Music in the Daily Life of Vermeer
The Crumhorn (2)

Barra R. Boydell, Ieorg Wier, an early sixteenth-century crumhorn maker

"Of more than 40 surviving crumhorns 17, over a third of them, are marked 'f' or 'ff' ['f' reversed]. This mark is unique to crumhorns and outstandingly the commonest occurring on these instruments. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, there is an extended tenor crumhorn which has the 'ff' mark, while the fontanelle is engraved and includes the inscription IEORG WIER 1522, thus identifying the 'ff' mark as belonging to Ieorg Wier. Another fontanelle, together with two keys, survived until the last war in the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, Berlin. This was similarly engraved but with the fuller inscription IEORG WIER ZUO MEMINGEN 1537, showing that Wier worked in Memmingen in Swabia.

Trade mark by Ieorg Wier on an extended bass crumhorn
Trade mark by Ieorg Wier on an extended bass crumhorn.
Städtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg.

These are the only two cases where Ieorg Wier's name is directly connected with crumhorns. However, some contemporary sources refer either to crumhorns or to an unnamed maker from Memmingen and it is reasonable to suppose that these references apply to Ieorg Wier or his workshop. The large number of surviving instruments with the 'f' mark supports this view.

In 1539 Nuremberg purchased for its town players a set of nine crumhorns from Memmingen paying the sum of 50 fl. Ten years later, on 14 May, 1549, an entry in the Nuremberg town papers records the death of "the crumhorn maker" without however giving any further details. In a letter dated 13 May, 1563 the Elector August of Saxony wrote in reply to a query from Duke Albrecht of Bavaria:

"...Our instrumentalists and other servants have reported that our dear lamented brother Elector Moritz ... bought these crumhorns from a merchant in Nuremberg and that they are said to have been made in Memmingen. However, this same maker has recently died and he branded his pipes with a large German F as a sign or mark. Our instrumentalists have no other information than that the Cardinal of Trent also has a case full of this type of crumhorns, which are supposed to be better than ours. However, they do not know if there are any other such makers in Memmingen who make pipes like these."

The description of the mark is important since it identifies these instruments as being by Ieorg Wier or his workshop. The direct evidence from the primary sources can be summarized as follows: Ieorg Wier was a crumhorn maker working in Memmingen. An extended tenor crumhorn and a fontanelle with two keys from a bass crumhorn can be positively identified as being by him and are dated 1522 and 1537 respectively. Another bass crumhorn survives which, although not signed, is so similar in details of design and decoration, has the same 'ff' mark as the signed instrument and is also dated 1522, that it can be confidently attributed to Ieorg Wier. At some time not later than 1553 (when August succeeded to the Electorate on the death of Moritz) a Memmingen maker who signed his instruments with "ein gross deutsch F" made crumhorns for the Saxon court and, at least before 1563, for the Cardinal of Trent. This maker, who must be either Ieorg Wier or another member of the same family or workshop, died before 1563, possibly in 1549 if the Nuremberg reference of that date applies to the same person. It is also probable that Ieorg Wier was the Memmingen maker who supplied nine crumhorns to Nuremberg in 1539.

Was Ieorg Wier the only crumhorn maker in Memmingen, or were there two people in the Wier workshop? An examination of the surviving instruments marked with an 'f' shows that, of the 17, 11 have the double 'ff' of 'Ieorg Wier', while six have the single mark. It is possible that these two marks represent two makers.

The 'f' and 'ff' marks are divided amongst the surviving crumhorns according to size, the 'f' occurring only on tenor and smaller instruments, Ieorg Wier's 'ff' on tenor or larger sizes.
If the single and the double marks do represent two makers, the evidence is in favour of their being more or less contemporary. Since crumhorns were usually purchased in sets, it is possible that at least some of the groups of two or more instruments surviving together in the one collection may have originated from the same set.

The high proportion of surviving crumhorns which are of Memmingen make suggests that they were well regarded during the sixteenth century. This seems to be supported by Albrecht's enquiry of August concerning such instruments and by the recorded presence of Memmingen crumhorns in centres as far apart as Trent, Dresden, Nuremberg and probably Flanders."

from: Barra R. Boydell, "Ieorg Wier, an early sixteenth-century crumhorn maker."
Early Music 7 no. 4, October 1979. 511–18.

