Category Archives: Instruments

Prokofiev: A Surprising Commission


The Russian émigré ensemble Zimro approached Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953)  during his USA period with a commission and a book of Jewish folk tunes for guidance! The result was a charming sextet with Klezmer influences:  Overture on Hebrew Themes opus 34 (1919), for clarinet, piano and string quartet.  It was premiered in New York City in 1920, with Prokofiev as guest pianist.  The Overture was later grudgingly transcribed for chamber orchestra (1934):   “I don’t understand what sort of obtuse people could have found it necessary to reorchestrate….”cropped-east-windies-logo-small-jpg3

Wind Quintet in F Major Opus 81: Background Info on George Onslow

George Onslow’s homes in Clermont-Fernand:

ONSLOW'S HOMES Clermont-Ferrand 1  Chateau de Chalendrat
ONSLOW'S HOMES Clermont-Ferrand 2  Chateau de Bellerive, Perignot
  • Born 1784, Onslow lived comfortably in chateaux around Clermont-Fernand, with regular sojourns to Paris.
  • He composed Wind Quintet Opus 81 late in life, aged 66 (1850).  He wrote only two further compositions before his death in 1853.
  • Opus 81 was one of a very few quintets written in the 19th c after the celebrated quintets of Anton Reicha (Onslow’s composition teacher in 1808).
  • Opus 81 was dedicated to five eminent musicians of the early 19th c, who had each been important in the evolution of their instrument:   Louis Dorus (flute); Stanislas Verroust (oboe); Charles Verroust (bassoon); Adolphe Leroy (clarinet); and Joseph Mengal (horn).
  • Onlsow’s music was widely celebrated during his lifetime yet virtually unknown following WWI until modern times.
    This post based on  Photo by User:Gegeours.  Accessed 22.08.2016

Speaking of Reeds


These are the best images we’ve found yet of the early chalumeau:   descendant of the recorder and predecessor of the clarinet.  Notice the unusual position of the reed:  played against the upper lip, rather than the bottom lip as today.  On the left is a chalumeau in C (by Liebav) and on the right, one in F (by Klenig) from the early 18th century. (Musikmuseet, Stockholm).chalumeau in C Grove Music Online

For the full story, see:

Colin Lawson. “Chalumeau”.  Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.  Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

How many names can a bassoon have?


First there were the Medieval and Renaissance Shawms, later to become bassoons.  But depending on what 16th century European country you were in, there were plenty of different names.  Try matching up these names with the correct countries ( 29.2.2016):

Curtal/Curtail                       Germany

Basson/Fagot                        England

Dulcian/Fagott                     Spain

Fagotto                                   Italian

Bajon                                       France


Sopranino Dulcian 29.2.2016

The Shawm ~ Bassoon’s Grandaddy


Double reed players: imagine holding the entire double reed INSIDE your mouth!  That was the Medieval shawm….apparently a Bagdad-ian invention in the reign of Calif Harum-al-Rashid (763 – 807). Possibly it was uncomfortable (!?) because by the time of the Rennaissance the double reed had migrated OUTSIDE the mouth and was fully controlled by the lips.  This Iowa State site includes some interesting sound bites: 29/2/2106








Sydney Sopranino


Upcoming ABO concert, Recorder Revolution[1], is featuring a Vivaldi concerto for sopranino recorder (the Flautino).  Popularly known as the English Flute in the 16th – 18th centuries, the recorder family hosted as many as 8 members: the Flautino/sopranino being the very tiniest (8 inches long).  All but forgotten in the 19th and early 20th centuries, recorder music has—you could say—“done a Renaissance”, starting in 1930’s Germany with its adoption by the Youth Movement for folk music. By the 1950’s it was in western schools big time as a first instrument for children.  On the professional side, music for recorder got a boost with the rise of interest in the Baroque and early performance practices.[2]  How do they look?  Here is a collection of modern recorders, with the sopranino on the right.  There’s a somewhat tenuous relationship with the chalumeau  (to ponder in a future post!)

 Recorder FAMILY2

  1.  See the Australian Review 20-21/02/16
  2. These notes based in part on the article re: music instruments/recorders 20.2.16





Seeking the Chalumeau

EAST WINDIES LOGO small.jpgTalking about early instruments, we came to  the CHALUMEAU…that elusive late 17th c pre-cursor to modern clarinets. Here is a handsome modern replica chalumeau in C, with enlarged bell.  It is likely that the originals…sadly difficult to find these days…. had a straight bore with no bell .  Images from (left) and (right)