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The Central Coast Philharmonia

Contrabass Sarrusophone

The contrabass sarrusophone in Eb is pitched in unison with the tubax and the contrabass saxophone and is the most common surviving member of the sarrusophone family; in fact, contrabass sarrusophones are much more common than contrabass saxophones and thus the sarrusophone is commonly used in place of its rarer cousin. The sarrusophone (also known as the artillery bassoon) was invented as a competitor to the saxophone. It is defiantly its own woodwind species combining the narrow bore of the clarinet, the fingering and material of a saxophone, and the double reed of a bassoon. It can almost be thought of as a double reed saxophone, or a metal bassoon. At one time, a whole family of these instruments was available from Eb Sopranino to Bb (Sub)Contrabass. Now, most are completely extinct, and others are very rare. The Eb contrabass sarrusophone has seen some scoring in some 20th-Century pieces and in some motion picture soundtracks. It has a much clearer and louder tone than the contrabass clarinet or the contrabassoon, and is capable of clear pianissimos in the mid-upper ranges. Contrabass Sarrusophones are often used in France as substitutes for the quieter contrabassoon, however, scoring directly for the sarrusophone and its very unique sound can open up many possibilities. Several pieces on the Genesis Concert program will feature the contrabass sarrusophone.

Some technical info:
Contrabass Sarrusophone music is written in treble clef sounding in Eb at pitch with the contrabass saxophone. The instrument looses some agility over the fact that it has an absolutely huge reed (even larger than the contrabassoon). Intonation is also difficult to center, but a good player can control it with practice. As far as being an orchestral instrument is concerned, the sarrusophone is far more apt to that then the contrabassoon or many other more commonly scored for instruments. For more information on sarrusophones check out www.contrabass.com under the sarrusophone section in the "contrabass compendium."


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