Romance of the Phagotum
Francis W. GALPIN, Litt.D. (written 1947)
Eighteen months ago, as the first paper of our Sixty-sixth Session, Mr. Lyndesay G. Langwill gave a graphic account of the development of the Bassoon. In his opening remarks he briefly alluded to a singular instrument called the Phagotum, and very rightly deprecated any close association between it and the well-known subject of his paper. My present purpose therefore is to supplement his allusion to this early sixteenth century instrument by giving the fullest details available of its character, together with the romantic story of its invention, as described by a contemporary writer. In this way we may place it in its true perspective; and for ease of reference our subject will be divided into four headings, viz., our sources of information, the details of its invention and completion, its scale and technique, and the position it may properly occupy in the general development of wind instruments.
Our Sources of Information.
From a trustworthy point of view these are twofold, and are of contemporary date.
(a) A small quarto volume of some 430 pages beautifully rubricated, and printed at Pavia by Joannes Maria Simoneta, of Cremona, in the year 1539. It is now rarely met with and is entitled Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam, Syriacam atquc Armenaicarn et decem alias linguas. Its author was a certain Theseo Ambrogio of the Albonese family, Counts Palatine. He was Professor of Syriac and Chaldee in the University of Bologna and became a celebrated Italian lawyer; he was also a Canon Regular of the Lateran and Provost of the Church of S. Pietro-jn-Caelo-Aurco at Pavia. His uncle, a talented musician and collector of musical instruments, was a Canon of Ferrara, named Afranio. According to Lavignac's Encyc!opedie de la Musique, Afranio was born in the year 1480, and probably died before 1565, as will subsequently be shown. He invented the Phagotum, and his nephew was able to give a first-hand account of his work and ultimate success. Ambrogio cleverly introduces the subject into his book on languages by connecting it with the explanation of certain Greek words; and moreover, he was able to give two illustrations of the instrument by an Italian artist, which are here reproduced below.
Phagotum: Front view (left) and rear view (right).
(b) The second contemporary item is a sheet of Instructions for playing the Phagotum which is dated 1565 and was discovered in 1893 by Count Luigi Vaidrighi among the archives of the State of Modena. It was described and reproduced by him in Musurgiana Series II, No. 2 (Modena, 1895) in continuation of earlier details given by him in 1881 in the same publication (Musurgiana I,4) with a further mention in Nomocheliurgographia (Modena, 1884). We are much indebted to this eminent musicologist, now no longer with us. The sheet, or chart, apparently drawn up by Ambrogio himself, is reproduced in reduced facsimile below. Unfortunately the original is much age-worn and stained, but we are able to give an exact English translation of its contents.
No other reference to the Phagotum appears in extant publications of the sixteenth century. Neither Virdung (Musica getutscht, 1511) nor Martin Agricola (Musica Instrumentalis, 1528 and 1545), nor Zacconi (Prattica de Musica, 1592) alludes to it in the otherwise full descriptions of the instruments of their day. Ambrogio, however, certainly expected that an illustration of it would have been given in the Musurgia of Ottomarus Luscinius (Basle, 1536), a Latin edition of portions of Virdung's work. He bitterly expresses his disappointment and displeasure on page 178 of his Introductio in Chaldacam linguam. The necessary plates had been engraved at Pavia and were lent to a bookseller, who had charge of the well-equipped library of Andreas Calvo, of Milan, to whom Luscinius dedicated his book. This man, Bernardino, said he would show them to the German artists whom he would meet if he went to Basle, and that he would bring them back again. However, on his return to Pavia, Bernardino said he had handed them to Calvo, who was setting out for Germany. After several letters had passed, Ambrogio went to Milan and asked Calvo for them. Calvo said he had given them to a German traveller, named Bibelius, and that they would be brought back from Basle and restored later. Whether Arnbrogio ultimately received his property again or substituted fresh plates we do not know ; but, as the illustrations are placed towards the end of his book and apart from the description of the instrument, we may hope that the promise was fulfilled in due time.
