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Although bass shawms were used earlier in the Middle Ages, the particular form of bass double-reed instrument known as the bassoon (basson, fagott, fagotto) cannot be traced further back than the 16th century. The outstanding feature of the design is the doubled conical tube, narrowest at the top where a metal crook (with double reed) is inserted, increasing its width and making a hairpin bend at the bottom, and eventually reaching its final outlet at the top or bell end, thus making a continuous channel doubled on itself. Originally, both parallel passages were bored in the same block of wood and were connected at rthe lower end, but in the 17th century the bassoon became jointed and the narrower and wider ends of the tube were each separate pieces inserted into the ends of the double passage which ran through the lower piece or butt. The six finger holes were all on the narrower tube, and two thumb-holes and two or three keys extended the scale of C down to B flat on the wider tube. By the end of the 18th century, the bassoon had six keys and a compass of about three octaves.
The keywork was increased in the early 19th century, and then the paths of French and German manufacturers drifted apart the two types being distinguished by their tone-character, key-mechanism and fingering. The range of current instruments is from B flat below the bass stave to top E or F in the treble.

The double bassoon, sounding an octave lower, had to wait for modern keywork in the second half of the 19th century before it became a practical, usable instrument. It has the distinction of producing the lowest notes in the entire orchestra.

The bassoon's often whimsical sound has in the past limited its soloistic appeal to works in which the composer has been striving for humorous effects; well-known examples include Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. However, two excellent concertos appear in the mainstream concert repertoire: one by Weber and the other by Mozart (K191).

In 2001, the principal bassoon of the Manchester Camerata Laurence Perkins recorded both of these works for Hyperion, together with bassoon concertos by Michael Haydn and Stamitz, on a CD that has received critical acclaim. He joined The Alderley Edge Orchestra on 8th May 2004 to perform the Weber Concerto..
Carolyn Alsop (principal bassoon) took up the bassoon at the age of 13 when she fell in love with the instrument after a visit by the Leeds Wind Quintet to her school.  

She was soon playing with the Leeds Youth Orchestra, and since then playing with orchestras and in chamber groups has been a lifelong source of pleasure.

After a career as a nuclear safety engineer, Carolyn has recently retired and works as a volunteer in the Knutsford Oxfam bookshop. Retirement has brought extra time for playing, and she currently plays 1st bassoon for the AESO, and 2nd bassoon with the KEMS orchestra in Macclesfield.