The Ophecleide

The serpent eventually morphed into the ophecleide, a metal instrument built more or less in the form of a bassoon. This shape made it possible for the tone holes to be correctly placed and the right size. Unlike the serpent, then, its intonation was dependable. It made a logical bass to the keyed bugle, which was invented at about the same time and for a while became a popular solo instrument. The ophecleide, too, in the hands of skilled players, made an excellent effect both in bands and orchestras and as a solo instrument.

But notice that I must use past tense. Though good reasons exist to revive the ophicleide (to provide a more appropriate sound than the tuba in much nineteenth-century music, for example),  it does not have a lot of love or respect right now.

I have no idea who wrote the following poem, but it has made the rounds of email lists and is certainly worth sharing again.

THE OPHICLEIDEThe Ophicleide, like mortal sin,
Was fostered by the serpent.
Its pitch was vague; its tone was dim;
Its timbre, rude and burpant.

Composers, in a secret vote,
Declared its sound non grata;
And that’s why Wagner never wrote
An Ophicleide Sonata.

Thus spurned, it soon became defunct,
To gross neglect succumbing;
A few were pawned, but most were junked
Or used for indoor plumbing.

And so this ill wind, badly blown,
Has now completely vanished:
I nominate the saxophone
To be the next one banished

Farewell, offensive Ophicleide,
Your epitaph is chiseled:
“I died of ophicleidicide:
I tried, alas, but fizzled!”


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