Second thoughts on the ophicleide

I wrote earlier about the ophicleide mainly to introduce a humorous poem. I later received a stern reprimand from a friend of mine, who objected to my statement that “it does not have a lot of love or respect now.” He wondered how I could possibly justify the statement and  hoped I would write another article after I learned more about it. That friend, Douglas Yeo, deserves more attention to and respect for his comments to me than almost anyone else I know. He is the bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and also plays other instruments such as … Continue reading

The buccin: a dragon-headed trombone

In the early nineteenth century, some  French and Belgian instrument makers manufacturered a fanciful adaptation of the trombone known as the buccin. In place of the standard bell section, it had a widely curving tube  ending with a gaudily painted serpent’s or dragon’s head.  The same makers also put monster’s heads on serpents, serpent bassoons, and other precursors of the ophicleide. Judging from the trombone parts in French music during or after the Revolution, the was played loudly, primarily in the lower register.  As the French used a very small-bore trombone, its sound must have been coarse and at times … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading