attempts were made in Italy to overcome the mechanical difficulties by making the bore of the bass clarinet serpentine. A specimen by Nicolas Papalini of Pavia[3] in the museum of the Brussels Conservatoire has the serpentine bore pierced through two slabs of pear-wood; the two halves, each forming a vertical section of the instrument, are fitted together with wooden pins. The outside length is only 2 ft. 3½ in. and there are nineteen finger-holes.

Joseph Uhlmann of Vienna[4] constructed a bass clarinet, also termed "bass basset horn," with twenty-three keys and a compass from B♭ through four complete octaves with all chromatic

  1. See Captain C. R. Day, Descriptive Catalogue (London, 1891), No. 266, p. 125.
  2. See Victor Mahillon, Catalogue descriptif, vol. ii. (1896), pp. 224-226, No. 940.
  3. See Captain C. R. Day, op. cit. p. 123, pl. v. B. and p. 123, No. 262.
  4. See Dr Schafhäutl's report on the Munich exhibition, Bericht der Beurtheilungscommission für Musikinstrumente (Munich, 1855), P. 153.