Atypical wind instruments

A bazaar of shapes and materials used for wind instruments

Shawm frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


The bombard is a double-reed instrument in the oboe family found mainly in Brittany, in northwest France.

Although the name bombard can be found in texts going back to the Middle Ages, it only became attached to the instrument in its current form from the 19th century.

Its notable volume makes it an instrument for outdoor spaces and it is usually played in ensembles known as bagad.

Musette de cour frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


The baroque musette (or musette de cour) is a small bagpipe which was used in the French court between the end of the Renaissance and the 1760s. This double-reed instrument was a variant that used a bag rather than the musician's breath to make sound.

The abundant sheet music (more than 200 scores are known) written for the baroque musette, including operas by Lully and Rameau, testify to the interest the aristocracy had in the instrument: the musette was used for the pastoral music that was very fashionable at court, dances, farces, and romances, as well as for sonatas that required true virtuosity.

These instruments were widely destroyed during the French Revolution (1789–1799) and a little over 120 survive to this day.

Clarinet in Bb frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


The clarinet, a single-reed instrument, belongs to the woodwind family even though it can be made of plastic, ebonite, or metal—like this one in nickel silver, an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel.

Oboe frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


The oboe, a double-reed instrument, is traditionally made of wood.
The search for new materials in response to the difficulty of locating ebony and in order to obtain an instrument less at the mercy of variations in humidity caused by the musician's breath drove instrument makes to try synthetic materials.

This instrument is made of altuglass, an artificial material similar to Plexiglas: the resulting sound is indistinguishable from that of wooden instruments to most listeners.

Globular flute (Coucou de théâtre) frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


The cuckoo whistle truly lives up to its name. Capable of two notes only, this instrument is used to imitate the distinctive cuc-koo call of the bird.

Flageolet frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


This small instrument in the flute family appeared in France in the 16th century. It is characterized by four finger holes on the front and two thumb holes. Evidence of the word flageolet can be found dating back to the 13th century. Derived from the words flageol, flagot, flaiol, flajo, it appears that it was originally used to refer to a type of pastoral flute.

The first instance of the French flageolet in its current form was in 1581, when Sir Juvigny de Paris played one in the "Ballet Comique de la Reine." The flageolet coexisted with the recorder but, unlike the recorder, did not disappear at the end of the Baroque period. It was being played right up until the beginning of the First World War.

Leblanc catalogue (first half 20th century) by LeblancLe Musée des instruments à vent


The clarinet has the distinction of being the wind instrument with the widest variety of sizes available today. There are about a dozen different clarinets, from the tiny sopranino in Ab to the huge octocontrabass clarinet manufactured exclusively by Leblanc.

Piccolo clarinet in Ab frontLe Musée des instruments à vent

The Ab clarinet is the smallest member of the clarinet family.

Bass sarrusophone in Bb view 1Le Musée des instruments à vent


The sarrusophone is a double-reed instrument. It's a kind of metal bassoon intended to replace the oboe and bassoon in military music thanks to its louder sound. It was used in outdoor music, music for concert band, and in military music.

It was invented in 1856 by Pierre-Auguste Sarrus and built by Pierre-Louis Gautrot, who patented it under the name sarrusophone in order to contend with the success of Sax and his saxophones. Gautrot and the Parisian instrument makers entered into a commercial war against Sax. The instrument fell out of use a little before the Second World War, but many great composers wrote for it, including Debussy, Massenet, Ravel, Saint Saëns, Stravinsky, and others.

Upright serpent frontLe Musée des instruments à vent


This instrument is built almost the same as a bassoon; however, it is a brass instrument in the serpent family, and at the end of the bocal is a mouthpiece. The bell may have an animalistic appearance (serpent or dragon) and be painted.

The upright serpent was developed from the serpent proper (an instrument that took its name from its serpentine shape, used to accompany song at church and for military music) with the shape changed to make it easier to carry.

These upright versions give the serpent the appearance of a bassoon, giving rise to the name Russian bassoon (in French basson Russe. Russe possibly due to a renomination of Rust, the last name of an instrument maker based in Lyon).

The instrument fell out of use with the appearance of the ophicleide, which performed to a higher standard.

Bass ophicleide view 1Le Musée des instruments à vent


The ophicleide is a bass horn made of metal invented by Halary (Jean Hilaire Asté) in Paris, 1817. The Greek origin of the name (ophis meaning serpent, kleis meaning key) is an allusion to the serpent, an instrument played in churches and military ensembles that originally lacked keys. The ophicleide replaced the serpent in churches and was integrated into the symphonic orchestra from 1817.

The instrument remained difficult to play, as its timbre was not homogeneous throughout its range, requiring great skill from its players. This was the cause of it falling out of use at the end of the 19th century in favor of the tuba.

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