Krumhorn being played(krumhorn)

click here for sound of bass crumhorn  (194kb wav)

Beginning with the fifteenth century a new type of double reed instrument was developed. The player's lips did not touch the reed because the reed was enclosed inside a protective cap with a slot at one end. Strongly blowing through this slot causes the reed to vibrate as it does in the bagpipe chanter. The name of the Crumhorn comes from the German krumhorn (also krummhorn, krumhorn), meaning curved horn (or the older English crump, meaning curve, surviving in modern English in crumpled and crumpet, a curved cake).

Lo Spagnoletto - dance tune by Negri 
(fifth  verse by bass crumhorn)

canario - dance tune by Fabritio Caroso
(sixth verse by bass crumhorn) 
(seventh verse includes soprano crumhorn)

The name first occurs in 1489 as an organ stop.The crumhorn, used in the 14th to17th centuries in Europe, is wooden, with a cylindrical bore. The crumhorn is the earliest and most common instrument of the reed cap family which also includes the kortholtcornamuse, and hirtenschalmei. The crumhorn is thought to have developed from the earlier bladder pipe.

The cylindrical bore (as opposed to a conical bore) and the reed closing the end of the resonating tube mean that the crumhorn overblows a twelfth rather than an octave, giving the instrument a fingering system similar to the lower register of the clarinet. However, the lack of direct control of the reed of a windcapped instrument renders these higher notes extremely difficult to access. Thus the normal range is limited to the simple fundamental sounds produced by successive opening of the holes giving a range of an octave and one note. Many larger surviving instruments have auxiliary holes that extend the range downwards to just over an octave. On modern reconstructions additional keys are provided to extend the range upwards by one to three notes. And there is some evidence to suggest that crumhorns were sometimes played without the windcap, possibly to facilitate the production of higher notes. 


Click image for 140kb wav of Crumhorn trio 
or here for the entire Chichilichi cucurucu in mp3 format

L'innamorato in mp3 format 
(soprano with soprano recorder and lute 
with alto and great bass crumhorn)

krumhorn fingerings Crumhorns have a characteristically sharp attack which is very effective in an ensemble. Depending on how their reeds are voiced, they range in tone from a gentle, somewhat nasal humming of a bumble-bee to a rich, resonant buzzing.

The crumhorn was turned out of a length of wood, which was then bored out, filled with sand, plugged, and the lower end steamed (to soften it) and finally bent into a half circle. The curve is decorative only, having nothing to do with the sound. The curved bell section of many surviving instrument is hollowed out to form a more or less conical foot, which has the effect of raising the volume.

The reed comprises a thin strip of cane, folded over and bound to the staple (a short tube) inserted into the top of the wooden pipe. When the reed is blown through, it vibrates, causing a standing wave to develop in the bore of the crumhorn. Pitch is governed not only by the length of the pipe down to the open finger holes, but also by breath pressure, so that the crumhorns are played at a fixed dynamic level. Variations in pitch from changes in breathing are like the change in pitch of a bagpipe chanter as the player starts to fill the bag. Blow too hard and the reed closes (no sound). Blowing too softly allows the pitch to flatten or sag to unusable levels.

Note that larger crumhorns have a pipe or airway on the side of the cap (similar to the large recorders) which is blown into to allow reaching the finger holes on these longer instruments.

A four-part consort usually comprised an alto crumhorn (in F or G), two tenors (C) and a bass (F). Less frequently, soprano (C) and great bass (C) crumhorns were used.

krumhorn reedDespite its strange shape and the amusing reaction of listeners when the instrument is played poorly, the crumhorn played a serious role in all kinds of renaissance music ranging from dances and madrigals to church music. As early as 1500 crumhorns were used along with other instruments to accompany two masses performed for the wedding of Duke Johann to Sophia of Mecklenburg. King Henry the Eighth of England owned 25 crumhorns, so they may have been played at his court. However, they were not as popular in Great Britain as on the Continent, especially Germany, Italy and the Low Countries, from where a small repertoire of music specifically for crumhorns has been preserved.

