The bassoon's Renaissance counterpart, referred to as the curtal in England, has an extensive nomenclature including bajón (Spanish), basson (French), fagot (French), fagotto (Italian) and sztort (Polish). Nowadays it is most commonly referred to as the dulcian, which is the anglicised version of its German name, dulzian, derived from the Latin word dulcis or sweet. One of the key aims in the pursuit of historically-informed performance is to investigate and re-imagine the sound of historical instruments and experiment with playing techniques that, according to surviving documentation, were employed in the interpretation of music. If the curtal’s name is a pathway to understanding its intended sound, what characterised a sweet sound in the curtal’s heyday and how might notions of sweetness have evolved over the past six centuries?
Today, the typical approach to sound production on historical bassoons, including the curtal or dulcian, is shaped by the ideals of sound qualities of the Heckel-system modern bassoon. This approach dictates the style of reed chosen by current historical bassoon performers, which is often predominantly externally scraped, making it similar in construction and sound production to a modern bassoon reed. There is much evidence to suggest that historically-accurate curtal reeds should be predominantly internally scraped, as documented by Paul White in his comprehensive research into the subject. These two opposing approaches to reed-making create a profound disparity in many aspects of curtal-playing, including the resulting tone production, articulation and embouchure technique.
The central focus of this research is to reveal the ideals of the curtal sound world, drawing from primary and secondary historical sources, as well as data and opinions from specialist performers and reed makers around the world. This research culminates in an exploration of historically-informed approaches, as well as current viewpoints and practices in relation to curtal performance and reed-making. The findings provide essential foundations for restoring the curtal’s historical personality, with its unique and distinct sweetness.