A Conversation for Bassoons
Flying Betty- Now with added nickname tag! Started conversation May 1, 2002
Does anyone know what the actual differences between French and German system bassoons are?
onlyocelot Posted Sep 25, 2003
Hokey. I've played both, but I'm not sitting here with my reference books right to hand. That's a byproduct of a bad fall, a splinted ankle, and too many stairs between me and Langwill.
Anyway. The french bassoon is lighter in construction than the german bassoon, and, played properly, has a much 'thinner, more reedy' tone. The german bassoon is heavier in construction, and the tone is darker, to the point of being muted in some cases. French bassoon can be held in the hands of the player without straps or other contrivances. The german bassoon is generally supported by a strap that attaches to or cups the bottom of the instrument, although some players depend it from a neck strap, much like saxophonists use. Some go as far as to install a spike on the bottom, like a 'cello, or use a contraption kind of like a cross between a cymbal stand and a space shuttle end-effector, but all of them have about the same effect, to pivot the instrument from the bottom end. Then, the german bassoon is supported nearly upright by the left hand and stabilized sometimes by a right-hand palm rest called a 'crutch'.
The keywork is different, not just in the way it is pivoted (for all I know, long-rod pivots might be used on french bassoons, but the ones I've seen tended more to short-rod pivots and longer key extensions, and for all the world reminded me more of keywork on a baroque bassoon). French bassoons have traditionally had more upper range (leading perhaps to a refutation of the story that Stravinsky intended the opening of Rite of Spring to be unplayable and rustic sounding?) but the addition of high d and e octave keys on the german bassoon have closed that gap. Both have the same bottom note (Bb).
The reeds for the two schools of bassoonery are different as well. The german bassoon reed tends to have a central rib on each side, perpindicular to the wires. This is so pronounced in some german reed forms that it is called an 'oak tree'. The reed tapers out and away from this rib, both to the mated side edges and to the tip. The tip is generally made very thin. For the french bassoon, though, the taper is far more wedge-like, tapering from the wire to the tip. There is no tendency (at least as I was taught) for greater thinness at the tip, as the german bassoon reeds do.
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