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English:  contrabassoon , Italian:  contrafagotto , French:  contrebasson
woodwind instrument
with double reed
Range contrabassoon.png

Related instruments

The contrabassoon is a musical instrument with a double reed , the deepest representative of the woodwind instruments in the orchestra. The name comes from the contra - octave , whose profound tones it can produce, structurally it is basically a double bassoon (formerly called quart bassoon and Italian fagotto doppio ; in English there is also the name double bassoon ). In the orchestra it is played as a secondary instrument by bassoonists, who also call the instrument "Kontra" for short.

Layout and function

The tone generation and the basic structure of the contrabassoon are identical to the bassoon . The fingerings are also largely the same, but the sound is an octave lower, which is why the contrabassoon is a transposing instrument .

The tube is kinked three to four times, and the swinging column of air is an average of 5.93 m long. Unlike its little brother, the contrabassoon, with the exception of the S-bob and the double reed , cannot be dismantled into several parts, as the mechanism of the keys extends over the entire body due to the enormous size of the instrument.

Early contrabassoons had the double-C as the lowest note, today most instruments go to the subcontra-Bb or A, and less often to the A-flat. In this low register, however , a semitone means an extension of the air column by up to 40 cm, so there are often interchangeable bells that can be used depending on the lowest note required in order to avoid unnecessary ballast on the instrument. The maximum is reached around the sounding c '(noted c' '). Most composers do not go beyond the a, as the sound in the top register is just thin and tortured.


In the second volume of the Syntagma musicum ( Wolfenbüttel 1619) Michael Praetorius describes the first attempts to add a bassoon contra to the then large group of bassoons in different tunings , which octaves downwards . However, like the usual bassoons, these early instruments were only bent once in the tube and were therefore difficult to play. In parallel with Heckel 's reform of the bassoon key system, the mechanics of the contrabassoon were also rethought and the tube bent several times.

Use in music


The use of the contrabassoon as a solo instrument is only possible to a limited extent due to its extremely low register. There is a work from the pen of a well-known composer, the Bass Nightingale by Erwin Schulhoff , in which a two-part fugue (with rhythmically staggered inserts) occurs. Concerts for contrabassoon and orchestra were composed by Gunther Schuller , Donald Erb and Kalevi Aho , among others .

Chamber music

In chamber music, the double bassoon is mainly used as a bass for large winds, as in Antonín Dvořák's Wind Serenade Op. 44 .


Contrabassoonist of the Metropolitan Opera with an instrument in a stretched shape (1917).

In the baroque orchestra, the double bassoon was rarely used to reinforce the figured bass section . There is evidence of its use in a monumental performance of Handel's Messiah and in Johann Sebastian Bach's St. John Passion . In Haydn's oratorio The Creation , too , the instrument is clearly audible in two onomatopoeic passages: in the “Roar of the Lion” and in the text passage “The ground presses the animals' burden” . From this time, towards the end of the 18th century , the contrabassoon was used more frequently in the orchestra and at times also used for solo tasks. Beethoven, for example, uses the contrabassoon very characteristically in the grave duet of his opera Fidelio and in the 5th and 9th symphonies .

It is noteworthy that Rimsky-Korsakov claims in his theory of instrumentation that the contrabassoon (like the piccolo ) is generally not capable of expressive sound. Perhaps for this reason most composers have used the instrument as a soloist for dark, eerie effects: in Verdi's opera Don Carlos it accompanies the Grand Inquisitor, Richard Strauss leaves his Salome alone with a contra solo after the curse of Jochanaan, Maurice Ravel uses it in his cycle Ma mère l'oye in the fairy tale of the beauty ( clarinet ) and the beast (contrabassoon). Likewise, the opening melody of Ravel's Piano Concerto for Left Hand is played by the double bassoon.

The most common area of ​​application of the double bassoon is still the simple doubling of the other deep bass instruments, especially the double basses (in contrast, the bassoons in orchestral music often double the cellos that are one octave above the double basses). As a rule, the contrabassoon should not be perceived directly by the listener and should only serve subliminally for more substance and penetration of the bass line.

The double bassoon in the orchestra is usually played singly, while the usual bassoons also very often appear several times (e.g. two, three or even four times in Verdi). More rarely, and mostly only for very opulent orchestral compositions, double-cast double bassoons are required, for example in Schönberg's Gurre-Lieder.


  • Raimondo Inconis : Il contrafagotto: storia e tecnica (it / en / dt) ( The contrabassoon. History and technology ). Ricordi, Milan 2009, ISBN 979-0-041-83008-7 .
  • Gunther Joppig: oboe and bassoon. Their story, their secondary instruments and their music. 1981, ISBN 3-7957-2345-0 .

Web links

Commons : contrabassoon  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence and details

  1. Johann Gottfried Walther : Musical Lexicon [...]. Wolffgang Deer, Leipzig 1732, pp. 238 and 508