The Renaissance Shawm

At great feasts they are to play upon shagbut, cornetts,
shawms and other instruments going with wind.

Richard Brathwaite, 1621

click image for alto shawm sound (134kb wav)
or here for same in mp3

canario - dance tune by Fabrito Carioso
(second verse by alto shawm)

ein feste burg - three settings by Walther
(first setting includes tenor shawm, alto zink and crumhorn)

Unlike the medieval shawm, the late Middle Ages and Renaissance shawm uses a broad cane reed controlled by the player's lips. With the smaller size shawms, the reed could be placed inside a pirouette, a funnel shaped protector against which the player places his lips. This pirouette not only protects the reed, but also helps avoid lip fatique.

Renaissance alto shawm - click for sound
Tenor Shawm The shawm band enlivened the palace courtyard and market square of the sixteenth century and added to the general din and confusion associated with them.

Clown: Why, masters, have your instruments been at Naples, that they speak i' th' nose thus?

Musician: How, sir, how?

Clown: Are these, I pray, call'd wind instruments?

Musician: Ay, marry, are they, sir.

Clown: O. therey hangs a tail.

Musician: Whereby hangs a tale, sir?

Clown: Marry, sir, by many a wind instrument that i know. But, masters, here's money for you; and the General so likes your music, that he desires you, of all loves, to make no more noise with it.

Shakespeare, Othello

Shawm bell All shawms have several vent holes between the hole for the lowest note and the end of the bell. This section of the instrument is very long and contributes to the tone and carrying power of the instrument. A large fontanelle protects the key mechanism of the lowest note(s), and the crenellated metal band often found wrapped around the bell not only helps protect the instrument but also helps make the shawm a sturdy weapon for settling disputes among town musicians.

Musica Antiqua's shawms include a soprano in c1 by Hermann Moeck, two altos in f by Moeck, a tenor in c by Moeck, a soprano in c1 by John Hanchet, and an alto in f by Collier.

Musica Antiqua Instruments

Additional Resources:

soprano shawm