Music in the Daily Life of Vermeer: The Dulcian or Curtal (2)

Detail of an alabaster relief at the lower part of the famous monument to Moritz, Elector of Saxony (1521–1553), Freiberg (Germany), Cathedral St. Marien, sculpted by Antonius van Zerroen from Antwerp Detail of an alabaster relief at the lower part of the famous monument to Moritz, Elector of Saxony (1521–1553), Freiberg (Germany), Cathedral Saint Marien, sculpted by Antonius van Zerroen from Antwerp. It shows (among some other wind instruments, mainly shawms) an early form of the dulcian. Van Zerroen got the commission for this monument from Moritz' brother, Elector August. He used black marble and white alabaster. The monument arrived in Freiberg in 1563.

Although there are only a few documentary references that cite the dulcian (here called fagot) in the Low Countries and the Flanders, it was widely used very early on. The first visual representation of a dulcian dates from 1563 on the elaborately sculpted monument for Elector Moritz of Saxony in the Cathedral Saint Marien in Freiberg (Germany), made by the Antwerp sculptor Antonius van Zerroen.

Several highly esteemed musicians from this region were active in the time in which the fagotto began to be developed: Adrian Willaert, maestro di capella from 1527 to 1562 of the Basilica di San Marco, or Orlandus Lassus, Hofkapellmeister to the Bavarian Court of Albrecht V in Munich, one of the most influential musicians of the time.

But, as mentioned above, the name Fagot appears to be associated with early popular dance music, namely in three collections by Pierre Phalèse, among others in his Premier Livre de danseries (1571) as a dance, called Fagot. We find another dance with the same name in Tielman Susato's well-known derde muziek boexken – Dansereye (Antwerp 1551). These pieces are not specifically scored for the fagot (the Dutch term for the dulcian, see above), but several pieces were named after instruments popular at the time indicating that the fagot must have been known in the Low Countries as early as 1550.

Early depictions of the dulcian in Flemish/Dutch painting are known from Denis van Alsloot or Antoine Sallaert (c.1620) whose copies showed varied groups of six musicians, playing a cornett, three shawms, a sackbut and a bass fagot, in three other paintings.

Apart from these official scenes of town wind bands, the appreciation for the dulcian's warm, sonorous tone becomes evident in a variety of different paintings: allegories, merry companies with musical amusements and portraits of musicians.

There are two well-known versions are the Allegory of Hearing. The first one (c. 1620) is a collaboration attributed to Jan van Kessel or his father Hieronymus (Jeroom) van Kessel, Hendrik van Balen and perhaps Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601–1678)1. The second was painted by Jan van Kessel (grandson of Jan Brueghel the Younger). Both paintings show a dulcian in full view among a number of different musical instruments, sometimes played by fantastic creatures.

The Five Senses, Theodor Rombouts The Five Senses
Theodor Rombouts
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

From left to right, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell are represented by figures and attributes set in a lively and colorful composition.

Theodor Rombouts, The Five Senses The theorbo player, symbolizing the sense of hearing, has among others a fagot (dulcian) by his right foot, recognizable by its large, slightly flared bell with the typical crook as mouthpiece. Like many other painters, Rombouts spent considerable efforts of a lifelike representation of the instrument (or at least a part of it), even when it is placed in the foreground.

Another cheerful allegorical scene showing a dulcian (or at least its bell-section) comes from Theodor Rombouts (1597–1637), here in a very popular theme in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, the Five Senses.

Sebastian Vranckx' (1573–1647) large, elegant Festival in a Palace Garden takes a prominent place in dulcian iconography (see Beryl Kenyon de Pascual, 'Two Contributions to Dulcian Iconography', Early Music XXV/3, August 1997.412–-426). It exists in two versions: one in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, the other in a private collection, displayed in 1995 by the Galerie De Jonckheere, Paris, where titled Preparation for a feast and carnival scenes in a park in Flanders.

A very accurate rendition of a dulcian's bell-section with a crook in its socket and a broad reed prominently placed in the left-hand foreground of the painting can be found in the Portrait of a Musician by Jan de Reyn (c. 1610–1678, pupil of Anthony van Dyck).

But images of the dulcian are not restricted to paintings. As it is also an early and quite "popular" organ stop available in nearly every somewhat larger organ, we can also find the dulcian, either painted or carved, on organ screens or prospects, even in Dutch churches. A richly decorated example is that of the transept organ in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. When closed, it presents an amazing variety of musical instruments with even three viols de pochette ("dancemaster's violin," see Fiddle). And of course, it also shows a bass dulcian. The original organ dates from 1658, and the paintings are made in the same year by Cornelis Brizé in. For details see Hans Mons.

We will certainly never know if Vermeer had ever the chance to listen to the dulcian, but we do have information from historical sources (descriptions of Dutch organs by Joachim Hess in 1770) that the large Hendrik Niehoff-organ (1545) in Delft's Oude Kerk had a dulcian stop (8') in its "Rückpositiv"2 (placed behind the player, or built into the rail of the gallery on which the organ is located). This again evidences the dulcian was appreciated in the Netherlands, if only as an important organ stop for the lower register.

