Musica Instrumentalis: Ophicleide

The Ophicleide. We ran into this elephantine word in Music of the Romantic Era class in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The name means "keyed serpent" and reveals the instruments familial relation to the Renaissance era serpent. Invented and patented in the 1920s by Frenchman Jean Hilaire Asté, it is the lowest member of the keyed bugle family. First nine, then as many as twelve, keys simplified the serpent's difficult and sometimes awkward fingering system. It uses a cupped mouthpiece similar to a trombone. Because keys are used rather than valves there is a larger change in timbre throughout the range. It was mainly ousted from the orchestra by the valved tuba and euphonium in the mid-nineteenth century. Adolph Sax's familiarity with this instrument as well as the bass clarinet and other brass and woodwind instruments, led to the invention of the saxophone in 1841.

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