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 French bassoons
Author: Terry Stibal 
Date:   2006-08-02 20:07

I occasionally see a French system bassoon up for bid on the auction service. Has anyone here had experience with one of these beasts? What bassoon playing I've done over the years has always been either on Heckel or on Heckel-"system" instruments, and I can see from photographs that a Buffet horn is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Any comments will be welcomed.

leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra
info@sotsdo.com

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: cairngorm 
Date:   2006-08-02 23:11

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the French bassoons, which were of course here before the German ones, don't have as robust a sound as the German bassoon, and that is perhaps why they are not used as much in orchestras today. They can't hold their own as well.

There is still lots of music extant for these bassoons.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Terry Stibal 
Date:   2006-08-02 23:37

Some of the recordings that I have heard where the bassoons might have been expected to be French style (for example, the Sourcer's Apprentice by a French orchestra) seem to have a lighter, less reedy quality. But, that's just supposition on my part, and it could be that I'm reading more into what I hear than I should.

The German clarinet is different than the French style Boehm horns, no doubt about that. I've read that a different cut/style reed is in order, but little more than that.

leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra
info@sotsdo.com

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Merlin 
Date:   2006-08-05 13:06

Terry, you're correct that French bassoons have a lighter tone. There's some info in The Art of Bassoon Playing about the differences re: French vs. German reeds.



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 Re: French bassoons
Author: martinbaxter 
Date:   2006-08-13 16:51

I played alongside a French bassoonist a couple of years ago. Although I felt I was playing louder than he was musician friends in the audience found his sound carried better than mine. I often regret changing from "basson" to "Fagott" ' but as I was studying in Berlin at the time the move was inevitable. However the French bassoon is less easily played than the Heckel if the reed is not quite as it should be,
My last teacher, Cecil James, played the French instrument all his life and could cut through a 100-piece orchestra with no difficulty. and without sounding less than beautiful. If you fancy learning this system go for it!
Martin

Phone 01229583504

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: nickles8189 
Date:   2006-09-02 17:06

so what's the mechanical difference between a french-system bassoon and a german-system? doesn't the french one have fewer keys and a slimmer build? just want to get a mental picture here.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-10-17 15:43

I just bought this one off the famous auction site:

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=002&item=120039309803&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWN%3AIT&rd=1

Looks to be in relatively good nick from the photos, but I'm not sure if the tenor joint on these is lined with ebonite (it has a nickel silver crook socket - ebonite lined joints have an ebonite socket which is in the top part of the liner) - some are and some aren't, I reckon this one is unlined, but I'll have to wait and see when I get it next week. Not a problem if it is unlined as being rosewood it should be easier to look after than unlined maple, and a good oiling should make it safe enough to use.

I saw one recently that had split all the way through, and after pinning it was playable. But that's a risk we all have to take with older instruments.

The Selmer one I bought a while back is probably only good for parts as the tenor joint was badly crushed but the ebonite lining was surprisingly still in one piece. I was disappointed to find it was in stained maple rather than rosewood after I got it, but I didn't pay a huge amount for it, and it does play at a push.

A colleague at Howarth has a lovely old rosewood Selmer with silver plated keys, and has owned a few Buffets as well, so I do have someone to go to if things aren't as I hope. He wants to turn my old knackered Selmer into a Baroque-ish bassoon - I might have use for the keys he plans to remove - my ancient Selmer basset horn needs low D and C thumb keys added, and the high A and C key touches are just the right shape for the job!


Martin, do you have or know a good source for French-style bassoon reeds? Or will good quality Baroque reeds work on French bassoons? I'm in West Sussex, not in the US as my ISP says.

Chris.