During the earlier half of the seventeenth century there are two or more allusions to Afranio and his invention. In a book published in Venice in 1621 and quoted by Vaidrighi in Musurgiana II, 2, there is the description of a banquet given by Alphonso, Duke of Ferrara, at Mantua in 1532. During the various courses music was provided such as "violini e voci," "musica d'una lira," "trombe e cornetti," and between the fifth and sixth courses the Rev Mess. Afranio played a solo on "il suo fagoto."
Neither Cerone in El Melopeo (1613) nor Praetorius in his Organographia (1619) and Sciagraphia (1620) shows any knowledge of the instrument. Mersenne, however, in his two great works, Harmonicorum Libri XII (Paris, 1636) and Harmonie Universelle (1636--7), not only mentions the Phagotum as une espece de Fagot," but in the latter treatise devotes a note of thirty lines to its description. His conception of the instrument, made at this comparatively early date, will be noticed in the final section of our paper. After these interesting allusions silence again seems to reign until the middle of the last century, when Fétis in his Biographie Universelle des Musiciens (1860) drew attention once more to it. In 1878 Wasielewski (Instrurnentalmwsik im XVI Jahrhundert) described it and incompletely reproduced the illustrations given by Ambrogio ; Weckerlin, in his Catalogue Bibliographique du Conservatoire National (Paris, i88~) also alludes to it. In the present century brief articles have appeared on the subject in Grove's Dictionary of Music, Forsyth's Orchestration, and short notices elsewhere.
THE STORY OF IT'S INVENTION.
We are fortunate in having reliable details given us by Ambrogio on this point about twenty-five years after the completion of the Phagotum. He evidently admired his uncle's skill and patience, and to him the difficulties and disappointments, through which Afranio passed to a final success, must have been well known. We cannot do better therefore than give the account left by him in a straightforward translation from the original Latin of the lntroductio (pages 33 verso to 36 versa), as it appears in a well-preserved copy in my possession. Here and there such brief comments, as may be necessary for a clearer understanding of the text, will be added in brackets. He writes as follows :-
With so much skill indeed by my uncle Afranio, who was either the inventor or at any rate the finisher of the said instrument and a master of its completed form, was its perfection secured--not with the aid of a single worker in wood only, but by very many brass and silversmiths--that, at the look at it, it raises in the minds of the beholders a wonderful expectation of its powers, which are not belied by actual fact. (cf. Plate I)."
"You see here two similar pillars of hollowed boxwood, barely a mean cubit in length c. 21 or 22 inches - (Oxford English Dictionary gives cubit as between 18" and 20"), raised on bases or supports for the lower part of the pillar, adorned with little capitals or mouldings also of wood hollowed out by the lathe, into which the upper part, that is, the round and unused head of the pillars, enters and wherewith it is covered; moreover the said pillars are inset, by truly wonderful skill, with many and various openings at the back, on the front, and at the sides."
Of the very openings themselves the designer has so fashioned the square part (i.e., the surface on which the square keys close) that you indeed can behold nothing more elegant. In fact, he has so made the square part that even Archimedes of Syracuse, with all his geometrical skill, could not have turned his circle into a square of equal sides more truly nor so assured its correctness. The round holes are exposed and open with this intent, that, for intervals of double and triple ratios, fifths, fourths and ninths, they can either by a brass lever-arm (lingua), joined to an engraved circlet of the same metal, or with a light touch by the player's fingers be as quickly closed, as they can with no difficulty be opened. And those holes which appear sometimes to be open, are very often shut; while on the other hand those, which are thought to be stopped, are found to be open."
The squared parts on the other hand are so ingeniously and accurately closed with silver plates that they can be lightly pressed by the hands of the said musician or returned again by taking off the fingers. He would appear able to rival, nay rather easily to surpass, the famous Hyagnis (the father of Marsyas), who was the first to hold his hands apart in playing (as on the double pipes), the first to fill two pipes with one breath, the first to blend musical harmony from left and right holes with a shrill ringing and a deep buzzing. For indeed those very holes which are open or those which are seen to be shut are so many ways or, so to say, windows for the sounds and were designed with most expert skill by Afranio, the originator of the perfected form of the said instrument, which was conceived of course in his mind before being put for its making into the hands of the workman; so that, the little joints of the fingers being brought into play or withdrawn, since he is himself--as tradition tells of the piper Antigenidas--the sweet director of every little musical sound, thus is he also the skillful controller of every kind of mode. When he wishes, he can raise the simple Eolian, the intricate and varied Asian, the querulous and complaining Lydian, the Phrygian, so religious and conducive to devotion and quietude; yea moreover, like a second Timotheus, the warlike Dorian, which roused the famous Alexander the Great, just as if an enemy were fiercely rushing at him, to seize his arms, to blaze in wrath and to go almost mad; but on a sudden, when the terrifying sounds changed to a soft and calm tone, it rendered him gentle again."
