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RWC Curtals


Sp: bajón, bajoncillo, fagote; Fr: fagot, basson, douçaine; It: phagotum, fagotto; Ge: dulcian, dolcian, dulcin, vagote, storte, fagati; En: curtal

The curtals (or dulcians as they were known in Germany) are double reed,  woodwind instruments used all over Europe and European colonies from mid-16th to mid-18th centuries, and in Spain until the beginning of the 20th century.


(excerpt from "Curtal, Dulcian, Bajón: A history of the Precursor to the Bassoon" by Maggie Kilbey)

It seems likely that the curtal originated in Italy as this is where the earliest references to its use are found. When the curtal was first invented, there was already an instrument known as the phagotum or fagoto, but it became obsolete and the name fagotto was adopted for the curtal and also its direct descendant, the jointed bassoon.

Venice (Italy) in addition to being a centre of musical excellence, was also one of the main centres for the manufacture and export of musical instruments, particularly the San Marco district where many immigrant craftsmen had their workshops. These included the Bassano family, who were among the first to make curtals.

The name curtal was first used in Venice in 1559 when the manufacture of bassoni curti by the Bassano family and the English use of that name did not occur until 1574, but it is possible that curtals were in use in England before this date. The descriptive name curtal would have been understood by both the English and Italians to mean short, as in curt and curtail: it is a short instrument because the bore is doubled back on itself.

There are many references to double (i.e. bass) curtal, usually in combination with a lizard (tenor cornett) and often also with hoyboys (shawms) in England.

In  modern France the curtal is called the douçaine, but historically it was referred to as the basson or fagot.

German-speaking countries made use of all sizes of dulcian, and this is the region where most of the references to greatbass sizes are found,

Spain is the country in which the curtal was used over the longest time span and probably where the smaller sizes were most widely used together with the German-speaking countries. The first definite reference to the instrument was when some fagotes were brought from the Low Countries by Maria of Hungary, sister of Charles V and Regent of the Nederland since 1530; In 1556 she returned to Spain, taking with her a large number of instruments, including fagotes, which had been used in her royal residence. But in Spain the fagote -thereafter it was known as the bajón (plural bajones, diminutive bajoncillo)- was used almost exclusively in the church. As the bajón developed it was sometimes made in two, three, or even four pieces and acquired up to five keys to help with the tuning.


They were made in several sizes including soprano (or descant), alto, tenor, bass, quartbass, quintbass, octavebass. The bass was the most important size and it was from this instrument that the baroque bassoon evolved.


Curtals were usually made of maple or sycamore, however apple, beech, cedar, cherry oak, etc have all been used historically with varying success.

The curtal has a conical bore doubled into a 'U', so that the sound emanates near the head of the player, to produce a much more compact instrument than for example the larger shawms. The curtal shares with the bassoon the double reed, crook and conical bore but the body of the curtal is usually made from a single piece of wood.


RWC Curtals








RWC Curtals



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Last modification: 17 de septiembre de 2010
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