A sopranino rauschpfeife being played

Rauschpfeife is a commonly used term for a specific type of capped conical reed musical instrument of the woodwind family, used in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In common with the crumhorn and cornamuse, it is a wooden double-reed instrument with the reed enclosed in a windcap. The player blows into a slot in the top of the windcap to produce the sound. This instrument, for reasons given below, should be more correctly referred to as "Schreierpfeife."


Rauschpfeifes (Schreierpfeiffen) differ from cornamusen mainly in the shape of the bore, which, like the shawm, is conical. This bore profile combined with the unrestricted vibration of the reed within the windcap produced an instrument that was exceedingly loud, which made it useful for outdoor performances.

The word Rauschpfeife (German for "rush (or reed) pipe" from the Old German "rusch" for 'rush', as in grass), is found in the description of two windcapped instruments depicted in one of the woodcut illustrations of The Triumph of Maximilian I. The 20th century music historian Curt Sachs believed these were the same as the capped shawms found in several European museums although their appearance is somewhat different from the extant examples. However, the instruments in the woodcut could just as easily be cylindrical bore capped douçaine-like instruments, especially considering the array of other soft instruments (viola da gamba, harp, viola da braccio, two lutes, pipe and tabor) in the picture. It seems most likely that the term "rauschpfeife" was used to denote woodwind instruments in general: for example, an order placed for instruments by the Nuremberg town council in 1538 indicated a need for 'rauschpfeiffen', but when the order was filled, it included recorders, cornetts, shawms and other instruments, but none specifically named 'rauschpfeife'.[1]

The names associated in the period with the extant museum capped shawms are variants of the word "Schreierpfeife" (German for "shrieking pipe".) Michael Praetorius in Syntagma musicum II (1619) gives "Schreyerpfeiffen" as the German word for Schryari, which, judging by his description, ranges and illustration, were cylindrical bore instruments something akin to loud cornamusen. It would appear then that the term "Schreierpfeife" may have been used variously for the two types of loud capped reed instruments.

Consorts of rauschpfeiffen (schreierpfeiffen) are found in museum instrument collections in Berlin and Prague, and another solitary example is found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

A similar instrument, the hautbois de poitou, is depicted and described by Marin Mersenne in his "Harmonie universelle" (1636.)

As with many instruments of this period and genre, the rauschpfeife or schreierpfeife has undergone something of a revival in recent decades; examples are currently being made and played by early music enthusiasts worldwide.

Sopranino and soprano rauschpfeifes
Sopranino rauschpfeife with windcap removed


Modern performance

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