"Between each pillar another small sort of turned pillar is seen adjoining, rather for the adornment and pleasing appearance of the instrument than of necessity, with its base and suitable cap, but not equal in length to the other two ; nevertheless it is empty and added as a sort of connection between them. This pillar is applied with due symmetry and proportion, so that, although it strikes the eye at first sight, yet does it not, on account of its presence, trench upon the appearance of the other two pillars and their decoration of varied graven-work nor on the holes on either side ; nor does it interfere with the fingers of the musician as he plays upon them. On the other hand behind and at the back of the three pillars another is seen, smaller than the little one in front ; it is empty and void in the same way within, worked on the lathe, and covered by a little cap, through which the wind channel for giving voice to the instrument is placed
"Moreover, in order that this musical instrument may be of use, two small bellows will need be necessary, of which one will be of skin only, the other of skin with two wooden boards. (These are shown on the ground in Plate I). The latter will have a small tube of turned wood attached on the top of its head, which is somewhat prolonged, through which it may send out the wind it has already drawn in. Also when placed conveniently beneath the arm-pit on the right side of the player, it will be bound by a leather strap or belt to the loins and will be tied under the right arm of the musician with another belt of leather above the elbow. But the other bellows of skin, simply sewn together all round, will be like the bladder or the bag used by shepherds ; to which, on a part gracefully lengthened like a neck, will hang at the top another sort of little tube, firmly tied on as the former. This the player will insert into the little pillar at the back of the instrument, when the cap has been removed. Another tube too, worked in like manner on the lathe, will be added, sticking out on the right side of the said bellows and bound on with secure fastenings ; into which, to a perfect fit, the tube of the right bellows must be inserted and made fast, when the player requires it. And this bellows too will be placed close to the body on the left side and bound with bands beneath the left arm above the elbow. When these have been correctly arranged in this manner, then let the tube of the right-arm bellows be put into the right tube of the bag; and, the instrument having been taken in the hands and set upright close to the thigh above the hips of the seated musician, with its back turned towards his person, then, the little cap of the back small pillar having been removed, let the tube of the neck of the left bellows be put down into it. Immediately the right arm is raised a little, wind is drawn in by the bellows; and when the musician presses his arm, it is discharged into the left-arm bag, which, when filled with air, if it is pressed somewhat by the left arm of the player, sends the wind into the channel of the instrument.
"Yet the wonderful thing and not easy to be believed is this, that, however much wind you may have sent into it, not the least sound does it emit ; press as you will the square plates of silver already described or stop the round holes with the fingers or take them off from playing on them, you will perceive that it makes not the slightest sound. So you might imagine that the instrument was mute, dumb and speechless, nor could you discern whence the wind, that had been taken in, could issue forth, until the musician opened a sort of secret channel by touching a brass stopper (tacto oppillante orichalco). Then the mouths, before silent, and the silver, brass or iron tongues, lying hidden within the furthermost and lower portions of the pillars, will sound whatever strain you wish ; and for the performing musician, as he plays throughout the intervals with his fingers upon the holes of the instrument, the sound will answer agreeably to whatever he touches for instance, high, low, quick, slow, great, small, moderate, smooth, rough, close, broad, with sustained breath or intermittent, faint, harsh, with prolonged sound, staccato, swelling, failing, and so deep that it can lower and--if I may so say-- bend downwards its tone, the most perfect of any known instrument, below that from a ten-foot pipe (decempeda canna)--as the expression is--or a reed (calamus) of ten feet in length. It would, however, take a long time to explain the causes of such a variety of tones and sounds."