Post Edited (2006-10-17 15:47)

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: martinbaxter 
Date:   2006-10-23 15:00

Hi Chris

I don't think that I have ever seen an ebonite lining on a French bassoon.
Glotin reeds worked fine on my French instrument, but I think that French bassoons are more temperamental than German; however Cecil James' reeds worked equally well on my French and German (1930's Adler) instruments.
I would imagine that Felix Warnock is known to someone at Howarth; I can't imagine there are many London double reed players who aren't regular customers! I would think he would be able to help if you contact him; he used to play both French and German instruments.
Regards
Martin

Phone 01229583504

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-10-24 19:32

Cheers Martin, I'll see if Neil has Felix's contact details once I get my Buffet up and running.

Following our conversation the other evening I read in Anthony Baines' book that some of the UK players did use German-style reeds on their French bassoons. Though I should be getting this Buffet in the next few days I'll try some of my reeds on it to see how well they go.

I'll definitely try Glotin for ready-made (French) reeds as well, and possibly Vandoren as they do ready-made reeds.

Considering the very reasonable price, the current Adler bassoons definitely appear to be good value for money - if I can't get on with the Buffet I may look into getting an Adler.

Just putting this link on here so I can find it:

http://web.archive.org/web/*/www.uky.edu/%7Emoses/bdrp

Chris.

Post Edited (2006-10-24 23:43)

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-10-29 01:28

And here's a classic painting of a French bassoonist:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Degas_l%27orchestre.jpg

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-11-02 23:05

The Buffet bassoon arrived on Tuesday and it turned out to be high pitch - it was when I was unpacking it I compared the joint lengths with my Selmer (Paris) bassoon which is pretty much a Buffet copy and they were shorter, then I checked the tuning with an electronic tuner and it was nearly a semitone sharp across the range (well, as much as a range it had taking the leaks into account) - both my Selmer (Paris) and Orsi (Heckel system) bassoons play at 440Hz and this Buffet was definitely at 452Hz. It seems he was given some bad information about it's pitch when he had it valued by his local music shop, so the fault isn't with the seller.

I emailed the seller and explained this, he called me not long afterwards as I left my number in my email and we had a good chat, he was very understanding about the problem and is going to refund me - I sent the bassoon back to him the following day.

Such a shame as this bassoon is in remarkable condition - obviously the pads and corks are shot, but the wood, steel screws and unplated nickel silver keys and crook were all in amazing condition.

But had it been pitched at 440Hz then it would have been worthwhile rebuilding.

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: wkleung 
Date:   2007-02-07 23:25

I have a Buffet French bassoon as well as two German bassoons (one Heckel and one Chinese student model), and I can attest that the modern German bassoon is louder than the modern French bassoon. The French bassoon is much more difficult to play (scale much less even in tone and in intonation, requires correction). All but the very oldest French bassoons have lining on the wind joint as well as on one side of the boot. The French bassoon has fewer keys on the boot and a different key layout in general. The keys are mounted as rods (as on oboes and flutes) instead of as levers (as on German bassoons).

I hope this helps!

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2007-05-11 23:11

I haven't given up on the idea of French bassoons yet - I bought a Buffet RC model bassoon from 1982, so at least the pitch will be right - and from what I've read about the RC model bassoon it has a different bore - possibly wider than the standard Buffets.

Check the extra keywork on this one (and the keyguard - it's from a Buffet sax with the end bent in!) - I think the fingerplate for LH2 is connected to the vent key to help stabilise the E (xoo|ooo), but not entirely sure what the extra thumb key and the extra touch by the RH Ab key are for.

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=008&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWN%3AIT&viewitem=&item=180111349610&rd=1&rd=1

But at least it comes with a crook and a hard case that isn't all battered to pieces like some I've seen - as it's not easy finding replacement hard cases to fit French bassoons (unless you use a padded gig bag), and a new or replacement crook usually costs more than the price of an old French bassoon.

I'll also be overhauling it once I get it - though it looks like it's been very well looked after.

Chris.

Post Edited (2007-05-11 23:13)

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: cairngorm 
Date:   2007-05-13 02:41

I love the keyguard! Very snazzy looking!

