bout the Gemshorn

Alto Gemshorn in F from the Early Music Shop in Bradford As indicated by its name, the gemshorn was originally made from the horn of the gems or chamois. In the latter middle ages and renaissance it was usually made from ox horn. Less common materials included the horns of goats and those of the ibex.

Despite its overall appearance, the gemshorn is a wind instrument that is in many ways simlar to the recorder. They both have seven finger holes on the front of the instrument and a thumb hole on the rear. They also both produce sound by means of a whistle. Air is directed from the mouthpiece, across a thin plate, which creates vibrations in the airstream. Like some early recorders, some gemshorns included a metal ring that could be slid over the whistle. By partially obstructing the whistle you can adjust the tuning of the instrument. Recorders and gemshorns also suffer from some of the same difficiencies, such as limited dynamic range, and poor performance outdoors due to wind blowing across the whistle.

Alto Gemshorn in F from the Early Music Shop in Bradford One difference between the recorder and the gemshorn is that the latter does not have an outlet for the airstream other than the fingerholes and whistle. Thus the gemshorn sounds more like an ocarina than a recorder. The gemshorn overblows at the 14th, rather than at the octave like the recorder. For practical use the gemshorn has useable range of a ninth.




Alto Gemshorn in F from the Early Music Shop in Bradford Gemshorn were made in a variety of sizes from soprano through bass. Instruments were usually tuned so that the lowest note was an F or a C. (The instrument shown to the right is an alto gemshorn in F.) Ensembles of gemshorns can be used to play a large amount of medieval and renaissnace music. They also blend quite well with recorder consorts.

Alto Gemshorn in F from the Early Music Shop in Bradford The early history of the gemshorn, like that of the recorder, is not well known. Obviously horns had been used as instruments for many thousands of years. However, it is quite difficult to fabricate the whistle on a gemshorn. By the fourteenth century the gemshorn was well established. Although it declined in use during the sixteenth century, it lives on in the form of an organ stop that is common to this day.






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