Ophicleide Information

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by Bill Beazley, Jul 26, 2008.

  1. Bill Beazley

    Bill Beazley New Member

    Hey people,

    Recently I've been interested in writing for the Ophicleide. As I couldn't find a specific brass questions forum to post my thread, here it goes! ;)

    What I'd like to know is what kind of articulations and effects are possible or not possible on the Ophicleide. I know it's capable of doing legatos, but can it play staccato, cuivré, vibrato, double or triple tonguing? Also, does it work with mutes?

    Thanks a lot!

  2. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I would be curious as to why you'd want to write for such a short-lived and outmoded instrument?

    In the history of low brass the ophicleide was a very minor blip between the serpent and the modern tuba. Apart from the fact that it had a proper mouthpiece, it was more akin to a saxophone.
    "The Ophicleide, like mortal sin
    Was fostered by the serpent"
    ...was a famous quote from the time.

    I doubt that it could produce anything as sophisticated as cuivré, but technically any brass technique like double/triple tonguinge should have been possible. It was notoriously difficult to play well, as you might expect from a keyed instrument. ;-)
  3. TubaPete

    TubaPete Member

    I guess it works with a mute just as well as a saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, oboe or flute - it's keyd like woodwind instruments so not all sound comes out of the bell...

    So the short answer is probably 'no'

    The other issue you will come across is that very few people in the UK play the ophicleide so getting someone to play your nice new music well will be difficult. The last person I actually hear play one live was Torstein Hatlevik whilst he was a student at the RNCM, before he went back to Norway - about 7 years ago.

  4. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

  5. Bill Beazley

    Bill Beazley New Member


    Thanks for all the responses!

    mikelyons: I actually love organology, so I'm trying my best to get to know different instruments as deeply as possible. At first I just wanted to learn what was an Ophicleide and its general features, but as I got deeper and deeper in the study I soon started to really like it.
    About the Ophicleide been close to a saxophone, is it due to its key system? If it had initially been meant to play with a double reed, could we call it a saxophone, or are there other differences between them?
    Now I'm curious, what instrument do you play?

    TubaPete: Right! I hadn't realised that woodwind instruments didn't go too well with mutes, but it actually makes sense :).
    As to the playing issue, I thought I could maybe write on a compass that is also suitable for other instruments. Since the range of the bass and contrabass Ophicleides match approximately those of the French horn and Tuba, it wouldn't be impossible. So, worst case scenario (besides no one ever playing it) would be the performance by a group of substitutes.

    Brassneck: Thanks for the clip! Apparently it's the only one in YouTube...


  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Maybe you should examine what has been written for the instrument in the past ... there are manuscript samples here.
  7. Bill Beazley

    Bill Beazley New Member

    Thanks! I had already listened to Nick Byrne's Ophicleide samples, but I couldn't find the sheetmusic - it's much easier with it. If you know of any others, please send it to me.


  8. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    At least it gives an idea of what range is suitable. Maybe emailing Nick Byrne might be a good idea?
  9. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Hi Bill, I can understand your interest in the study of instruments. However, as I remember, the ophicleide was a bit of a dead end. It arrived too late and was too difficult to play well (and in tune). The serpent had lasted about 350-400 years and the valve was about to be invented (early square ones already had been, I think) so it didn't have much of a chance.

    If you added a double reed you would end up with something more akin to a bassoon. You could only call it a saxophone if it was invented by Adolfe Sax and it would have a single reed, like a clarinet. However, the metal body would give it a roughness that you would never find in the much more refined Tuba. does that give you a clue? :)

    Many years ago the gifted and sadly short-lived David Munrow produced a set of vinyl records of musical instruments through the ages. It was a comprehensive study with many illustrations and recordings of original or reconstructed instruments, including the ophicleide. He did a huge amount of work and fostered almost single-handedly the drive to use original instruments in the performance of older music.
  10. TubaPete

    TubaPete Member

    Observant brass players might notice bass trombone player Douglas Yeo as one of the players on that clip....

  11. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    It would probably end up closer to the sarrusophone - a family of instruments by the French (or was he Belgian) bandmaster Sarrus, made with metal bodies but with double reed mouthpieces. They did not gain a lasting place in either the orchestra or the military band, although the contrabass version was called for by Delius in a couple of scores - usually replaced by the double bassoon - and there is a fascinating recording of Sidney Bechet no less playing a jazz solo on sarrusophone.

    There are a few exponents of the ophicleide around, particularly the chap who played it with the Wallace Ensemble, who was featured at one of the brass events at the Royal Academy - the name escapes me at present, although the name "George" rings a bell either as first or last name, but I'll try and look it up on the programme when I get the chance.

    The American Nick Byrne has set up a website devoted to the ophicleide, as well as producing a cd of solos:
  12. Bill Beazley

    Bill Beazley New Member


    Thanks again for the answers!

    brassneck: I did email Nick Byrne and he is helping me out with the Ophicleide basics :D. But as I want to gather as much info as I can on the instrument, I'd like to talk to different players and hear different points of view about it.

    mikelyons and PeterBale: Sorry, I mixed up the double and single reeds. So Ophicleides and Bassoons are similar in shape and key system, Ophicleides and Sarrusophones are similar in material, shape and key system and Ophicleides and Brass instruments are similar in material and mouthpiece :clap: :biggrin:. Is that correct?

    All the best,

  13. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Spot on - it was Anthony George. I remember that concert. He played the ophicleide with The Wallace Collection in one of the Bellon quintets, the thing clattered away, and every so often something got stuck and he had to miss a bar or two to free it up!
  14. Jan H

    Jan H Moderator Staff Member

    French ;)
  15. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    You are dead right, Peter. I had forgotten about the Sarrusophone. Another weird and wonderful instrument. My favourite oddities are still the Sedaphones I discovered in Prague.

    I hope the attachment is attached!
    Apparently not!
  16. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I've only known one person who regularly plays such instruments North of The Border and that is Arnold Myers. There is a period instrument group called The Victorian Brass Band and he was/is a member.
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Hopefully this time there should be a sediphone attached?

    It's pronounced Sheddifone

    Attached Files:

  18. Bill Beazley

    Bill Beazley New Member

    Wow! What defines a sediphone?
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2008
  19. TuTuKu

    TuTuKu Active Member

    Aye yes,this is his contact page at the Uni of Edinburgh. I should imagine he'd be a mine of information on the subject!
  20. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member


    I learnt to play the Ophicleide for a concert last year, organised by Ray Farr through Durham University.

    The way I'd describe it is a brass bassoon. I also did a fingering chart for Ray. I'm sure if you contact him he would be most interested to speak to you. You can find his email address through the Durham University website.

Share This Page