"At first indeed this instrument was constructed in a very incomplete way in Pannonia (i.e. Serbia) and produced only twelve notes and those plainly imperfect and inharmonious nor true to their accord ; in fact, they used to rush very quickly into headlong dissonance and knew not how to keep their pitch. Often and often Afranio tried whether he could make it steady in any way or, at least, in some slight degree. However after trying in Pannonia and Germany very many metal-smiths and designers in wood and realising that he was expending labour in vain, in despair of the business, with the object unaccomplished and the instrument left in Pannonia, he returned to Italy."
"Now whether it was by any other than a divine will I cannot determine, yet it was an actual fact that, after some years, when Belgrade had been taken by Othoman, Emperor of the Turks (i.e., in 1521 A.D.) and the King of Pannonia was overthrown and slain, this very instrument was carried off into Italy and came once more into the hands of the said Afranio, who, giving thanks to Almighty God, directed his attention to it afresh to see whether at last by an regulation or means he could bring it to perfection."
He came across a truly remarkable and ingenious man, John Baptist Ravilio, of Ferrara, and when he had unfolded to him his desire in a friendly way, he proved himself to be to him ahead--so I may say,--of a hundred thousand Pannonians and Germans, men, in other respects, most talented smiths, but for looking into the carrying out of this particular work--I beg their pardon--somewhat lacking in insight. He made two very similar tongues (linguae) or, as their proper name is, pivas (lit, tubes), one of them being made of silver, the other of brass. The silver tongue he placed, with a fixing attachment, into the lower part of one pillar with its tip turned downwards and pointing towards the base for it must be understood that the larger pillars are divided into two parts and one fits over the other, a silver band, turned in a circle, hiding the joint; and the brass tongue he placed in a similar position in the other pillar, but in a wonderful way; for with an artist's touch-- as I may term it--he attached it by an air-channel (meatus) of brass at first hanging downwards towards the bottom, then sharply bent back, turning, that is, towards the holes above and looking skywards, though enclosed. (This was a brass crook to increase the length of the bass tube.) Again, with wonderful industry and skill ten more holes having been added to those originally existing, he raised it from twelve imperfect notes to twenty-two most true and clear notes, which it expresses or represses according
to the fingering of the musician who plays upon it distinctly and knowingly; and, in response to the will of the performer, it speaks too in its own manner, and it keeps silent; also, as the arms of the musician govern it by the movement of the bellows, it holds or varies its musical proportions. Very many other hidden secrets of musical capability it has, wherewith anyone, who like Afranio has known how to employ them properly and systematically, will rival the tones and sounds of all instruments of music and awaken a united and pleasing concord of harmony worthy of the citizens of heaven."
"But if I were to review everything at the present time, I should exceed altogether the object of the work I have undertaken. These things perhaps another at some time will set out in a suitable work, for they are worth knowing. They will forthwith lead the mind of him who hears them or reads of them to admiration, yea, even by their novelty and variety to wonderment."
"If that upstart Marsyas had in olden day used this Phagotum against Apollo, I could easily believe that he would not have met with the disgrace inflicted by the Muses. Nay, with his novel attempt to please as well as by the soft and delightful accord and sweet harmony, not merely could he have changed the indignant feelings of the Muses, but could have brought Phoebus himself to favour him and have easily impelled him to lay aside his lyre fur a while and take up the Phagotum. For in it all things are found so perfect that nothing further can be said or desired. For which reason Afranio himself, whose house is full of almost every kind of musical instrument and musical organ and up till now he has delighted in their use, with the neglect of all of them, has turned his mind to this alone he is charmed with it ; on it, after he has discharged his priestly office, all vain and amatory melodies being laid aside, he continually plays divine songs and hymns, sweet strains and giving of thanks to God; and for him this one Phagotum suffices in place of all organs of music--and not without good reason."
SCALE AND TECHNIQUE.
In this description given by Ambrogio we have already obtained some idea of the construction of the Phagotum and its possibilities ; but the fortunate discovery by Valdrighi of a chart of Instructions for playing the instrument enables us to gain more particular details. The most convenient way of dealing with this old Italian manuscript, of which a reduced facsimile is given on Plate II, will be to provide an English translation of its somewhat indistinct contents, specifying where they occur and adding any further explanations that may be required in brackets as before.
On the outside of the folded sheets are the words " On the Fagoto." On the inside at the top is the date and the following inscription: " The Cavaliére Theseo (Ambrogio) has given me one of his fagoti, and he has informed me how the two pipes (cane) are played, on the condition that I give the information to no one but only to his sons."
(Fingering to the right of each note.)
(f) The little hole (buseto) only closed at the back ; and also you close that near hole which is not in the other fagoto.
(e) All the hand off; that is open.
(d) The little hole and the middle hole in front.
(c) The little hole and the key above and the last little hole as on the Flute--relicto media.
(B) The little hole and the key above and the near hole in front.
(A) The little hole and the key above, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd altogether.
(G) All closed with the key below which sometimes is not there, that is to say, is wanting.
(To the left of note G.)
The key, when somewhat raised, is a semitone.
The little reed-tube (pivello) of the large pipe is greater that that of the left pipe, which is straight ; but the larger tube in brass of the large pipe is crooked like that of the Dolzaina.
(Below, as second heading.)
The left hand with B as in the other fagoto.
(No solmisation syllables.)
(Fingering to the right of each note.)
(e') If there is here another key, it would be the 4th only as in the other fagoto.
(d') 3rd key only, of brass.
(c') Middle key of brass only.
(b) 1st key of brass only.
(a) All off.
(g) Key, middle hole and the back hole with thumb.
(f) 1st key and 3rd hole with back hole, the same as used on the Flute.
(e) 1st key and 2nd hole with back hole.
(d) 1st key and 2nd and 3rd holes with back hole. (To the left) The right hand 2nd hole and back hole is unison.
(c) 1st key and 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes with back hole.
(Across the left hand side of the sheet is the following note, now imperfect.)
"(The Cavaliére Theseo) used to stop with the fleshy parts of the joints of the fingers or he--the Cavaliére-- stopped with the middle of the finger when playing anything small ; but to silence his right hand fagoto he would withdraw the key on the outside which is near the lower part of the pipe ; and for the left hand he would withdraw the similar one opposite, so that they might be reduced to silence ; in this way, if the wind is given with the bellows to the bag, no sound is obtained. In giving the wind to the fagoto you must stop with the thumb the little holes at the back, which are at the top; otherwise the fagoto would bray."
(On the back of the sheet are the following additional directions.)
"The bellows go on the right arm, bound to it with the strap and with the other strap round the body. The little lute-string goes underneath the fagoto to hold it firm and upright on the breeches."
"The two keys at the bottom close with certain others, but those in brass are open. When a note is out of tune you help it with the finger by opening the key a little, if it is flat; sometimes you help it with wax, by closing the hole with it or removing it. The little reed-tubes (pivelli) ought to be of silver, because they give an agreeable sound nevertheless I have seen in play a pipe of wood within which was a little reed-tube in small wood (rameto) ; and I have seen played a fagoto of three large pipes like the bagpipe (piva), one of which gave a single note. The holes of the other two were fingered with both hands and the wind given with the bellows or, to say, the bag."
"You bind the bellows to the right arm; the bellows has a lead weight and with a strap you bind it to the body at the waist ; the other strap you attach to the bag which receives the wind by means of a tube which you fix . . . to the back of the fagoto and give it wind with discretion. You get two sounds. . and with the other you can play a melody (cantare), or you get a single sound, like that of the Dolzaina, to play in concert."
There are several observations to be made on these intimate directions. First of all, it is evident that several instruments of this kind were made, differing in some respects from the original model as conceived by Afranio about the year 1515, " some years " before the taking of Belgrade by the Turks (1521). We are told by Ambrogio that at first the Phagotum had but a scale of twelve notes, and I would suggest that on this early instrument there were but four finger holes (three in front and one at the back) and one key at the lower end (as for the Bombart of the period) on each of the two pillars or pipes. With Raviljo's help this was extended to a scale of twenty-two notes in all, by means of additional keys, as figured in the illustrations of 1539. Ambrogio informs us that the downward compass could descend to a note " below that from a ten-foot pipe;" we may say GG for an instrument with cylindrical bore ; but we are also told that, in one Phagotum, a third or drone pipe was added and the writer may have been alluding to it. If, on the other hand, the "twenty-two most true and perfect notes " mentioned for the highest development of the instrument are to be taken in diatonic succession, as in the scales set out on the instruction sheet, we may well postulate a compass from GG to B for the right-hand pipe or bass pipe and from c to g' for the left-hand pipe, three octaves in all. At any rate the particular instrument for which the Instructions were written had a bass pipe which descended only to G, as that pitch is established by the clue written against the note d of the left-hand pipe, which is said to have been "in unison" with the 3rd note (d) of the right-hand pipe as shown by the fingering given; and not its octave. This instrument, too, had fewer keys than that depicted in the illustrations. The solmisation syllables added by Vaidrighi in Musurgiana II, 2, to the scale of the left-hand pipe are not found in the original MS.
