1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cromorne

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Britannica Cromorne Bass Tournebout.png
Bass Tournebout.

CROMORNE, also CRUMHORNE[1] (Ger. Krummhorn; Fr. tournebout), a wind instrument of wood in which a cylindrical column of air is set in vibration by a reed. The lower extremity is turned up in a half-circle, and from this peculiarity it has gained the French name tournebout. The reed of the cromorne, like that of the bassoon, is formed by a double tongue of cane adapted to the small end of a conical brass tube or crook, the large end fitting into the main bore of the instrument. It presents, however, this difference, that it is not, like that of the bassoon, in contact with the player's lips, but is covered by a cap pierced in the upper part with a raised slit against which the performer's lips rest, the air being forced through the opening into the cap and setting the reed in vibration. The reed itself is therefore not subject to the pressure of the lips. The compass of the instrument is in consequence limited to the simple fundamental sounds produced by the successive opening of the lateral holes. The length of the cromornes is inconsiderable in proportion to the deep sounds produced by them, which arises from the fact that these instruments, like all tubes of cylindrical bore provided with reeds, have the acoustic properties of the stopped pipes of an organ. That is to say, theoretically they require only half the length necessary for the open pipes of an organ or for conical tubes provided with reeds, to produce notes of the same pitch. Moreover, when, to obtain an harmonic, the column of air is divided, the cromorne will not give the octave, like the oboe and bassoon, but the twelfth, corresponding in this peculiarity with the clarinet and all stopped pipes or bourdons. In order, however, to obtain an harmonic on the cromorne, the cap would have to be discarded, for a reed only overblows to give the harmonic overtones when pressed by the lips. With the ordinary boring of eight lateral holes the cromorne possesses a limited compass of a ninth. Sometimes, however, deeper sounds are obtained by the addition of one or more keys. By its construction the cromorne is one of the oldest wind instruments; it is evidently derived from the Gr. aulos[2] and the Roman tibia, which likewise consisted of a simple cylindrical pipe of which the air column was set in vibration, at first by a double reed, and, we have reason to believe, later by a single reed (see Aulos and Clarinet). The Phrygian aulos was sometimes curved (see Tib. ii. i. 85 Phrygio tibia curva sono; Virgil, Aen. xi. 737 curva chores indixit tibia Bacchi).[3]

Notwithstanding the successive improvements that were introduced in the manufacture of wind instruments, the cromorne scarcely ever varied in the details of its construction. Such as we see it represented in the treatise by Virdung[4] we find it again about the epoch of its disappearance.[5] The cromornes existed as a complete family from the 15th century, consisting, according to Virdung, of four instruments; Praetorius[6] cites five — the deep bass, the bass, the tenor or alto, the cantus or soprano and the high soprano, with compass as shown. A band, or, to use the expression of Praetorius, an “accort” of cromornes comprised 1 deep bass, 2 bass, 3 tenor, 2 cantus, 1 high soprano = 9.


Britannica Cromorne Praetorius Deep Bass Range.png Britannica Cromorne Praetorius Bass Range.png Britannica Cromorne Praetorius Tenor Range.png Britannica Cromorne Praetorius Soprano Range.png Britannica Cromorne Praetorius High Soprano Range.png
Deep Bass. Bass. Tenor. Soprano. High Soprano.


Mersenne[7] explains the construction of the cromorne, giving careful illustrations of the instrument with and without the cap. From him we learn that these instruments were made in England, where they were played in concert in sets of four, five and six. Their scheme of construction and especially the reed and cap is very similar to that of the chalumeau of the musette (see Bag-pipe), but its timbre is by no means so pleasant. Mersenne's cromornes have ten fingerholes, Nos. 7 and 8 being duplicates for right and left-handed players. They were probably sometimes used, as was the case with the hautbois de Poitou(see Bag-pipe), without the cap, when an extended compass was required.

The cromornes were in very general use in Europe from the 14th to the 17th century, and are to be found in illustrations of pageants, as for instance in the magnificent collection of woodcuts designed by Hans Burgmair, a pupil, of Albrecht Dürer, representing the triumph of the emperor Maximilian,[8] where a bass and a tenor Krumbhorn player figure in the procession among countless other musicians. In the inventory of the wardrobe, &c., belonging to Henry VIII. at Westminster, made during the reign of Edward VI., we find eighteen crumhornes (see British Museum, Harleian MS. 1419, ff. 2O2b and 205). The cromornes did not always form an orchestra by themselves, but were also used in concert with other instruments and notably with flutes and oboes, as in municipal bands and in the private bands of princes. In 1685 the orchestra of the Neue Kirche at Strassburg comprised two tournebouts or cromornes, and until the middle of the 18th century these instruments formed part of the court band known as “Musique de la Grande Écurie” in the service of the French kings. They are first mentioned in the accounts for the year 1662, together with the tromba-marina, although the instrument was already highly esteemed in the 16th century. In that year five players of the cromorne were enrolled among the musicians of the Grande Écurie du Roi;[9] they received a yearly salary of 120 livres, which various supplementary allowances brought up to about 330 livres. In 1729 one of the cromorne players sold his appointment for 4000 francs. This was a sign of the failing popularity of the instrument. The duties of the cromorne and tromba-marina players consisted in playing in the great divertissements and at court functions and festivals in honour of royal marriages, births and thanksgivings.

