THE bassoon (German, Fagott; French, basson; Italian, fagotto) is probably an instrument of great antiquity. Its name suggests an instrument taking a bass part, just as tenoroon has been used for one taking the tenor part. But the Arabians had an instrument named besuin, while the Egyptian term for a deep-toned pipe was zummarah-bi-soan. The use of the term busaine or buisine, in mediæval manuscripts, points to an Oriental origin for the instrument. Its Italian name, fagotto, comes from its fancied resemblance to a bundle of sticks, also called fagotto. The Grecians probably had instruments of this type; for the sombre effect of their "Nome of Kradias," or march to execution, had just the sort of impressive gloom that the bassoon could give.
The present bassoon is the work of Afranio, canon of Ferrara, in 1540. It consists of a tapering tube, doubled upon itself, and provided with a brass crook to hold its rather large mouthpiece. Like that of the oboe, this consists of two pieces of reed. The bassoon scale is singularly hard to play, but all efforts to obviate this seem to have injured the tone-color.
The natural scale of the bassoon is that of G-major; but it has a number of extra keys that enable it to reach down to the B-flat over two octaves below middle C. Its compass extends up to the A-flat above middle C, giving it a range of nearly three octaves. The lower register forms a good bass to the wood-wind quartet, which in later classical times consisted of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. The middle register of the bassoon is dull and hollow, while the upper tones have a penetrating power that is not unlike a cry of agony. The tone-color of the bassoon is sometimes impressively sombre; but it is well suited to grotesque effects also, and has been called "the clown of the orchestra."
As the music of the bassoon is written in either bass or tenor clef, it may be well to enumerate the clefs here. Taken in order, from