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2007-05-13 13:16

To me it looks a tad on the cheapo side as I've seen them as a standard fit on Buffet S1 and S2 (and Jupiter) saxes.

I might try and get one of the circular keyguards (with the BC logo) and fit it over the pad cup - as well as keeping the sax one on there.

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2007-05-16 22:36

I just got it this afternoon, and what was the first thing I did when I was unpacking it?

I DROPPED it! My poxy shoulder gave me grief as I was lifting the case out of the packaging and it all clattered to the floor, so now there's a couple of dents in it. But they're only cosmetic (and it's picked up enough scratches in it's lifetime). Fortunately the (solid copper) crook stayed in the compartment and didn't get damaged, so after pushing some of the dents out I bunged a reed on and by 'eck! What a beastie! My bassoon playing is questionable at the moment as it's been over 20 years since I last really played, but this plays a treat from what I can do with ill-fitting reeds (I've only got German reeds). The bottom Bb is effortless, and climbs easily right up to altissimo E (the same high E used by Ravel in the 1st. mvmt. of the G Major piano concerto).

Interesting keywork is a double F# key for the right thumb - the lower of the F# keys gives a reduced (and adjustable) venting on the main F# key, and the double Ab key gives more venting for Ab (and other notes), presumably for when playing loud and keeping the pitch up. The tenor joint has the E vent for finger 2 which makes an acceptable short fingering for E, though it's still best played with a resonance fingering.

It has had some pads replaced, but it really needs a thorough going over (and I'm still inclined to repad the lot) as there are some binding keys and loose point screws, so they will need to be fitted to free up the action. The 'U' tube cork is a touch loose, so it will need replacing as well.

The descending bore is fully lined with ebonite, so there aren't any issues there.

So now I have to find a source of French style reeds to see what I can do, or just ream out the ones I have to fit the crook.

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: vgellin 
Date:   2007-06-04 18:11

In a conversation with Sol Schoenbach in the early seventies, I asked him what it was like in New York when the two systems were both being used. Leonard Sharrow actually started playing on French Bassoon!!! Sol said that the french instruments did not record well at the time, and they also didn't project as nicely as the german instruments did then. Fast forward to 1997 in Rotterdam where I heard both French and German system players many times side by side. The french players were trying to sound like the german players, and the german players were trying to sound a bit like the french players. The tone of the two instruments were beginning to melt together. At least that was my perception.

Vincent Ellin
Bassoon Soloist

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: wkleung 
Date:   2007-06-26 16:54

To Chris:

The extra Ab touch is for raising the pitch of the low Ab in pp.
The extra F# touch is for raising the pitch of the low G in pp.

How this helps!

Wai Kit Leung

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2007-06-27 14:45

Thanks Wai.

One of the higher notes vented with the Ab also benefits from the extra venting of the double Ab key, though right now I can't remember which note it is - the bassoon specialist in Howarth's London shop (Howard) demonstrated it when he tried out my Buffet a while back.

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: wkleung 
Date:   2007-06-28 16:06

Hi Chris,

You could be thinking of the tenor F, which is fingered:

x 0 0 (c#) | x x x Ab

I haven't tried the extra venting on the F (I have a pre-RC and my friend has an RC). I will give it a shot next time.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2007-06-28 21:07

Yep, it's the F that benefits with this extra key - I was having a practice earlier and found the extra Ab key certainly improved (sharpened) the pitch on the F.

I've seen another Buffet bassoon on you-know-where, it's slightly newer than mine but there's much more wear on the plating - and it's had an aftermarket thumb C# touch fitted.

How come you (and your friend) play French system - or do play both German and French bassoons (but use them for different situations)?

Chris.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Barry Stronge 
Date:   2007-11-19 10:17

A gentleman I scarcely knew died and unexpectedly bequeathed me his Buffet-Crampon bassoon in his will. I received the instrument a week ago. He was a bachelor and he left his possessions to people he thought would appreciate them. The instrument came in the old type of cylindrical case. The bassoon is in good condition and blows freely, getting all the notes from low Bb to high F with ease. I am making reeds for it, guided by Gerald Corey's recommendations published on the internet.