La Procession des Pucells du Sablon, Antoine Sallaert
La Procession des Pucells du Sablon
Antoine Sallaert
c. 1620
Musée des Art Ancien, Brussels

The same group of musicians (in dark dress) appear after the light group of the twelve maids. For detailed information to the painting see the Catalogue des Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique (French/Dutch).

In Delft we can find at least one depiction of the dulcian's successor, the bassoon, in a rather unexpected place: a carving of the small, but fine organ in the former hidden church in the Bagijnhof, today the church of the Old-Catholic parish Delft.

In France the dulcian was unknown in its common form. Other predecessors of the bassoon, such as the "fagotted" bass shawm or the sectioned dulcian, filled the gap before the emergence of the jointed bassoon. Marin Mersenne, in his Harmonie Universelle (1636–1637, 2nd ed, Latin, 1648), reported a number of instruments whose construction depends on doubled-back bores: "Bassons, Fagots, Courtaux [Kortholt] & Cervelats de Musique" (Rackett).

Concerning the fagots he wrote: "I am going to deal with these types of bass, because they may be included in Hautbois ensembles, and differ from the aforementioned bass [shawm] in that they can be taken apart into two sections for ease of portability and convenience of handling, this is why they are called Fagots since they look like two pieces of wood which are tied and fagotted together."

According to musicologist Paul J. White3 these sectioned instruments must have preceded and co-existed with the one-piece dulcian and "the bassoon may not have evolved directly out of the dulcian, but rather out of an interim "fagotted" version of the bass shawm early in the sixteenth century." It remains obscure when or where the precursors of the bassoon evolved into the four-jointed instrument as it is in use today. It was certainly the increasing demand for an instrument with extended range which led to the gradual abandonment and replacement of the dulcian with its old high church pitch incompatible with the new instruments built at French flat pitch. The traditional view is that the early bassoon was developed in France by members of the renowned Hotteterre-family of wind players and makers, namely Nicolas Hotteterre (c. 1637–1694), bassoonist for the Royal chapel from 1668 and one of the first bassoon makers. An important iconographic source of the early bassoon and a recently discovered instrument, quite similar to that depicted in the respective painting, are both of Dutch origin (see the report by William Waterhouse, "A newly discovered seventeenth-century bassoon by Haka,'" Early Music XVI no. 3, August 1988, 407–410).

Today the dulcian is a regular member of Renaissance wind-ensembles, traditionally consisting of shawms, recorders, dulcians and sackbut.

  1. To the different attributions of the first version (c. 1620) see Beryl Kenyon de Pascual, "Two contributions to dulcian iconography," Early Music XXV/3 August, 1997, 412 with note 4, and Kilbey 181.
  2. See in De vroegere en de tegenwoordige orgels in de Oude en Nieuwe Kerk te Delft ("The earlier and the present organs in the Old and the New Church in Delft"; brochure available in Nieuwe Kerk Delft, edited by M. A. Vente, Utrecht).
  3. Paul J. White, "The Bass Hautboy in the Seventeenth Century," in A Time of Questioning, Proceedings of the International Early Double-Reed Symposium, ed. David Lasocki, Utrecht 1994.

.by Adelheid Rech.

monument to Moritz of Saxony in the Freiberg Cathedral St. Marien

The monument to Moritz of Saxony in the Freiberg Cathedral Saint Marien. The depicted wind instruments are probably to be found at the small lower band surrounding the monument. They may symbolize Moritz' cultural interests. He founded the so-called "Prince Schools" (Fürstenschulen) in Schulpforta (near Naumburg), Meissen (Saint Afra) and Grimma (Saint Augustin), Germany.

The Procession of the R eligious Orders of the Town of Antwerp

The Procession of the Religious Orders of the Town of Antwerp
Denis van Alsloot
Museo del Prado Madrid

From a professional point of view the fagottist (left-side) appear to be playing left-handed, i.e. right hand above left (Kilbey p. 180).

Allegorie de l'Ouie ou la Musique

Allegorie de l'Ouie ou la Musique ("Allegory of Hearing or The Music")
attrib. Jan or Hieronymus van Kessel, Hendrik van Balen and perhaps Jan Brueghel the Younger
c. 1620
Musée Municipal, Saint Germain-en-Laye

The painting provides an almost complete survey of seventeenth-century musical instruments. A tenor dulcian lies at the floor towards the center of the painting, near a treble viola da gamba.

Allegory of Hearing

Allegory of Hearing
Jan van Kessel
Private collection

The composition of this version differs slightly from the first one. Appart from the considerable variety of the depicted instruments, the painter incorporated other symbols of the sense of hearing as well. Deer for instance were noted for their highly sensitive ears. In this version we find the dulcian at the right side towards the foreground, again lying on the floor, beside two shawms (or the smaller perhaps a recorder) and a trombone leaning at a stool. The color of the shawms and the dulcian seems somewhat unnatural, looking rather like made of brass. The wood the dulcian is made of (maple or sycamore) is normally of a warm reddish brown.