named as the probable author of the transformation of pommer into bassoon.
We learn from an historical work of the 18th century, that he was renowned "almost everywhere" as a maker of fagotte of extraordinary size, of skilful workmanship and pure intonation, speaking easily. Schnitzer's instruments were so highly appreciated not only all over Germany, but also in France and Italy, that he was kept continually at work producing fagotte for lovers of music.
An earlier chronicler of the artistic celebrities and craftsmen of Nuremberg, Johann Neudorfer, writing in 1549, names Sigmund Schnitzer merely as Pfeifenmacher und Stadtpfeifer. Had he been also noted as an inventor of a new form of instrument, the fellow-citizen and contemporary chronicler would not have failed to note the fact. If Schnitzer had been the first to reduce the great length of the bass pommer by doubling the tube back upon itself, he would hardly have been handed down to posterity as the clever craftsman who made fagottos of extraordinary size; Doppelmaier, who chronicles in these eulogistic terms, wrote nearly two centuries after the supposed invention of the fagotto, the value of which was realized later by retrospection.
|Fig. 2.—Old English double|
curtail (before 1688).
(From Harl MS 2034 in Brit. Mus.)
An explanation may perhaps be found in Eisel's statement about the Deutscher Basson, which he distinguishes from the Basson (our bassoon). "The Deutsche Bassons, Fagotte or Bombardi, as our German ancestors termed them, before music was clothed in Italian and French style, are no longer in use" (Eisel wrote in 1738) "and therefore it is unnecessary to waste paper on them." This refers, of course, to the bombard or bass pommer, the extraordinarily long instruments which Schnitzer made so successfully. From this it would seem that our bassoon was not of German origin. In the meanwhile we get a clue to the early history of the pommer in transition, but we find it under a different name in no way connected with fagotto. In order to shorten the unwieldy proportions of the tenor pommer in C, and to increase its portability, it was constructed out of a block of wood of rather more than double the diameter of the pommer, in which two bores were cut, communicating at the bottom of the instrument which was flat. The bell and the crook containing the double reed mouthpiece were side by side at the top. This instrument, which had six holes in front and one at the back as well as two keys, was known as the dulceian, dolcian, douçaine, and also in France as courtaud and in England as the curtail, curtal, curtoll, &c., being mentioned in 1582—"The common bleting musick of ye Drone, Hobius (Hautboy) and Curtoll." The next step in the evolution produced the double curtail, a converted bass pommer an octave below the single curtail and therefore identical in pitch as in construction with the early fagotto in C. The instrument is shown in fig. 2, the reproduction of a drawing in the MS. of The Academy of Armoury by Randle Holme, written some time before 1688. At the side of the drawing is the following description: "A double curtaile. This is double the bigness of the single, mentioned ch. xvi. n. 6" (the MS. begins at ch. xvii. of bk. 3) "and is played 8 notes deeper. It is as it were 2 pipes fixed in on(e) thick bass pipe, one much longer than the other, from the top of the lower comes a crooked pipe of brass in which is fixed a reed, through it the wind passeth to make the instrument make a sound. It hath 6 holes on the outside and one on that side next the man or back part and 2 brass keys, the highest called double La sol re, and the other double B mi."
We may therefore conclude that the satirical name fagotto, presumably bestowed in Italy, since the French equivalent fagot was never used for the basson, was not necessarily applied to the new form of pommer at the outset, but in any case before 1555; that the very term Phagoto d'Afranio, by which the instrument was known during its short fabulous existence, with its pretended Greek etymology, presupposes the pre-existence in Italy of another fagotto with which Afranio was acquainted, perhaps imperfectly. Afranio's was the age of ingenious mechanical devices applied to musical instruments, many of which, like Afranio's, being mere freaks, did not survive the inventor. A document selected from the valuable archives published by Edm. van der Straeten suggests a satisfactory clue. In 1426 Louis Willay, a musical instrument maker of Bruges, sold to Philippe le Bon a triple set of wood-wind instruments, i.e. "4 bombardes, 4 douçaines and 4 flûtes," to be sent as a gift to Nicolas III., marquis of Ferrara. The new instrument, the douçaine, we may imagine, by its unusual appearance provoked the satirical wit of some courtier, and was henceforth known as fagotto. Just a century later Ravilius of Ferrara made Afranio's first phagotus from the inventor's design.