I have hitherto played a Corton German system bassoon. I would say that the French instrument has the wider dynamic range and obtains the highest notes more easily. It is less gruff in tone than the German type. The French tone may not be to everyone's taste - more nasal, like the oboe - but I like it and I think it would blend better with the other woodwind.

My very first bassoon was a French system instrument made by Hawkes of Piccadilly. It was light to carry. It cost me £7 in a junk shop. It was sharp pitch and I gave it away to my nephew. However, it had a sweet tone, and I am glad now to have a French type again.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: John B Dick 
Date:   2010-04-19 12:21


You certainly need a reed designed for the French Bassoon. I have about half a dozen bassoons, three are playable at modern pitch. One of the others is a bit sick and can't be used.

I've never played the German instrument, but of necessity I had to use German reeds at first. When I got a supply of French reeds from Cecil James it made such an improvement in the sound that the people I played with were instantly impressed and must have observed an even greater improvement than was apparent to me. I had a similar reaction after playing only TWO notes on a French Contra which I hadn't played before.

When on a Galpin trip to Munich I met a German player who had made a special study of the French instrument and repertoire and as he didn't have any French reeds I gave him all the reeds I had with me, but the label on the box was the only record I had of Cecil James's address, and opportunities for bassoon playing diminished soon after.

William Waterhouse gave me an address for Glotin and I ordered and paid for some reeds which didn't arrive probably due to the size of the letterbox and my absence abroad.

I've found my way onto this page because I am again looking for a supplier of reeds.

Another thing I need before I can take the instrument which I have here out of the house, is a new case. The one I have is falling apart.

In 2002 I go up in the morning feeling unwell, and tried to play the music I had been practicing on the bassoon the previous evening. I could finger the fast passage all right, but the sound was not good and some notes came out at a pitch around the top of the treble clef which I hadn't realised was possible. So I told my wife to call the doctor. I'd had a CVA caused by hypertension.

Even in France, most new bassoons are made in the German style but I'm told that some players use both according to the repertoire.

The German clarinet is holding its own better than might be expected. Some years ago in Gran Canaria I heard a Spanish orchestra playing the Pastoral Symphony. Some of the German tourists sitting behind me were laughing at the inappropriateness of an extreme French sound.

A few players play the French instrument in Germany and Austria, and the huge price difference of the low clarinets due to volume production for a larger market is too great to be ignored even by institutions commited to the German model.

There can't be many in the UK who normally play the German instrument except a pupil of mine who has lost part of his L4 finger and has the articulated B/E, C#/F# key lever for round the back fo RT.

I'll be using mine next week as it's the only modern one I have which is accessible right now, but in the last three years I've only played once in a band rehearsal and once on early clarinets. Nowadays the only opportunity I have to play is on the Viola, an instrument on which amateur orchestras are even less picky about the standard of the player than on the bassoon.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: Roger Maki-Schramm 
Date:   2019-10-21 22:45

I just found this old thread on French bassoons. I have always wanted to be able to play on both the French and German systems. I've got a pre-war Buffet on its way to me now. Is there a decent source for French style bassoon reeds for purchase? I already find it hard to allocate enough time to make my American scrape reeds for Heckel system and would rather not learn to make these, at least at this time.

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 Re: French bassoons
Author: wkleung 
Date:   2019-12-11 13:57

Howard Dann in the UK as well as Glotin and Neuranter in France make and sell French bassoon reeds. Good luck with your French bassoon playing!Roger Maki-Schramm wrote:

> I just found this old thread on French bassoons. I have always
> wanted to be able to play on both the French and German
> systems. I've got a pre-war Buffet on its way to me now. Is
> there a decent source for French style bassoon reeds for
> purchase? I already find it hard to allocate enough time to
> make my American scrape reeds for Heckel system and would
> rather not learn to make these, at least at this time.

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