The earliest evidence of the term "Krummhorn" in the Low Countries refers to an organ stop, mentioned 1501 for the organ of the cathedral Onze Lieve Vrouwe ("Our Lady") in Antwerp. The first true instruments had been purchased 1531 and 1539 from Antwerp by the city of Oudenaard.1 The civic inventory of Antwerp, the early musical and artistic center of the Low Countries, mentioned in 1532 the existence of 19 crumhorns, probably for the town band. We may remember, that in 1551 Tielman Susato moved with his workshop into the house called "Inden cromhorn." Susato seemed very fond of crumhorns, as more than fifty of the sixty-five dances of his collection Het derde musyk boexken (1551) fit for crumhorns, and most of them do not require transposition, as was necessary for so many music-pieces of the crumhorn-repertory.

The Musée instrumental du Conservatoire royal de musique in Brussels houses a unique set of six crumhorns complete with their original case, donated to the museum by Count Luigi Francesco Valdrighi of Modena. Valdrighi thought that they may have been part of the collection of Alfonso II d'Este (1533–1597) although he lacked concrete evidence. But indeed, an inventory of musical instruments belonging to the Este, made in 1600, includes "Cornetti storti, n.6 cum capsa."2 Recent research supposes that they may well have been made in Germany, according to the typical "rabbit's feet" brand marks each instrument shows on its front and at the beginning of the curve. It is known that a number of Italians had obtained crumhorns in Germany. The consort consists of one descant (exterior length, including curve: 52 cm.), three tenors (78 cm.), one-keyed bass (108 cm.) and one extended bass (122 cm.) and is in extremely fine condition.

Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario, Pieter Claesz Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario
Pieter Claesz
Oil on panel, 70.5 x 80.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

All details in this painting refer to the passage of time and transience of all worldly things. The musical instruments symbolize the ephemeral nature of music.

Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario, Pieter Claesz Claesz, Vanitas, detail, showing (among a viol, a lute and a flute) an extended bass crumhorn. While the upper part with the wind cap is covered by the lute, the keys, sliders and slightly flared bell with spine of this extended bass are visible.

Despite its importance in official music making, the crumhorn rarely is represented in Dutch painting. There is perhaps only one painting showing a single part of the instrument: Pieter Claesz' Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario (1628, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).

Likewize, there is little evidence of the crumhorn in England. Sets, probably made by the Bassano brothers, were owned only by King Henry VIII and the Earls of Arundel. Sir William Leighton mentioned "Crouncorns" among other instruments in a paraphrase of the Psalms (The Teares or Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soule, 1613) but it seems that they were barely known elsewhere in the country. Crumhorns do not occur in inventories or other documents of English town waits, which would certainly have used them if they had the opportunity.

The presence of the crumhorn in France is unclear due ambiguous nomenclature. Marin Mersenne first described and illustrated it under the name tournebout. Other sources refer to the crumhorn as douçaines, in which case they would have been widely used, but earlier than in the other countries (Germany and the Low Countries in particular) went out of fashion in France.

Crumhorns remained in use into the seventeenth century but with changing musical taste, limited compass and expressive range, they no longer met the requirements of composers. Denis Diderot included the crumhorn (tournebout) in his Encyclopédie (1765) as an instrument ançiens.

Together with many other Renaissance instruments, the crumhorn enjoyed a revival in the Early Music movement of the 1970s and is now appreciated as a fine additional instrument particularly for recorder-, oboe- and bassoon-players.

.by Adelheid Rech.

The Este crumhorn-consort in its case
The Este crumhorn-consort in its case
Musée instrumental du Conservatoire royal de musique, Brussels

From top to bottom resp. from left to right: extended bass, one-keyed bass, tenor (curve above), tenor (curve below), descant, tenor (right-side, curve below).
Large and small Tournebouts
Large and small Tournebouts in Marin Mersenne's Harmonie universelle. 3 vols (Paris 1636).