The bassoon has been a favourite with all the great masters, excepting Handel. Beethoven uses the bassoon largely in his symphonies, writing everywhere for it independent parts of great beauty and originality. Bach, in his mass in B min., has parts for two bassoons. Mozart wrote a concerto in B♭ for bassoon, with orchestra (Kochel, No. 191). Weber has also written a concerto for bassoon in F (op. 75), scored for full orchestra.
See also Etienne Ozi, Nouvelle Methode du Bassoon (Paris, 1788 and 1800); J. B. J. Willent-Bordogny, Gran Methodo completo per il Fagotto (Milan, 1844), with illustrations of early bassoons (English edition, London, J. R. Lafleur & Son); Joseph Fröhlich, Vollständige Musikschule für alle beym Orchester gebraüchliche wichtigere Instrumente (many practical illustrations) (Cologne, Bonn, 1811); article "Bassoon," by W. H. Stone and D. J. Blaikley in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.); article "Fagott" in Mendel's Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon; for the history of the instrument, and of its prototypes, see Oboe and Bombard.
BASSO-RELIEVO (Ital. for "low relief"), the term applied to sculpture in which the design projects but slightly from the plane of the background. The relief may not project at all from the original surface of the material, as in the sunken reliefs of the Egyptians, and may be nearly flat, as in the Panathenaic procession of the Parthenon. In the early 19th century the term basso-relievo, or "low relief," came to be employed loosely for all forms of relief, the term mezzo-relievo having already dropped out of general use owing to the difficulty of accurate application.
BASS ROCK, THE, a small island in the Firth of Forth, about 2 m. from Canty Bay, Haddingtonshire, Scotland. It is circular in shape, measuring a mile in circumference, and is 350 ft. high.
- J. G. Doppelmaier, Historische Nachricht von den Nürnbergischen Mathematicis und Künstlern (Nürnberg, 1730), p. 293.
- See "Nachrichten von Künstlern und Werkleuten Nürnbergs aus dem Jahre 1549," in R. Eitelberger von Edelberg's Quellenschriften für Kunstgeschichte und Kunsttechnik des Muttelalters (Vienna, 1875), vols. viii.-x.
- See J. J. Eisel, Musicus autodidactus oder der sich selbst informierende Musicus (Erfurt, 1738), pp. 104 and 100, and also J. Mattheson, Das neu-eröffnete Orchester (Hamburg, 1713), "Basson," from whom Eisel borrowed.
- See the New English Dictionary, and Bateman upon Bartholinus, 423, 1, margin.
- British Museum, Harl. MS. 2034, fol. 207b, a reference communicated by Augustus Hughes-Hughes from his valuable appendix to part iii. (Instrumental Music and Works on Music) of a Catalogue of MS. Music in the British Museum (London, 1908-1909). The Appendix contains a list of typical musical instruments represented in illuminated MSS., or described in other MSS. in the British Museum, with brief description and full references.
- Compare Randle Holme's double curtail with the dolcian in C, pl. vi. H. of Capt. C. R. Day's catalogue, and with a dolcian or single curtail by J. C. Denner in Paul de Wit's Katalog des Musikhistorischen Museums von Paul de Wit (Leipzig, 1903), p. 127, No. 380, and illust. p. 121 (Collection now transferred to Cologne). Consult also Mersenne, op. cit., and Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum (Wolfenbüttel, 1618), both of whom describe and figure these forms of early bassoons.
- Op. cit. vol. vii. p. 38.