crumhorn, J-shaped, double-reed musical instrument used throughout Europe from the 15th cent. through the 17th cent. It possesses a soft, reedy tone. The reed is enclosed by a wooden cap with a hole at the top through which the player blows. The cap serves as a wind chamber, which causes the reed to vibrate. The crumhorn is one of the ancestors of the oboe.

The crumhorn is a musical instrument of the woodwind family, most commonly used during the Renaissance period. In modern times, there has been a revival of interest in Early Music, and crumhorns are being played again.

The name 'crumhorn' derives from the German Krumhorn (or Krummhorn or Krumphorn) meaning bent horn. This relates to the old English crump meaning curve, surviving in modern English in 'crumpled' and 'crumpet' (a curved cake). The similar sounding French term cromorne when used correctly refers to a woodwind instrument of different design, although the term cromorne is often used in error synonymously with that of crumhorn.

The crumhorn is a capped reed instrument. Its construction is similar to that of the chanter of a bagpipe. A double reed is mounted inside a windcap at one end of a long pipe. Blowing into the windcap produces a musical note. The pitch of the note can be varied by opening or closing finger holes along the length of the pipe. One unusual feature of the crumhorn is its shape; the end is bent upwards in a curve resembling the letter 'J'.

Crumhorns make a strong buzzing sound. They have a limited range, usually a major ninth; while it is theoretically possible to get the reed to overblow a twelfth above the fundamental note, this is extremely difficult since the reed is not held in the mouth, so in practice all playing is confined to the fundamental series. Some larger instruments have their range extended downwards by means of additional holes and sliders or by dropping the pressure. Modern instruments have their range extended upwards to an eleventh by two keys. Crumhorns can be chromatically played by using cross-fingerings, except for the minor second above the lowest note.

Because of the limited range, music for crumhorns is usually played by a group of instruments of different sizes and hence at different pitches. Such a group is known as a consort of crumhorns. Crumhorns are built in imitation of the vocal quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass as a whole family, as was true with most instruments of the Renaissance. Occasionally some higher and lower sounding instruments are built, but only the great bass has come to stay in addition to the four other sizes. The c/f-pitch has come to stay as among the most Renaissance wood-wind instruments:

size scale range (modern crumhorn in parenthesis)
Soprano c1 d1 – d2 (– f2)
Alto f0 g0 – f1 (– b1)
Tenor c0 d0 – d1 (– f1)
Bass F G – f0 (– b0)
Great Bass C D – d0 (– f0)

Johann Hermann Schein included a padouana à 4 for crumhorns in his collection Banchetto Musicale, 1617. Michael Praetorius suggested the use of crumhorns in some of his sacred vocal works as a possible alternative to trombones, dulcians and other instruments.

In popular music, the band Gryphon used a crumhorn in the 1970s, blending medieval folk music and symphonic rock.

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Additional information :


MP3 Music file:
"L'arboscello ballo furlano" from Mainerio hosted by external site MILLA crumhorns by Stefan Beck
Direct link to file is not provided as license grants private but not commercial use.

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