in the older style of music this mechanism may have been useful; but it would hardly adapt itself to the rapid modulations of later composers.
The Bassoon is an instrument which has evidently originated in a fortuitous manner, developed by successive improvements rather of an empirical than of a theoretical nature; hence its general arrangement has not materially altered since the earliest examples. Various attempts have been made to give greater accuracy and completeness to its singularly capricious scale; but up to the present time all these seem either to have diminished the flexibility of the instrument in florid passages, or to have impaired its peculiar but telling and characteristic tone. Almenräder in Germany is credited with certain improvements, but one of the best of these efforts at reconstruction was shown in the Exhibition of 1851 by Cornelius Ward, and it has already fallen entirely into disuse. Hence bassoons by the older makers are generally preferred to newer specimens, and they therein alone resemble stringed among wind instruments. Those of Savary especially are in great request, and command high prices. The copies of these made by Samme in this country are not far inferior to them, though they lack the particular sweetness and singing tone of the French maker.
The compass is from sixteen-foot B♭ to A♭ in the treble . The upper limit has been greatly raised in modern instruments by additional mechanism, so that the C, and even the F above the A♭ referred to, can be reached. The natural scale is however that named, the notes above A♭ being uncertain and somewhat different in quality from those below.
Like the oboe, of which it is the bass, the bassoon gives the consecutive harmonics of an open pipe, a fact which Helmholtz has shown mathematically to depend on its conical bore.
It consists of five pieces, named respectively the crook, wing, butt, long joints, and bell. These, when fitted together, form a hollow cone about eight feet long, tapering from 5/16 of an inch at the reed to 1¾ inches at the bell end. In the butt joint this bore is bent abruptly back upon itself, both sections being pierced in the same block of wood, and united at the lower end; the prolongation of the double tube being in general stopped by means of a flattened oval cork. The whole length of the instrument, by internal measurement, being ninety-three inches, about twelve are in the crook, thirty-two in the downward branch, and the remaining forty-nine in the ascending joints. The height is thus reduced to a little over four feet, and the various holes are brought within reach of the fingers. They would still be situated too far apart for an ordinary hand if they were not pierced obliquely; the upper hole for each forefinger passing upwards in the substance of the wood, and those for the third or ring-fingers passing downwards in a similar way. There are three holes in the wing joint—so named from a projecting wing of wood intended to contain them; three others on the front of the butt joint—to be closed by the first three fingers of the left and right hands respectively; a single hole on the back of the butt joint, for the thumb of the right hand; and a series of inter-locking keys on the long joint, producing the lowest notes of the scale by means of the left thumb. It will thus be seen that the instrument is held in the hollow of the two hands, with the left uppermost, at the level of the player's breast, the right hand being somewhat below and behind the right thigh. A strap round the neck supports the bulk of the weight. The little finger of the right hand touches two keys which produce A♭ and F . With this latter note the real fundamental scale ends, exactly as it does in the oboe; all the mechanism of the long joint and bell only strengthening the tone and producing the seven lowest semitones upwards from B♭. In comparing the bassoon with its kindred treble instrument, the oboe, it must be remembered that it has this supplementary prolongation of its compass downwards, which the other lacks. The seven lowest holes and keys therefore produce only one sound apiece; but the case is totally different with those following next above them, from the little finger of the right hand to the forefinger of the left. These eight holes and keys can each be made to give two sounds at an interval of an octave by varying the pressure of the lip. After the double register thus obtained has been run through, there still remain a few notes to be got by cross-fingerings at the interval of a twelfth, namely the F♯, G♮, and A♭, with which the natural scale has been stated to end. In modern instruments two or even three keys are added at the top of the wing-joint, to be worked by the thumb of the left hand stretched across from the other side. They open small harmonic holes close to the crook, and enable seven semitones to be added, from A♮ to E♭ inclusive . Even above this there are two outlying notes, E♮ and F , to be obtained by exceptional players without mechanism; and it is not improbable that still higher, although