Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions

4-44 (AMIS-CSTM)
Wind and String Instruments of Several Cultures

William E. Hettrick (Hofstra University), Chair


The Nascent French Bassoon, the Poitevins, and Louis XIII

James B. Kopp (Hoboken, NJ)

Marin Mersenne's Harmonie universelle, published at Paris in 1636, shows four double-bore, double-reed wind instruments that are neither dulcian nor bassoon, though vaguely similar to both. Modern critics of Mersenne have yet to agree on such basic issues as what size the instruments are, how many joints they have, and what they are to be called. A close examination of Mersenne's hitherto neglected Harmonicorum libri (1635) dispels many ambiguities and unlocks details that have gone unnoticed in the much-examined illustrations.
In my paper, a brief comparison of key passages in the French and Latin texts will lead to far-reaching conclusions. Evidence suggests that
1. Mersenne's proto-bassoons are directly descended from larger sizes of hautbois, or shawm; the disposition of keys and tone holes and the bore linkage derive from the extended-bore shawm, and not the dulcian.
2. Two of the instruments are now recognizable as bisected shawms, thus clarifying Mersenne's previously inscrutable "two-part" terminology.
3. Mersenne's third instrument is a later development, a one-piece instrument in which the anonymous maker has taken pains to improve performance while retaining aspects of the outer, shawm-like appearance of the first two instruments.
4. In the fourth proto-bassoon, a further refinement of the design, the maker grappled with design problems that were soon to give rise to the bassoon's wing joint, an ingenious, low-tech solution that is essentially unimproved more than three centuries later.
5. Louis XIII, an accomplished musician who greatly admired the shawm players he heard in Poitou, brought Poitevins and their traditional instruments, including the basse de hautbois de Poitou (another bassoon ancestor) to Versailles, where they encountered Norman makers, long credited as reformers of the baroque woodwinds.
6. The shawm was closely identified with the French court, to the point that the king himself may have intervened to oversee its preservation and development.
Mersenne's instruments, genealogically distinct from the dulcian, represent the known French precursors of the bassoon. Louis XIII and certain Poitevin makers appear to deserve significant credit for the morphology of the baroque bassoon, and thus for the basic shape of the modern bassoon.


Irish Identity through the Harp Tradition

Jennifer Gregory (University of Alberta)

Since the days of Brian Boru (10th century) the harp has symbolised Ireland at her highest achievement, and its players and patrons were respected members of the nobility. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, music was the only productive labour for those suffering a physical ailment (this includes peasants and those with noble roots). It is at this time that travelling pipe and fiddle players started to become more prominent. This new lower class strand of musicians (including some harpers) took on many aspects of the old tradition (in conception). The travelling tradition changed relatively slowly compared to Ireland's dramatically altered power displacement and social restructuring.
The intention of this paper is to explore the importance of the harp tradition as part of the Irish identity. The main scope of the paper covers the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I begin with a brief description of the harp tradition before the eighteenth century. This will cover the noble associations and practices that connected the harp to aristocratic culture. By the seventeenth century, Ireland was a colony undergoing many changes, but these changes did not interfere with the transference of many past associations of the noble tradition of harp playing to other travelling musicians. Instead of pursuing music as a satisfying pastime, these musicians used the profession to earn their means of subsistence. Although the people involved in the music making had limited resources, accounts of the musicians' practices when visiting the "peasantry" resemble the practices of a well-off musician visiting an established circuit of prominent gentry families. This paper will point to the similarities of contemporary accounts and draw attention to their resemblance to an idealised notion of the travelling musician consistent with an Irish identity conceived by the national intelligentsia.


Samuels' "Ærophor": History, Reception, Rejection

William Waterhouse (London, UK)

The Ærophor-or Ton-Binde-Apparat (legato device)-was an apparatus that allowed the wind-player to sustain his tone indefinitely by supplementing his normal supply of breath. The player pumped artificial air into his mouth via foot-operated bellows and tubing; whilst that from the lungs was being replaced, the player could breathe through the nose. Thus the air-stream remained uninterrupted, and the player could produce sustained tone or brilliant passage work (including staccato passages) for an indefinite period of time. The device was seen both as a means of enabling artistic effects to be achieved that would otherwise be impossible, as well as a means for lessening strain.
Its inventor Bernard Samuels (b. 1872) was a professional flute-player in Germany who regularly played with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Between patenting his device in 1911 amd 1915, he demonstrated it widely in Germany, Boston and New York, securing enthusiastic testimonials on both sides of the Atlantic from leading wind players, conductors and musicians. Richard Strauss duly prescribed it in his Sinfonia domestica and Festliches Praeludium. However, the Ærophor was to prove yet another casualty of World War I.
Thanks to rare source-material from Germany (Fritz Marcus archive) and the U.S. (America's Shrine to Music Museum, graciously supplied by Margaret Downie Banks), it is possible at last to document this fascinating "might-have-been" of early twentieth-century wind history.


The Yanagawa Shamisen and Its Place in Japanese Music:
An Exploration of Tradition, Revival and Identity in Instrument Structure

Henry Johnson (University of Otago, New Zealand)

This paper explores the place of the Yanagawa shamisen (three-stringed plucked lute) in traditional Japanese music in terms of its tradition, revival and identity. The instrument represents the type of shamisen (or sangen) that was first introduced to Japan in the sixteenth century, and it is in this capacity that its present position will be examined.
Since the shamisen's introduction to Japan, the instrument has undergone several changes as it has been transmitted through a number of performance genres in different regions and social contexts. Even though a common structure is shared by each of these instruments, a variety of shamisen types are found today, each with its own unique characteristics of construction, performance practice, and repertoire. It is these differences among the instruments which give them their own unique identity within their performance genre.
The Yanagawa shamisen is today one of the smallest genres of shamisen in Japanese music. The paper will survey the form of the instrument in relation to other instrument types in order to explore its link with tradition, revival and identity. As an instrument of traditional Japanese music, the Yanagawa shamisen is examined in terms of how it has been revived in recent years and how its form can not only influence the reconstruction of music styles, but also stand as a powerful object which helps construct tradition and establish identity.


Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions