What is a Bassoon?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The bassoon is a member of the double reed group of woodwinds, which also includes bagpipes, baritone oboe, English horn in F, heckelphone, oboe and oboe d’amore. It comes in two forms: bassoon and contrabassoon or double bassoon. Contra usually indicates an instrument an octave lower than what it is named after, and this is the case here. Both forms are non-transposing instruments. The player is called a bassoonist.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

A bassoon has five parts:

  • A crook or bocal is the curved metal tube that connects the body to the double reed.
  • The wing joint or tenor joint is where the crook connects and which runs parallel to the long joint.
  • The double joint or butt joint, also called the boot, is a u-shaped tube attached to the wing and long joints which contains the hand rest for the right hand.
  • The long joint is the longest piece of tubing and is parallel to the wing joint.
  • The bell ends the instrument. A longer bell can increase the instrument’s range downwards by a minor second.

The instrument was developed from the baroque bassoon, which had a similar shape but fewer keys, and was most used in the 18th century. Two models found today are the German Heckel and the French Buffet bassoon.

The bassoon and contrabassoon are both used in orchestral as well as band ensembles. Perhaps the most famous use of it in an orchestral work is either the part at the beginning of Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), Part I, “L’Adoration de la terre” (Adoration of the Earth), or as the grandfather in Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. There are also memorable passages in French composer Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen during the Entr’acte before Act II and in the very first bars of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s overture to his opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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