Thursday, August 23, 2012

Of Serpents and Ophicleides

Bring back the serpent? Is the title of a post on Chant Cafe, really I suppose to show some rather amusing pictures, mainly of ophicleide players.
Before the Solesmes' study and reforms under Guaranger chant was sung very badly; people had forgotten how to read square notes, there was no one understanding of how it should be sung. There are accounts of choirmasters in the 19th century beating time slowly with a stick, literally, like a metronome, every note having equal value, every syllable stressed. In other places neums were sung like conventional round note notation forcing treating single notes as crotchets and joined notes as quavers.
Quite how the accompaniment was done on these brass instruments again varied, rather like beating time with a stick it seems as if the playing was rather staccato.

Both these instruments could be substituted for the contemporary guit-box.


Delia said...

On first hearing the Serpent, Handel is reputed to have said: 'Zat waz not ze Serpent zat tempted Eve!'

Apologies if I've posted this before but irresistible!

umblepie said...

I really enjoyed that Father. Many thanks. BC.

johnf said...

Nice one Delia.

In our neck of the woods (Dorset) we have the Mellstock Band with a very good serpentist.

Thomas Hardy tells of Church bands playing instruments like these, before the organ took over.

People are getting interested in them after many years in the dustbin of history.

Today, people make a range of sizes - even very small versions - presumably called worms!?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, there are worms, lizards (lizardens) and serpents they are part of the cornetto (Italian) or zink (German) family.
See if you want to buy one, these are made of resin.

The viola da gamba, or "church base" lingered on in "west gallery" music until the "revival" fulfilling the same function as the serpent.

johnf said...

Years ago when we lived in Farnham, we paid a visit to Churt, Surrey and met Christopher Monk who had resurrected the cornetto and the cornettino. At that time there were no working examples except for a couple of museum pieces. Christopher arranged x-rays of them and careful measurements of the inside bore. Eventually as you say he was making them out of resin. I bought a cornettino for £15 with two mouthpieces and for the next 40 years have been attempting to play it.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I bought one about 15 years ago for 10x the price you paid.
They a bit heavy compared to a wooden one but very satisfying when you first get that soaring baroque sound.

johnf said...

I'm afraid my efforts frighten the cat, Father!

viennabone said...

For many more images of serpents and ophicleides, see

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...