Cromornes have become of extreme rarity and are not to be found in all collections. The Paris Conservatoire possesses one large bass cromorne of the 16th century, the Kgl. Hochschule für Musik,[10] Berlin, a set of seven, and the Ambroser Sammlung, Vienna, a cromorne in E♭.[11] The museum of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique at Brussels has the good fortune to possess a complete family which is said to have belonged to the duke of Ferrara, Alphonso II. d'Este, a prince who reigned from 1559 to 1597. The soprano (cantus or discant) has the same compass as above, while those of the alto, the tenor (furnished with a key) and the bass are as shown.


Britannica Cromorne Ferrara Alto Range.png Britannica Cromorne Ferrara Tenor Range.png Britannica Cromorne Ferrara Bass Range.png
Alto. Tenor. Bass.


The bass (see figure), besides having two keys, is distinguished from the others by two contrivances like small bolts, which slide in grooves and close the two holes that give the lowest notes of the instrument. The use of these bolts, placed at the extremity of the tournebout and out of reach of the fingers of the instrumentalist, renders necessary the assistance of a person whose sole mission is to attend to them during the performance. E. van der Straeten[12] mentions a key belonging to a large cromorne bearing the date 1537, of which he gives a large drawing. A cromorne appears in a musical scene with a trumpet in Hermann Finck's Practica Musica.[13]

The “Platerspil,” of which Virdung gives a drawing, is only a kind of cromorne. It is characterized by having, instead of a cap to cover the reed, a spherical receiver surrounding the reed, to which the tube for insufflation is adapted. The Platerspiel is also frequently classified among bagpipes. In the Cantigas di Sante Maria,[14] a MS. of the 13th century preserved in the Escorial, Madrid, two instruments of this type are represented. One of these has two straight, parallel pipes, slightly conical; the other is frankly conical with wide bore turned up at the end.

Other instruments belonging by their most important characteristics of cylindrical bore and double reed to the same family as the cromorne, although the bore was somewhat differently disposed, are the racket bassoon and the sourdine or sordelline. The latter was introduced into the orchestra by Cavaliere in his opera Rappresentazione di anima e di corpo, and is described by Giudotto[15] in his edition of the score as “Flauti overo due tibie all' antica che noi chiamiamo sordelline,” a description which tallies with what has been said above concerning the aulos and tibia. (V. M. and K. S.)


  1. Crumhorne need not be regarded as a corruption of the German, since the two words of which it is composed were both in use in medieval England. Crumb = curved; crumbe = hook, bend; crome = a staff with a hook at the end of it. See Stratmann's Middle English Dictionary (1891), and Halliwell, Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words (London, 1881).
  2. See A. Howard, “Aulos or Tibia,” Harvard Studies, iv. (Boston, 1893).
  3. See also A. A. Howard, op. cit., “Phrygian Aulos,” pp. 35-38.
  4. Musica getutscht und auszgezogen (Basel, 1511).
  5. See Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie (Paris, 1751-1780), t. 5, “Lutherie,” pl. ix.
  6. Organographia (Wolfenbüttel, 1618).
  7. L'Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636-1637), book v. pp. 289 and 290. Cf. “Musette,” pp. 282-287 and 305.
  8. See “Triumphzug des Kaisers Maximilian I.” Beilage zum II. Band des Jahrb. der Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (Vienna, 1884-1885), pl. 20. Explanatory text and part i. in Band i. of the same publication, 1883-1884. A French edition with 135 plates was also published in Vienna by A. Schmidt, and in London by J. Edwards (1796). See also Dr August Reissmann, Illustrierte Geschichte der deutschen Musik (Leipzig, 1881), where a few of the plates are reproduced.
  9. See J. Ecorcheville, “Quelques documents sur la musique de la grande écurie du roi,” Sammelband d. Intern. Musik. Ges. Jahrg. ii., Heft 4 (1901, Leipzig, London, &c.), pp. 630-632.
  10. Oskar Fleischer, Führer (Berlin, 1892), p. 29, Nos. 400 to 406.
  11. For an illustration see Captain C. R. Day, Descriptive Catalogue (London, 1891), pl. iv. E. and p. 99.
  12. Histoire de la musique aux Pays-Bas avant le XIXe siècle (Brussels, 1867-1888), vol. vii. p. 336, and description, p. 333 et seq.
  13. Wittenberg, 1556; reproduced by A. Reissmann, op. cit., pp. 233 and 226.
  14. Reproduced in Riaño's Notes on Early Spanish Music (London, 1887), pp. 119-127.
  15. See Hugo Goldschmidt, “Das Orchester der italienischen Oper im 17. Jahrh.” Sammelband der Intern. Musikgesellschaft, Jahrg. ii., Heft 1 (Leipzig, 1900), p. 24.