basset horn


The basset horn or tenor clarinet (sometimes written basset-horn) is a musical instrument, a member of the clarinet family.

Construction and tone

Like the clarinet, the instrument is a wind instrument with a single reed and a cylindrical bore. However, the basset horn is larger and has a bend near the mouthpiece rather than an entirely straight body (older instruments are typically curved or bent in the middle), and while the clarinet is typically a transposing instrument in B flat or A (meaning a written C sounds as a B flat or A), the basset horn is typically in F. Finally, the basset horn has additional keys for an extended range down to written C, which sounds F at the bottom of the bass staff. Its timbre is similar to the clarinet's, but darker and less brilliant. Basset horns in A, G, E, E flat, and D also were made; the first of these is closely related to the basset clarinet.

To confuse matters, the basset horn is not a horn; its name probably derives from the resemblance of early, curved or angled versions to a horn. The notion that it was invented by a person named Horn appears to be fanciful. Some of the earliest basset horns, dating from the 1760s, bear a maker's stamp claiming they were invented by A. and M. Mayerhofer of Passau, but while this claim has not been discredited, it remains unproved.

Modern basset horns can be divided into three basic types, distinguished primarily by bore size and consequently the mouthpieces with which they are played:

- The small bore basset horn has a bore diameter in the range of 15.5 to 16.0 mm (still somewhat larger than a soprano clarinet bore, though it is often erroneously thought to be the same; even a large bore English clarinet, such as the old B&H 1010 design has a smaller bore of 15.3 mm). It is played with a Bb/A clarinet mouthpiece. Only Selmer (Paris) and Stephen Fox (Canada) currently make this model.

- The medium bore basset horn has a bore diameter in the region of 17.0 mm or slightly less. This is the most common type made by German manufacturers. Since no French-style mouthpiece with an appropriate bore is mass produced, this model requires a matching German basset horn mouthpiece. (This model is not usually recognized in North America, where it is incorrectly confused with the large bore type described below.) Stephen Fox (Canada) currently makes this model also.

- The large bore basset horn, with a bore diameter of about 18.0 mm and played with an alto clarinet mouthpiece, is in constructional terms an alto clarinet pitched in F and with the extra basset notes. The Leblanc basset horns (bores c. 18.0 to 18.2 mm) are of this type

The current Buffet basset horn could be called a hybrid "medium-large bore" model, since it uses an alto clarinet mouthpiece but has a bore diameter around 17.2 mm.


A number of composers of the classical period wrote for the basset horn, and the famous 18th century clarinettist Anton Stadler played it. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was by far the most notable composer for the basset horn, including it in the Maurerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music), K. 477, the Gran Partita, K. 361, the Requiem, K. 626, and several of his operas, like Die Entführung aus dem Serail and La Clemenza di Tito which features Vitellia's great aria "Non più di fiori" with basset-horn obbligato, and chamber works. He wrote dozens of pieces for basset horn ensembles. His famous concerto for clarinet and orchestra in A, K. 622, was originally sketched out as a concerto for basset horn in G. Other early works for basset horn include a concerto for basset horn in G and small orchestra by Carl Stamitz, which has been arranged for conventional basset horn in F, and a concerto in F by Heinrich Backofen.

In the 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn wrote two pieces for the basset horn, clarinet and piano (opus 113 and 114). These were later scored for string orchestra. Antonin Dvořák attempted a half-hearted revival, using the instrument in his Czech Suite (1879), but the instrument was largely abandoned until Richard Strauss took it up once more in his operas Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier, and Capriccio, and several later works, including two wind serenades (Happy Workshop and Invalid's Workshop).

Other works

Basset horn soloists and ensembles

The Prague Trio of Basset-horns, based in the Czech Republic, has a repertoire of music (originally written for, or transcribed for, three basset horns) by composers including Mozart, Scott Joplin, and Paul Desmond.


The Italian name for the instrument, corno di bassetto, was used by Bernard Shaw as a pseudonym when writing music criticism.


See also

  • Alto clarinet (a somewhat similar instrument, pitched one whole step lower)

External links


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