bout the Crumhorn
The crumhorn is named after its distinctive curved end. In German it is known as the krummhorn, meaning crooked horn. Many of its other names such as crumhorn, cromcorn, and cromorne are derived from its German name. Some of its other names also refer to its distinctive shape. In French it is sometimes called the tournebout, meaning turned up end. In Italian is is called the cornamuto torto, or piva torto, again referring to its turned end.
The crumhorn is a woodwind instrument. It has seven finger holes on the front of the instrument, and a thumb hole on the back. The lowest hole on the front of the instrument, the eighth hole, is created to tune the instrument. The crumhorn also has two keys, one one the front and the other in back. These are used to play notes outside of the lower octave. The crumhorn has a very narrow cylindrical bore which flares out near the end of the instrument. (A detailed photograph of the bore is displayed on the left.)
Unlike most modern woodwinds, the crumhorn is a windcap instrument, in which a double reed is encased in an outer enclosure. (The image to the right displays the crumhorn reed alongside a bassoon reed and oboe reed.) The windcap allows the reed to vibrate freely, unimpeded by the players lips. A disadvantage of this arrangment is that it is not possible to overblow to a higher octave. Thus, the crumhorn has a small range, of one octave and one note. With the addition of keys, the range can be extended by a few notes. Another disadvantage of the windcap is that it is not possible to vary the loudness of the tone without also varying the pitch. So, like the recorder, the crumhorn has a very limited dynamic range. The disadvantages of the windcap were so great that by the seventeenth century crumhorns were sometimes played without the cap in a manner similar to an oboe. From reading this you may realize that the crumhorn is very much like some of the reed stops on an organ. Indeed this is the case, and there were crumhorn stops on some organs from the sixteenth century.
Click here to download a windows audio file of a crumhorn.
Crumhorns flourished in Europe from the late fifteenth century through the early seventeenth century. Like, recorders and viols, crumhorns were built in a variety of sizes. The most common were the descant with a range from g to a', the tenor with a range from c to d', and the bass with a range from F to g. (The photograph to the left contains a ruler to give you an idea of the size of a crumhorn.) It was highly uncommon during the sixteenth century to indicate that a work is intended for particular instruments. Thus, there is no extant works for crumhorns from this period. However, ensembles of crumhorns could play a good amount of the polyphonic from the sixteenth century. There are accounts of musical performances that indicate that crumhorns were used in consort with sackbutts, cornetts, and shawms. In such instances the crumhorns usually took the inner voices, and left the top voice to the cornett. There are two notable works for crumhorn. The fist is Erzurne dich nicht by Thomas Stoltzer. This six-part setting of Psalm 37 was written in 1526. It is the first extant composition conceived for crumhorns. The second notable work for crumhorns is the Padouana a four Krumhorn by Johann Schein. It is found in his Banchetto Musicale from 1617.
Crumhorns are particularly well suited to playing outdoors, not only because of their timbre, but they are not effected by the wind like recorders.
The crumhorn pictured on this page is made by Susato. It is made from ABS plastic, rather than wood. The reed is also made of plastic, rather than cane. Plastic reeds are very convenient, as they do not require moistening prior to playing.
Crumhorns are closely related to numerous other instruments. One such instrument is the cornamuse. It is similar in construction, but lacks the crumhorn's distinctive curve. It has a more muted tone due to an enclosure on the end of the instrument.
Page Design Copyright 2010 Michael Berger
Clip Art Copyright 2002 Dover Publications