Theatrum Instrumentorum Woodcuts:

Wind instruments

This page presents the wind instrument (inflata) woodcuts. These were defined by Praetorius as instruments which are made to sound by introducing wind into them. In this class, he included the keyboard wind instruments (regal, portitive, and positive organs) as well as the Inflatilia, which are blown with the breath of humans. From there, he divided them again and again, first into groups of instruments which are operated without changing their length (trumpet or `tuba', not to be confused with the modern tuba), and those which are operated by hand or the fingers, either without holes (slide trumpet and sackbut) or with; the ones with holes into those with holes on the front only, front and back, or front, back and sides. In every case, Praetorius carefully divided and classified, and so, conquered!


Lip Reeds

Sackbut, Cornetto, Crook horn, trumpet, zink, straight trumpet. These instruments were all sounded as are the modern `brass' instruments, by buzzing the lips into the round cup of the mouthpiece, and thus exciting the air in the bore to resonate. The change of pitch was a combination of tube length (controlled by opening and closing fingerholes like the recorder or changing the actual tube length, either through a slide mechanism or by adding or removing turns of tubing, called `crooks') and the overtone series. The cornetto and zink both used fingerholes, the larger (tenor) size of the cornetto shown here being called `lizard'. The largest size of cornetto (which is not pictured on the woodcuts I have chosen to present here) was called `Serpent', and this instrument survived into the 1800's! The sackbutt (which was spelled in many fashions over its lifetime) still exists in the modern Trombone, albeit with a wider bore and a flare on the bell that dwarfs even the wide bells in Praetorius' woodcuts. Praetorius makes mention of a sackbutt which was the same length as the bass sackbutt, but produced notes an octave lower, indicating the possibility that four slide-tubes were used instead of the normal two, with the bore making two full loops. Trumpets are, of course, still in fashion, even valveless, straight ones.


Recorders, flutes, pipes, tabor. The recorders of Praetorius' time were still the wide-bored, powerfully-toned recorders of the renaissance Unornamented in shape, except for the standard `fontenelle' used to cover keywork that extended the reach of the player for the largest sizes, the recorder differs from the transverse flutes by being blown through a windway cut in the end of the recorder. The flutes had an `emboucher' hole placed on the side, presenting to the lips the same kind of sharp edge that was struck by the wind from the recorder's windway, and the player's more direct control allowed an entirely different sound, abetted by the flute's cylindrical bore, as opposed to the recorder's inverse-conical bore (getting smaller as you travel from windway to bell, or foot, of the instrument). The Three-holed pipe was a popular instrument amongst dancing masters and Fooles (the official title of the jester, a very important function of State!), who would play the pipe, holding it and fingering its three holes with one hand from which wrist would hang the Tabor, the small drum upon which the player would provide rhythms with a small drumstick held in the other hand. The flutes and recorders relied on overblowing one or possibly two overtones to increase its range (more overtones for the flute), but the three-holed pipe relied on having control over at least the first five overtones!

Double Reeds

Shawms, Bagpipes. The bagpipes pictured here are considered by Praetorius to be more rustic instruments, and are included as fullfilment of his promise to present all instruments, ancient, modern, civilized and...well...

On the other hand, the shawm was considered very much the proper instrument. They are the precursors to our modern oboes, or more correctly to the baroque oboe. With a conical bore and a double reed, mounted on the larger sizes on the end of a bocal much as on a bassoon, the shawms could be played with a fairly mellow tone (but only fairly) if the player applied his lips to the double reed fully. However, their strength was in the open, bright tone that was obtained by the barest of lip pressure or no pressure at all, which was allowed by the use of a pirouette, which encased the lower part of the reed, and sealed against the top of the shawm or the end of the bocal. The pirouette allowed forming a kind of wind chest about the reed, which in this free-beating fashion could be controlled only by breath pressure, and could provide the most intense of sounds. Shawm bands were popular as marching bands, sometimes accompanied by sackbutts or `piffari', the smaller sizes of flute. Because the lower sizes of shawms were not terribly powerful, as the higher pitched instruments were, it was common to use dulcians or sackbutts to provide the bass and tenor voices.

Bassanelli, Schryari, Sordune. The Bassanelli, Sordunes and Schryari are three of the instruments described by Praetorius that little evidence can be found for their widespread use. The Bassenell was a cylindrically-bored, straight instrument, like an unfolded Kortholt. It was the most ornate of the instruments Praetorius provides us with information on, and looks more Baroque than the highly ornate Baroque recorder. According to Praetorius, it was named for John Bassano of Venice, who designed it. The sordune was essentially a dulcian with a conical bore, which would make it sound twice as low as a dulcian of the same length. And the schryari is described as a double reed instrument with a windcap (more about windcaps below) the size of a cornamuse but with a much `fresher', louder sound. This could well be the result of an `inverse bore, like the bore of a recorder, which is suggested by the taper of the instrument. The illustrations indicate from the positions of the finger holes that the bore might have been in some way folded inside the body of the instrument, but Praetorius, normallyu so complete in his documentation of the shapes and designs of instruments, leaves many secrets here. Some modern Schryari have been made, and are apparently of varying success. 

Dulcians, racketts, sorduni. These instruments have more in common than might first appear. Each is driven by a double reed, much like a modern bassoon. Each has a bore that is folded, in order to make the instrument more manageable. The dulcian, cousin to the shawm, has a conical bore, while the sordune and rackett have a cylindrical bore. The bore of the dulcian and sordune are both made by drilling two holes through one piece of wood, and joining them at the bottom with a U-shaped channel. While the dulcian sounds at its length x 2 (because of the doubled bore), the sordune, with its cylindrical folded bore, acts like a `stopped pipe', and sounds four times its length. The rackett, continuing this good idea to the extreme, has nine bores drilled through a compact body and connected by alternating upper and lower U-joints, giving it a bore length nine times its body height, and (because it also acts as a stopped pipe) sounding 18 times its length in its lowest notes. All of these instruments would be found in consorts with instruments voiced a fifth apart from soprano (or tenor, in the rackett's case) to bass or great-bass.

Krumhorn, zink, bellows-blown bagpipe, Niccolo shawm. The zink and bagpipe shown here are not of great difference from those shown previously, except that the bagpipe has a drone that is arranged on the same principles as the racket, with sliders to allow tuning the drones, and a bellows to take the place of the mo0uthpipe. The zinks are mute cornetti, ie, cornetti with changed, and usually quieter, tone.

However, the other instruments shown here all share the same odd characteristic of the schryari: they have windcaps that cover the reeds, and provide even more of a windchest effect than gotten from the shawms and their pirouettes. With the krummhorns (another instrument whose spelling seems to change with the weather), a cylindrical-bore instrument with a curve at the end (which is at best for resonance, and at worse of no practical value at all) the windcap keeps the player from having any control over the reed at all, beyond breath pressure. Thus, he may tune himself (and the krummhorns have a wide lattitude in breath pressure-induced intonation) but not overblow or shade his tone. The combination of windcap and cylindrical bore yeild a buzzy sound that is rediculous alone, and indescribably wonderful in consort. Like the Racketts, Krumhorns are not solo instruments! The niccolo shawm is an oddity. While Praetorius records it here, I haven't seen references to it in other works. Moeck made a tenor shawm that they called a Niccolo, but it did not sport the windcap.