Another curious acoustic phenomenon bears upon the construction of wind instruments, and especially upon the bassoon. When the diameter of the lateral opening or bell is smaller than that of the bore, the portion of the tube below the hole, which should theoretically be as though non-existent, asserts itself, lowering the pitch of the note produced at the hole and damping the tone; this is peculiarly noticeable in the A of the bassoon whose hole is much too high and too small in diameter. To cite an example of the scope of Carl Almenräder's improvements in the bassoon, he readjusted the position of the A hole, stopped by the third finger of the right hand, boring lower down the tube, not one large hole, but two of medium diameter, covered by an open key to be closed by the same finger from the accustomed position; one of these A holes communicates with the narrower bore in the butt joint, and the other with the wider bore. The effect is a perfectly clear, full and accurate tone. Almenräder's other alterations were made on the same principle, and produced an instrument more perfect mechanically and theoretically than Savary's, but lacking some of the characteristics of the bassoon. In Germany Almenräder's improvements have been generally adopted and his model with 16 keys is followed by most makers, and notably by Heckel of Biebrich.
The unwieldy bass pommers of the 15th and 16th centuries led to many attempts to produce a more practical bass for the orchestra by doubling back the long tube of the instrument. Thus transformed, the pommer became a fagotto. The invention of the bassoon or fagotto is ascribed to Afranio, a canon of Ferrara, in a work by his nephew, Theseus Ambrosius Albonesius, entitled Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam ... et descriptio ac Simulacrum Phagoti Afranii (Pavia, 1539). The illustration of the instrument, showing front and back views (p. 179), taken in conjunction with the detailed description (pp. 33-38), at once disposes of the suggestion that the phagotus of Afranio and the fagotto or bassoon were in any way related; the author himself is greatly puzzled as to the etymology of the word. The phagotus in fact, resembles nothing so much as the musical curiosity known as flûte-à-bec à colonne, but double and played by bellows, assigned by G. Chouquet to the 16th century. This flute consisted of a column, with base and capital, both stopped, the vent and the whistle being concealed within perforated brass boxes, in the upper and lower parts of the column.
Afranio's phagotus consisted of two similar twin columns with base and capital containing finger-holes and keys; between the columns in front was a shorter column for ornament, and at the back of it another still shorter whose capital could be lifted, and a sort of bellows or bag-pipe inserted by means of which the instrument was sounded. The first instrument was made, we are told, by Ravilius of Ferrara, from Afranio's design. Mersenne, who does not seem to have any difficulty in understanding the construction of Afranio's phagotus, does not consider him the inventor of the fagotto or bassoon, but of another kind of fagotto which he classes with the Neapolitan sourdeline, a complicated kind of musette (see Bag-Pipe). Afranio's instrument consists, he states, of two bassons as it were interconnected by tubes and blown by bellows. As in the sourdeline, these only speak when the springs (keys) are open. He disposes of Theseus Albonesius's fanciful etymology of the name by showing it to be nothing but the French word fagot, and that it was applied because the instrument consists of two or more "flutes," bound or fagotées together. There is no evidence that the phagotus contained a reed, which would account for Mersenne calling the pipes flutes.
Mersenne's statements thus seem to uphold the theory that Afranio's phagotus was only a double flûte à colonne with bellows. Evidence is at hand that in 1555 a contrabass wind instrument was well known as fagotto. In the catalogue of the musical instruments belonging to the Flemish band of Marie de Hongrie in Spain, we find the following: "Ala dicha prinçesa y al dicho matoto dos ynstrumentos de musica contrabaxos, que llaman fagotes, metidos en dos caos redondas como pareçe por el dicho entrego." Sigmund Schnitzer of Nuremberg (d. 1578), a maker of wind instruments who attained considerable notoriety, has been named as the probable author of the transformation of pommer into bassoon.
We learn from an historical work of the 18th century, that he was renowned "almost everywhere" as a maker of fagotte of extraordinary size, of skilful workmanship and pure intonation, speaking easily. Schnitzer's instruments were so highly appreciated not only all over Germany, but also in France and Italy, that he was kept continually at work producing fagotte for lovers of music.
An earlier chronicler of the artistic celebrities and craftsmen of Nuremberg, Johann Neudorfer, writing in 1549, names Sigmund Schnitzer merely as Pfeifenmacher und Stadtpfeifer. Had he been also noted as an inventor of a new form of instrument, the fellow-citizen and contemporary chronicler would not have failed to note the fact. If Schnitzer had been the first to reduce the great length of the bass pommer by doubling the tube back upon itself, he would hardly have been handed down to posterity as the clever craftsman who made fagottos of extraordinary size; Doppelmaier, who chronicles in these eulogistic terms, wrote nearly two centuries after the supposed invention of the fagotto, the value of which was realized later by retrospection.
Fig. 2. - Old English double curtail (before 1688). (From Harl MS 2034 in Brit. Mus.)