Musica Antiqua's krummhorns include a soprano in c1, alto in f, 2 tenors in c, bass in F, and a great bass in C by Koerber of Germany as well as a great bass in C by Moulder of England and a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass by Steinkopf.

crumhorn caps

Margot labourez les vignes in mp3 format 
(soprano voice with three crumhorns)


Three Country Dances in One 
(ground bass by bass crumhorn)

Additional Crumhorn Sources

(some sources courtesy of Nicholas Lander of Crumhorn Home Page)

  • Agricola M. 1529/r1969) Musica instrumentalis deudsch

  • Boydell, B. (1979). Ieorg Wier, an early sixteenth-century crumhorn maker. Early Music 7: 511-517.
  • Boydell, B. (1982). The Crumhorn and other Windcap Instruments of the Renaissance Frits Knuf, Buren. Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Boydell, B. (1984). Crumhorn In Sadie, S. (ed) The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. McMillan, London.
  • Early Music Shop (undated). The Adjustment and Maintenance of Plastic reeds.
  • Brochure. Hanchet, J.F. (1980). Adjustment and control of double reeds for direct blown early instruments Early Music, July: 361-207.
  • Brown, H. M. (1973) Sixteenth-century Instrumentation: the Music for the Florentine Intermedii
  • Cerone, D. P. (1613/r1969) El melopeo y maestro
  • Diderot, D. (1765) Encyclopedie
  • Douwes, C. (1699/r1970) Grondig ondersoek van de toonen der musiek
  • Hantelmann, G. v. (19??). Directions for Playing the Crumhorn, Cornamuse and Kortholt Moeck Verlag, Celle. Ed. Nr. 2077.
  • Hunt, E. (1975). The Crumhorn Schott, London. Ed. 11239.
  • Kinsky, G. (1925) Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente mit Windkapsel AMw
  • Kite-Powell, J.T. ed. (1994). A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music Schirmer, New York.
  • Kite-Powell, J.T. (1994). The Crumhorn In Kite-Powell (loc. cit. 63-68).
  • Leguy, J. (1978). Precis de Facture d'Anches Renaissance -- Handbook of Renaissance Reed-Making. Zurfluh, Paris. French and English text.
  • Lesure, F. (1955) Le Traite des instruments de musique de Pierre Trichet AnnM
  • Lewin, G. (1985). The cornamuse - a reassessment. Recorder and Music Magazine 8(1): 9-14.
  • Lorraine, K. (1982). A Handbook on Making Double Reeds for Early Winds Musica Sacra et Profana, Berkeley.
  • Mersenne, M. (1636, 1648/r1972) Harmonicorum instrumentorum libri IV
  • Meyer, K.T. (1983). The Crumhorn: Its History, Design, Repertory, and Technique. Studies in Musicology 66. University of Michigan Research Press, Ann Arbor.
  • Moeck, H. (1971). Zur Geschichte von Krummhorn und Cornamuse Moeck, Celle.
  • Moeck, H. (undated). The Adjustment and Maintenance of Plastic reeds Brochure.
  • Monkeymeyer, H. (1976). Album of Pieces and Exercises in Four Volumes for the Crumhorn, Cornamusa, Curtall and Other Wind Instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque Era. Volume I, For two instruments with intervalic fifth relationship. Edition Moeck Nr 2088. Moeck, Celle.
  • Monkeymeyer, H. (1976). Album of pieces and Exercises in Four Volumes for the Crumhorn, Cornamusa, Curtall and Other Wind Instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque Era Volume II, For two instruments of the same pitch Edition Moeck Nr 2089. Moeck, Celle.
  • Montague, J. (1976). Mediaeval and Renaissance Musical Instruments Ure Smith, Sydney.
  • Munrow, D. (1976). Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Oxford University Press: London.
  • Nickel, E. (1971) Der Holzblasinstrumentenbau in der Freien Reichsstadt Nurnberg
  • Papineau, G. (1980). Comment Tailler vos Anches -- Reed Do It Yourself. Le Droit Chemin de Musique, Paris.
  • Praetorius, M. (1618/r1980) Syntagma musicum
  • Robinson, T. (1973). The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Sachs, C. (1909) Doppione und Dulzaina: zur Namensgechichte des Krummhorns SIMG
  • Smith, D.H. (1992). Reed Design for Early Woodwinds Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.
  • Stevenson, C. (1980). Make your own Crumhorn Recorder & Music 6(12): 346.
  • Thomas, B. (1973). An introduction to the crumhorn repertoire. Early Music 1: 142-146.
  • Thomas, B. (1973). Playing the crumhorn: First steps. Early Music 1: 151-156.
  • Thorn, C. (1984). Things to play on crumhorns and the like. Recorder and Music 8(3): 76-78.
  • vander Straeten, E. (1888/r1969) La musique aux Pays-Bas avant le XIX
  • Virdung S. (1511/r1970) Musica getutscht
  • Wells, M. (1973). The crumhorn: Historical sources. Early Music 1: 139-141.
  • Whone, J.F. (1975). Constructing a crumhorn. Recorder & Music 5(3): 90-93.
  • Young, P.T. (1980). The Look of Music: Rare Musical Instruments 1500-1900. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
  • Young, P.T. (1993). 4900 Historical Woodwind Instruments: An Inventory of 200 Makers in International Collections Tony Bingham, London.
  • Zacconi L. (1592/r1967) Prattica di musica


Krumhorn cap