Bassoon, a wood wind musical instrument of low pitch, whose sounds are produced through a double reed. It is doubtless of great antiquity, and has been known in one form or another for a long period under the names of buisine, buzaine, courtal, bommard, bombard, or wait. The primitive instrument is supposed to have been an improvement of the deep drone of the bagpipe (q.v.). One of the names for a pipe of deep tone among the Egyptians is zummarah-be-soan, according to E. W. Lane; and the spelling of the word in early times not only describes the character of the tone but also indicates its Eastern origin.
The improvement of the bassoon in its present form has been stated to be due to Afranio, a canon of Ferrara, in 1539. It is called phagoti by the inventor's nephew, who described the invention in a work published in the above-mentioned year. The name fagotto, by which the instrument is known in Italy, means a bundle or faggot, from a fancied idea that the bassoon resembled a bundle of sticks. The German term fagott is derived from the Italian. The French and Italians of modern times call it by the name Basson, from the sound produced. From the time of Afranio to the present the instrument has not varied much in its Construction. The best are by French makers.
The compass of the bassoon extends to nearly three octaves, that is to say, from low B flat to treble A flat. This compass includes all the intermediate semi-tones, except the lowest B natural and C sharp. But these notes and others can be obtained from instruments of special construction.
The bassoon is used in the military reed band, as well as in the orchestra. In the latter it serves as the true bass of the oboe, but it is capable of excellent independent effects, such as appear in the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, the "Clown's March" in the Midsummer Night's Dream music of Mendelssohn, the scene of the resurrection of the nuns in Meyerbeer's Roberto il Diavolo, in Handel's Saul, Boieldieu's Dame Blanche, Gounod's Faust, and other works. It was said to have been introduced into the orchestra by Canibert in his Pomone, 1671, to augment the tone of the basses, but subsequent composers have exalted it into an instrument with individual powers.
The double bassoon (It. contra fagotto, Fr. contre basson, Ger. contra fagott or doppel fagott) gives out sounds an octave lower than the ordinary bassoon. It was formerly employed in military bands, and appears to have been introduced by Handel in his concertos about the year 1739, when a pair of these instruments was made by Stanesby, and occasionally employed until the beginning of the present century. A newly-constructed instrument was employed at the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace in 1871. Haydn, in his Creation, Beethoven, in many works, notably in the C minor Symphony, Mendelssohn, in his overture The Hebrides, and Sullivan, in several of his compositions, employ the double bassoon with great effect.