organetto being played (portative)

click on image for organetto sound 
(205kb wav) 
or here for same in mp3 format 

"There are easily manageable organs which are portable and are pumped and played by the same person, who also sings either the soprano or tenor part."
-Roman de la Rose
  13th century

an mp3 of Schafertanz 
(organetto plays melody)

The organetto was one of the most popular instruments of the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. Relatively light in weight, the instrument, when equipped with a sling, could be carried about and played in religious processions. The player provides his own wind supply by pumping a bellows made of sheepskin and wood with his left hand while playing a button type keyboard of approximately two octaves with his right hand. Because of its limited air supply, the organetto could only play one note at a time. Thus it was used for monophonic dance music, or a single part in a motet, chanson, or other polyphonic work. 

organetto being playedPipes are arranged in two rows and have a high lead content. The key action is mechanical: depressing a key allows air from the bellows to enter the appropriate pipe. Although the organetto is tuned in Pythagorean temperament, other temperaments are possible by pushing harder or more lightly on the bellows.

The playing of Francesco Landini (c. 1325-1397), Italy's best known fourteenth century composer, is charmingly described in a novella by Giovanni da Prato: 

The sun was coming up and beginning to get warm, a thousand birds were singing. Francesco was ordered to play on his organetto to see if the singing of the birds would lessen or increase with his playing. As soon as he began to play, many birds at first became silent, then they redoubled their singing and, strange to say, one nightingale came and perched on a branch over his head.

Lo Spagnoletto - dance tune by Negri 
(first, fourth and sixth verses by the organetto)

Petit Vriens - dance tune 
(includes organetto in addition to soprano recorder, sacbut and rebec)

Bobbing Joe - dance tune by Playford 
(first and sixth verse by organetto)

Official Branle - dance tune

statue playing an organettoorganetto Musica Antiqua's organetto was built by the John Brombaugh Organ Company from a fifteenth century painting on wood by Hans Memling. The bellows provide air pressure only on the downswing, so the player has to space the opening of the bellows much as a vocalist carefully places breaths. Notice the wood inlays which appear on both sides as well as the front.


Additional Resources:

  • A. Schlick: Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten (Speyer, 1511/r1959, English trns. E. B. Barber, Buren, 1980)
  • S. Virdung: Musica getutscht (Basle, 1511/r1970)
  • C. Antegnati: L'arte organica (Basle, 1511, English trans. C. Meyer, 1980)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • A. Werckmeister: Orgelprobe (Frankfurt am Main, 1681)
  • J. P. Bendeler: Organopoeia (Frankfurt am Main, 1690/r1972)
  • J. H. Biermann: Organographia hildesiensis specialis (Hildesheim, 1738)
  • J. Adlung: Musica mechanica organoedi (Berlin, 1768/r1961)
  • A. A. Hulphers: Historisk afhandling om musik och instrumenter (Westeras, 1773/r1971)
  • E. J. Hopkins and E. F. Rimbault: The Organ: its History and Construction (London, 1855)
  • H. G. Farmer: The Organ of the Ancients from Eastern Sources (London, 1931)
  • H. Klotz: Uber die Orgelkunst der Gotik der Renaissance und des Barock (Kassel, 1934)

organetto being played depicted in stained glass




suckbut being played (sackbut) 

click image for sacbut sound (124kb wav) 
or here for same in mp3 format

"However, for the lowest contratenor parts, and often for any contratenor part, to the shawm players one adds brass players who play very harmoniously, upon the kind of tuba which is called ..trombone in Italy and sacqueboute in France. When all these instruments are employed together, it is called the loud music."
-Tinctoris, circa 1487

La Gelosia - dance tune by Dommico 
(includes sacbut) 
Lo Spagnoletto - dance tune by Negri 
(third verse by sacbut) 
Bobbing Joe - dance tune by Playford 
(third and fifth verse by sacbut) 
Hymn to St. John 
(includes sacbut introduction) 
ein feste burg - three settings by Walther 
(3rd setting at 1:43 includes sacbut) 
Aridan Branle - dance tune 
(includes sacbut on third verse)

detailing on sackbutMany names have been given to the Renaissance trombone, including sackbut (literally "push-pull"), saqueboute, shakbusshes, seykebuds, sakbuds, shakebuttes, shagbutts, and even shagbolts. It is uncertain when the sackbut first appeared, but by 1500 it is illustrated and mentioned regularly. Detailed information about the instrument is given by Praetorius, who also pictures four principal sizes: the alto, tenor, bass, and great bass. The tenor sackbut is the most useful size and it is this instrument which has evolved into the modern tenor trombone. In the early seventeenth century the sackbut was considered an instrument of the virtuoso performer. Praetorius mentions an Erhardus Borussus of Dresden who had a range of nearly four octaves (low A1 to g2) and was able to execute rapid coloraturas and jumps on his instrument just as is done on the viola bastarda and the cornett. 

Detailing on sackbut For outdoor music the top part of a sackbut ensemble was usually taken by a shawm, and for church music, by a cornett. The sackbut player should imitate the sound of the cornett, not the trumpet. Thus today's marching band trombone blasts have no place in the performance of early music. In spite of the instrument's wide range of dynamic and chromatic compass, and its ability to be played "in tune" (by slide adjustment), the sackbut did not become a regular member of the orchestra until the early nineteenth century. 

The sackbut differs from today's trombone by its smaller bore, its bell which is less flared, and in the lack of a water key, slide lock, and tuning slide on the bell curve. Sackbuts could adjust tuning at the joint between the bell and slide.

detailing on sackbutThe shallow brass mouthpiece was unplated. Decorated outer slide braces could telescope slightly to follow the imperfections of the inner slide. Leather pieces cushioned the slide when brought up to first position. Since the human arm couldn't reach the longest positions on the bass and great bass sackbuts, they have an articulated handle on the slide to extend the reach.

Petit Vriens - dance tune 
(includes sacbut in addition to organetto, soprano recorder and rebec)

Musica Antiqua's collection includes an alto in F, a tenor in B-flat, a bass in E-flat by Finke and two tenors in B-flat by Meinl and Lauber. The Shrine to Music museum in Vermillion S.D. has an original which appears to be the model for the Meinl and Lauber replicas.


sackbut mouthpiece Additional Resources:

  • Kevin Dyal's paper on the Sacbut
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, iii (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • D. Speer: Grund-richtiger Unterricht der Musicalischen Kunst (Ulm, 1687)
  • H. Berlioz: Grand traite d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes (Paris, 1843)
  • F. W. Galpin: 'The Sacbut, Its Evolution and History' Proc. Musical Association, xxxiii, (1906), 1-25
  • C. Sachs: The History of Musical Instruments (New York, 1940)
  • A. Baines: 'Fifteenth-century Instruments in Tinctoris's De inventione et usu musicae' GSJ, iii (1950), 19
  • C. Monk: 'The Older Brass Instruments' Musical Instruments Through the Ages, ed A. Baines (London, 1961)
  • A. Baines: Brass Instruments: Their History and Development (London, 1976)
  • H. G. Fischer: The Renaissance Sackbut and its Use Today (New York, 1984)

from The Triumph of Maximilian by Hans Burgkmair (1459-1537)