Early Times – Wind Instruments

RecorderThe recorder is a woodwind musical instrument. The recorder is end-blown and the mouth of the instrument is constricted by a wooden plug, known as a block or fipple. It is distinguished from other members of the family by having holes for seven fingers and one for the thumb of the uppermost hand. The recorder was popular from medieval times but declined due to the development of better instruments. During its heyday, the recorder was traditionally associated with birds, shepherds, miraculous events, funerals, marriages, and amorous scenes.

FluteThe cross flute (or transverse flute), although not as popular at first as the recorder, has a long history in many cultures. Transverse flutes during the Renaissance had six holes producing a range of two octaves or more. They were commonly seen in three or four sizes and fingered like recorders except that they were pitched one note higher, not having the bottom little-finger hole. In the late Middle Ages, this instrument was primarily used as a military instrument.

ShawmThe shawm, a double-reed woodwind instrument was brought to Western Europe from the Near East. The body of the shawm was usually turned from a single piece of wood, and it ended in a flared bell similar to that of the trumpet. This instrument gained notoriety when it was used during the Crusades. Crusaders often had to face massed bands of Saracen shawms that used the instrument as a psychological weapon. It must have had a profound effect, as the shawm was quickly adopted by Europeans, for dancing as well as for military purposes. As time passed into the Renaissance, shawms were built into six different sizes for use in instrumental ensembles.

Early Medieval and Renaissance horns made of wood or metal were used by Europeans for military purposes or by watchmen. From the 11th century, carved ivory horns were used by nobility as hunting horns. One such horn was the oliphant, a short, thick, richly carved ivory horn that was end-blown. The Hebrew shofar, a ram’s horn, is the only horn that has retained its original form from antiquity to present.

Oliphant

Shofar

Cromorne

Oliphant

Shofar

Cromorne

The cromorne (a.k.a. Crummhorn) is a J-shaped woodwind whose double reed is enclosed in a cap. Though used sporadically during the early 15th century, the cromorne was in vogue as an ensemble instrument between 1475 – 1600.

The cornetto (little horn), a wooden instrument with a cup-shaped mouthpiece of ivory or bone, was made in both straight and curved models and in three sizes. Mainly, the cornetto was used with trombone and organ as support for choral music.

Cornetto

Trumpet

Cornetto

Trumpet

Trombone

The trumpet with looped tubing appeared around 1400. During the 15th century, trumpeters were employed as town musicians, principally as tower watchmen. Trumpet consorts eventually began performing at many courts; ownership of a trumpet ensemble was a symbol of a ruler’s importance.

Trombones were used at the Burgundian and Franco-Flemish courts by the mid-15th century. In addition to ensemble performance with cornetto and organ to double voices singing choral music in church services, trombonists also played in town and court bands.