Station: [9] Double Reed Instruments: Wind-Cap Instruments and the Musette d'amour

The crumhorn, a Northumbrian small pipe, a Scottish small pipe, an Irish uilleann pipe – the display in this showcase features what’s known as wind-cap instruments. They’re also double reed instruments, but with the difference that these instruments have a cap that completely encloses the reed. The air passes through an opening in this wind-cap, while the reed within is able to vibrate freely. So the wind-cap serves as a mouthpiece while also protecting the reed. Because the reed vibrates freely, the sound is generally louder and has richer overtones than when reeds are played directly. Here’s a piece from the Merseburg Incantations, played on a historical woodwind instrument called a rauschfife.

A particularly handsome piece is the musette d'amour, an 18th century French instrument from the bagpipe family. This one is from the house of Chédeville and Hotteterre, which built and also played the instruments. These are our most valuable bagpipes, made of gold brocade and ivory, with silver keys. The musette was very much "en vogue" in 18th century France as part of the fashion for all things pastoral. But what does “pastoral” actually mean in this context?

The dream of a life in harmony with nature – that was what the aristocracy fantasised about from the mid-18th century onwards. The myth of Arcadia entered their homes. That mountainous region of Greece, with its pastoral population, was seen as a symbol of an unspoilt natural world. In order to bring this dream to life, the aristocracy played a game of “Back to Nature”. Which necessarily included the musical instruments played by shepherds, such as bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies. 

Even the name, musette d'amour ... isn’t there a hint of the erotic about the instrument, given its elegance? The Rokoko-coquettes, in other words, the prostitutes of those times, were often portrayed with bagpipes. There’s a small drawing in the display case – take a closer look!

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch