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History of the Bassoon

Bassoon, Basson, Fagot, Fagott, Fagotto

(1644 - 1650s)
The curtal (or bajon, dulcian - depending on the country) was slowly being replaced by the bassoon, (or basson, fagot, fagott). In Italy and other countries, the name (fagot, fagott, fagotto) carried over from the earlier instrument to also be applied to the newer instrument.

After organs were banned from English churches in 1644 as monuments to superstition and idolatry, music was supplied by small groups of instruments including the newly developed bassoon (beginning around the 1650s). Therefore, one of the earliest places bassoonists performed was in church.

(1657 - 1712)
Martin Hotteterre of Paris (died 1712) and a member of a large French family (extending to four generations) of musicians, wood-turners, and woodwind instrument makers is considered the one most likely to have developed the true bassoon in four sections (bell, bass joint, boot and wing joint). He is also thought to be the inventor of the three-piece flute traversiere and the hautbois (oboe).

The curtal cannot be said to have simply evolved into the bassoon as the bassoon was most likely a newly-invented instrument with only a superficial resemblance to the older instrument. Although the bassoon became predominant over the curtal (or dulcian), it was never completely replaced and the curtal continued to be used well into the 18th century by Bach and others.

Sometime in the 1650s, Hotteterre is believed to have built the bassoon into four sections, which facilitated far greater accuracy in machining the bore compared to the older curtal. He also extended the the pitch of the instrument down to the Bb with the addition of two keys and the longer bell.

Although he is given credit for the invention, it is also possible that Hotteterre was one of several craftsman responsible for the bassoon's early development which might have included others in his family as well as other French makers active at the same time. Unfortunately, no original French bassoon from this period survives but if they did they would probably resemble the earliest instruments by Johann Christoph Denner and Richard Haka from the 1680s.

Sometime around 1700, a fourth key (G#) was added, and it was for the 4-keyed bassoon that Vivaldi, Bach and Telemann wrote their music. A fifth key, for the low Eb, was added during the first half of the 18th century. Makers of 4-key and 5-key bassoons include J.H. Eichentopf, J. Poerschmann, Thomas Stanesbury, Jr., G.H. Scherer, and Prudent Thieriot.

(1675 - 1700)
Towards the end of the 17th century there was a gradual transition from the use of the curtal to the use of the bassoon in England. There are many records of bassoons being used, particularly in wealthier parishes which were able to raise the money for their purchase.

In most early music written for the bassoon, it was used merely to play the bass line and it was usually tied to the continuo part. Then, in 1678, it became part of orchestras for French opera when Jean Baptiste Lully called for bassoons in his opera, Psyche.