The reed on the left is a reconstruction of a 17th century reed. The blades are bound on a brass staple, like the reed of an oboe or Irish bagpipe. There are no wires. You can hear me playing this reed on my curtal in a live performance of GA Bertoli’s sonata prima (1645) in the sound file above right.

The reed on the right is based on late 18th/early 19th century originals. You can hear me playing this reed on my baroque bassoon in a studio recording of M Corrette’s sonata V in the sound file at top right.

There are several important differences between historical and modern bassoon reeds. In historical reeds the profiling is carried out on the inside of the cane, not the outside. Historical scrapes taper from back to front but are more or less even across their profile; there is no ‘spine’ as in modern reeds. The sound and response of historical reeds is very different to the modern-style ‘baroque’ reeds used by the overwhelming majority of players today. Many historical bassoon players consider historical reeds intolerably buzzy. Yet this style of reed was universally used until at least the late 19th century (much later in some places) so there is a good historical precedent for making such a sound. I find it wonderfully rich and reedy!

Excerpt from Giovanni Antonio Bertoli, Sonata prima, 1645

Excerpt from Improvisation/Ortiz, Passamezzo Antico. Recording courtesy of ABC Classics.

For a truly buzzy sound, there is no better instrument than the rackett. In 1619 Michael Praetorius wrote that a consort of racketts had ‘no special grace’, likening their sound to ‘blowing through a comb’. However he went on to describe the effect of a single rackett played with a consort of viols or in a mixed consort of winds and strings as ‘lovely’ and ‘elegant’. A miniature by Hans Mielich of Bavarian court musicians from around 1570 depicts a rackett being played in such an ensemble, with Orlando di Lasso seated at the virginals.

Although not especially loud, racketts’ buzzy sound gives them quite a presence, even in larger ensembles. You can hear me playing the great bass rackett in the sound files below. 

Excerpt from Michel Corrette, Op 20 Sonate V 1738. Recording courtesy of ABC Classic FM.

Excerpt from Terpsichore, Michael Praetorius, 1612

Excerpt from Fili Mi Absalon, Heinrich Schütz, 1629

In the sound file to the left you can hear a consort of curtals (Jackie Hansen and Brock Imison on alto curtal, Kirsten Barry on tenor and me on bass) playing in a live performance on historical reeds made by me. The sound is very different to the woolly, indistinct sound produced by curtals with modern-style reeds.