The piffero or piffaro is a double reed musical instrument with a conical bore, of the oboe family. It is used to play music in the tradition of the quattro province, an area of mountains and valleys in the north-west Italian Apennines which includes parts of the four provinces of Alessandria, Genoa, Piacenza and Pavia.

The instrument is a descendant of the Medieval shawm and belongs to the family of the bombarde. It is pitched in G.

The reed used by the piffero is inserted in a conical brass tube, which is itself inserted in a pirouette. This peculiarity, which is shared with oriental and ancient oboes, is unique in Italy.

The piffero has eight tone holes, one of which, on the back of the instrument, is usually covered by the left hand thumb, and ends with a bell, where a cock tail feather (used to clean the reed) typically rests during execution.

Traditionally it was accompanied by an Appennine bagpipe known as the müsa. In the early 20th century the müsa was largely displaced by the accordion, which musicians found in some ways more versatile. However towards the end of the twentieth century the bagpipes made a comeback and today the piffero is commonly accompanied by either of these instruments, or by both.

Related to the piffero is a larger Sicilian instrument known as the bifora, or pifara.

Other uses of the term piffero

Piffero is sometimes used as the name of an organ stop which emulates the sound of members of the shawm family, while Piffaro is the name of an organ stop, also known as Voce Umana, whose sound resembles a transverse flute.

The Italian word piffero can also refer to the fife, as in Michael Haydn's Symphony in C major, Perger 10, which calls for pifferi in addition to regular flutes.


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