Several very interesting details appear in the Instructions we may note the use of forked- or cross-fingerings "as on the Flute"; the half-closing of the lower key to obtain a semitone ; and the position of the fingers in playing. The word pivello (little tube) must include the single-beating reed, which Ambrogio in his book calls piva and tells us was of metal. Piva is also a name given to the Dalmatian Bagpipe with single-beating reeds in its two chanters.
As Ambrogio was in a position to present one of his fagoti to a friend, I think we may conclude that in 1565 his uncle was dead, though, from the secrecy enjoined for the information on the scale and fingering, probably but a few years. He was living in 1539 as the Introductio is dedicated to him.
IT'S POSITION IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF WIND INSTRUMENTS.
We finally pass to a point of extreme interest. The Phagotum, as such, is no more; but did it leave any mark on the structure of the musical instruments of its brief period?
I have alluded already to the fact that Mersenne in his Harmorije Unjverselle (Traité des Instrumens, Book V) gives us the earliest notice of the Phagotum from an independent source. It is recorded as a corollary to his description of the Bassoon types prevalent in his own day and immediately preceding his details of the Bagpipes, to which he refers his readers. In fact, in his Latin treatise (Harmonicorum Instrumentoruni Liber II). issued also in 1636, he adds that the Neapolitan Bagpipe (Surdelina) surpasses Afranio's instrument. It was therefore unfortunate that Fétis characterised Ambrogio's description and illustrations as du basson, dont il attribue l'invention a ce chansine" and still more misleading is the article in Lavignac's Encyclopédie de la Musique (1927), in which the writers boldly assert of Afranio "il créa le premier basson." For, as will have already been gathered from Ambrogio's own description, there are radical differences between the two instruments. It is not merely that the vibrating reed of the Phagotum was of the single-beating or clarinet type and that of the Bassoon is of the double-beating or oboe type, for the Bassoon can be played with either of them ; nor was it that the former was sounded by the mechanical means of bellows and bag, whilst the latter is controlled by the lips and supplied with wind from the mouth. The major difference is that the reflexed tube of the Phagotum was cylindrical in bore and so it spoke as a stopped pipe while that of the Bassoon is conical, speaking as an open pipe ; and therefore double the length is required for a note of the same pitch as that on the older instrument.
Yet the Phagotum has not failed to leave its mark. In the first place there is no record of earlier date at present forthcoming which shows the device here adopted of boring two parallel tubes in one block of wood and connecting them by a short windway. It may be that the idea was suggested by the later form of the mediaeval Trumpet, which for portability had reflexed tubes ; but its application in this form to the wood-wind and the increased facility for placing the finger-holes within easy reach were certainly original. Neither Virdung (1511) nor Agricola (1528) describes or shows such a device, though according to Ambrogio a figure of the Phagotum should have appeared in Luscinius' Latin version (1536) of the former of these works.
Very soon however the idea was recognised and welcomed. The Sordoni, called also Dolzaini according to Practorius appeared, being short instruments of low pitch and quiet tone due to the cylindrical bore of the doubled tube. It 'will have been noticed that the Instruction sheet, dated 1565, twice refers to these instruments as akin to the purpose and construction of the Phagotum; but a yet earlier notice is to be found in the list of instruments belonging to King Henry the Eighth of England in 1547, where " short instruments called Dulcenses " are mentioned as distinct from the " Crurnhorns " and " Shalms," one case containing a set of five and another a set of eight. It is quite likely also that the two "contrebass instruments called fagotes in two cylindrical cases " named in a Spanish inventory of 1555 as belonging to the musical establishment of Mary, widow of the late King of Hungary, on her leaving Flanders for Spain, were of a similar type; for they are carefully distinguished from the two "Contrebass of the Shawms (chirimias)" which were in two pieces, each instrument being in " a great case." There was also a Fagot contra alt" (E. van der Straeten, La Musique aux Pays-bas, Vol. VII). The contrabass Sordoni had a compass from GG to d or, according to Praetorius, from FF to e.
