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BASSOMPIERRE—BASSOON

BASSOMPIERRE, FRANÇOIS DE (1579–1646), French courtier, son of Christophe de Bassompierre (1547–1596), was born at the castle of Harrouel in Lorraine. He was descended from an old family which had for generations served the dukes of Burgundy and Lorraine, and after being educated with his brothers in Bavaria and Italy, was introduced to the court of Henry IV. in 1598. He became a great favourite of the king and shared to the full in the dissipations of court life. In 1600 he took part in the brief campaign in Savoy, and in 1603 fought in Hungary for the emperor against the Turks. In 1614 he assisted Marie de' Medici in her struggle against the nobles, but upon her failure in 1617 remained loyal to the King Louis XIII. and assisted the royalists when they routed Marie's supporters at Ponts-de-Cé in 1620. His services during the Huguenot rising of 1621–22 won for him the dignity of marshal of France. He was with the army of the king during the siege of La Rochelle in 1628, and in 1629 distinguished himself in the campaign against the rebels of Languedoc. In 1615 Bassompierre had purchased from Henri, duc de Rohan (1579–1638), the coveted position of colonel-general of the Swiss and Grisons; on this account he was sent to raise troops in Switzerland when Louis XIII. marched against Savoy in 1629, and after a short campaign in Italy his military career ended. As a diplomatist his career was a failure. In 1621 he went to Madrid as envoy extraordinary to arrange the dispute concerning the seizure of the Valteline forts by Spain, and signed the fruitless treaty of Madrid. In 1625 he was sent into Switzerland on an equally futile mission, and in 1626 to London to secure the retention of the Catholic ecclesiastics and attendants of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The personal influence of Henry IV. had deterred Bassompierre from a marriage with Charlotte de Montmorency, daughter of the constable Montmorency, afterwards princesse de Condé, and between 1614 and 1630 he was secretly married to Louise Marguerite, widow of Francois, prince de Conti, and through her became implicated in the plot to overthrow Richelieu on the "Day of Dupes" 1630. His share was only a slight one, but his wife was an intimate friend of Marie de' Medici, and her hostility to the cardinal aroused his suspicions. By Richelieu's orders, Bassompierre was arrested at Senlis on the 25th of February 1631, and put into the Bastille, where he remained until Richelieu's death in 1643. On his release his offices were restored to him, and he passed most of his time at the castle of Tillières in Normandy, until his death on the 12th of October 1646. He left a son, François de la Tour, by the princesse de Conti, and an illegitimate son, Louis de Bassompierre, afterwards bishop of Saintes. His Mémoires, which are an important source for the history of his time, were first published at Cologne in 1665. He also left an incomplete account of his embassies to Spain, Switzerland and England (Cologne, 1668) and a number of discourses upon various subjects.

The best edition of the Mémoires is that issued by the Société de l'Histoire de France (Paris, 1877); see also G. Tallemant des Reaux, Historiettes de la princesse de Conti, et du maréchal de Bassompierre (Paris, 1854-1860).


BASSOON (Fr. basson; Ger. Fagott; Ital. fagotto), a woodwind instrument with double reed mouthpiece, a member of the oboe (q.v.) family, of which it is the bass. The German and Italian names of the instrument were bestowed from a fancied resemblance to a bundle of sticks, the bassoon being the first instrument of the kind to be doubled back upon itself; its direct ancestor, the bass pommer, 6 ft. in length, was quite straight. The English and French names refer to the pitch of the instrument as the bass of the wood-wind.

Bassoon 1.png
Fig. 1.—Bassoon with 17 keys.
Savary Model.
(Rudall, Carte & Co.)

The bassoon is composed of five pieces, which, when fitted together, form a wooden tube about 8 ft. long (93 in.) with a conical bore tapering from a diameter of 1¾ in., at the bell, to 3/16 in. at the reed. The tube is doubled back upon itself, the shorter joint extending to about two-thirds of the length of the longer, whereby the height of the instrument is reduced to about 4 ft. The holes are brought into a convenient position for the fingers by the device of boring them obliquely through the thickness of the wood. The five pieces are:—(1) the bell; (2) the long joint, forming the upper part of the instrument when played, although its notes are the lowest in pitch; (3) the wing overlapping the long joint and having a projecting flap through which are bored three holes; (4) the butt or lower end of the instrument (when played) containing the double bore necessitated by the abrupt bend of the tube upon itself. Both bores are pierced in one block of wood, the prolongation of the double tube being usually stopped by a flat oval pad of cork in the older models, whereas the modern instruments have instead a U-shaped tube; (5) the crook, a narrow curved metal tube about 12 in. long, to which is attached the double reed forming the mouthpiece.

The performer holds the instrument in a diagonal position; the lower part of the tube (the butt joint) played by the right hand resting against his right thigh, and the little bell, turned upwards, pointing over his left shoulder; a strap round the neck affords additional support. The notes are produced by means of seven holes and 16, 17, or 19 keys. The mechanism and fingering are very intricate. Theoretically the whole construction of the bassoon is imperfect and arbitrary, important acoustic principles being disregarded, but these mechanical defects only enhance its value as an artistic musical instrument. The player is obliged to rely very much on his ear in order to obtain a correct intonation, and next to the strings no instrument gives greater scope to the artist.

The bassoon has an eight foot tone, the compass extending from B♭ bass [1] Bassoon music 1.png to A♭ treble Bassoon music 2.png, or in modern instruments by means of additional mechanism to C or even F Bassoon music 3.png. These extra high notes are from their extreme sweetness called vox humana. The pitch of the bassoon apparently lies two octaves below that of the oboe, since the lowest note of both is B, but in reality the interval is only a twelfth, as may be ascertained by comparing their fundamental scales. On the bassoon the fundamental scale is that of F maj., obtained by opening and closing the holes; the notes downwards from F to B♭ Bassoon music 4.png are extra notes obtained by means of interlocking keys on the long joint, worked by the left thumb; they have no counterpart on the oboe and do not belong to the fundamental scale of the bassoon. The fundamental scale of the oboe is that of C, although the compass has been extended a tone to B♭ Bassoon music 5.png. Therefore the difference in pitch between the bassoon and the oboe is a twelfth. In the first

  1. At Wagner's instigation, the wind-instrument maker, W. Heckel of Biebrich-am-Rhein, made bassoons with an extra key, extending the compass downwards to A.