bassoon (băsōnˈ) [key], double-reed woodwind instrument that plays in the bass and tenor registers. Its 8-ft (2.4-m) conical tube is bent double, the instrument thus being about 4 ft (1.2 m) high. It evolved from earlier double-reed instruments in the 16th cent. and by 1600 was common throughout Europe. When the orchestra developed in the 17th cent., the bassoon was one of the original woodwinds included and has been indispensable ever since. It was much improved in the 19th cent. in both France and Germany; the French and German bassoons have since differed from each other appreciably in tonal quality and construction. Although used in chamber music, the bassoon has only a small literature as a solo instrument. When played staccato it can have a humorous effect that has been frequently exploited by composers. The contrabassoon, also called double bassoon, is pitched an octave below the bassoon. Fingering is the same for both. The contrabassoon's tube, more than 16 ft (4.9 m) long, is doubled back upon itself four times. First made by Hans Schreiber of Berlin in 1620, it was used by Handel, Haydn, and Beethoven. Technical imperfections hindered any extensive use until a German, Wilhelm Heckel, in the late 19th cent. improved its construction and intonation, producing the model in general use today.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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