It is interesting too to note that, for the true Fagotto or Bassoon with conical bore, an early name was Dolcian or Duizian owing to the fact, stated by Praetorius in iôi8, that its tone was softer than that of its predecessor, the straight Pommer or Bass Shawm; but even that was often muted still further by means of a perforated cap placed over the open end. For the history of this instrument, however, reference must be made to Mr. Langwill's excellent paper on the subject.
Another result of Afranio's clever invention led to the adoption of fuller key-mechanism. When we recall that up to the middle of the sixteenth century, if we may trust the descriptions and illustrations of the wind instruments given during the period and earlier, the mechanism was confined to one key, with a swallow-tail touch for right or left-handed players, placed sometimes at the lower end of the deeper-toned instruments, the key-work of the Phagotum, so much admired by Ambrogio, is marvellous and worthy of a Boehm or a Triébert. For here we find not only the simpler forms of lever-keys, protected where necessary, by perforated coverings, but also the rod-axle key of the nineteenth century, and the long super-imposed keys with a swallow-tailed touch, which were afterwards adapted on the Bass Pommers.. A Cromorne or Krumhorn, dated 1537, bears such a double key. There is no trace or mention of a "speaker" key for overtones.
In conclusion, a few words must be said about the origin of the name Fagot, which appeared, as applied to a musical instrument, for the first time in the Phagotum and was afterward transferred to the Bassoon. In fact, Mersenne groups all double-tube bass instruments under the term Fagot.
When we recall that Afranio's instrument was primarily constructed, not in Italy, but in Serbia, the spelling of its name is in harmony with the Cyrillic language of that country, derived from the Eastern Greek : and we may add that the use of the masculine phagotum by Valdrighi and others in the description of the Phagotum is due to the fact that in Italian there is no neuter. We may dismiss the derivations suggested by Ambrogio (pp. 36, 37) from pephagota, a past participle of the Greek word phago ("I eat"), because as he says " it eats or devours all kinds of musical sounds and, when need be, emits them again"and that from the Latin fagus (a beech tree), from the wood of which such instruments were sometimes made. Mersenne has given what I consider to be the true derivation of the name ; for, writing in 1636, he says it has taken the name Fagot because it contains two or more pipes "liées ou fagotées ensemble." The word "fagut" comes from an Indo-European root PAK or PAG, meaning "to fasten, fix or bind together." It appears in the old Greek word phakelos (a bundle) ; and, as Skeat has pointed out in his Etymological Dictionary (1909), undergoes the normal change of the initial labial P to labial F in \Vestern European speech. A glance at the illustrations of the Phagotum will show how closely that instrument, with its pillars large and small, resembled a bundle of wood, i.e. a fagot. This similarity may have suggested what is, in reality, a nickname, or, as Pedrell, in his Organografia Musical Antigua Espanola (1901), terms it, un nombre satirico. The Italian spelling "fagotto" is of the late sixteenth century.
On the Instructions sheet of 1565 we notice that each of the larger pillars is separately called a fagoto. From this narrower and somewhat incorrect use of the word the name appears to have passed to any bass instrument bored with parallel tubes such as the deep-toned Sordoni, or to the later Dolcians with their conical tubes in one block. The suggestion that the Bassoon received the name because it was divided into parts for ease of carriage, making as it were a small fagot, is absurd, as such a method did not obtain until well into the seventeenth century.
Although the Phagotum no longer plays for our hearing divine songs and hymns," we can but he grateful to the sixteenth-century Canon of Ferrara who laboured so diligently to perfect it--a labour of love indeed--and to his learned nephew, who devoted so many pages of his book to its description for the suggestive enlightenment of future generations.
(Extract from the "Proceedings of the Musical Society 1947)