Instruments | Serpent | Early Romantic | Classical
The serpent is the bass member of the cornett family and, like the cornett, is made of two carved pieces of wood that are fastened together and then bound in canvas and leather. Sinuously shaped like two Ss, one leading straight into the other, it has a cup mouthpiece on the end of a brass crook, a conical bore and a series of finger holes. At the beginning of the nineteenth century three or sometimes more keys were added to it. The serpent was eventually displaced when the tuba was invented.
Although often thought of as a Baroque oddity, the serpent had a long life as an instrument in church choirs of the kind Thomas Hardy writes about in Under the Greenwood Tree. Mendelssohn’s St Paul (1836) has a part for serpentist which later generations have found difficult to staff.
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