Give Now  »

wfiu logo
WFIU Public Radio

wtiu logo
WTIU Public Television

Choose which station to support!

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

The Warbling Chalumeau


From time to time on Harmonia, we like to feature music written for a particular historical instrument. This week, we’re getting to know the chalumeau, whose brief popularity left a lasting impression. It’s a single-reed instrument we might describe as the ancestor of the clarinet. We’ll also hear music featuring another woodwind — the oboe — on this hour’s featured release. We’ll hear Songs Without Words: Torchsongs Transformed performed by Les Delices on their 2018 recording from Navona Records.

Suite for flute, viola d’amore, and chalumeau by Christoph Graupner. We heard the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, from a 2013 Ondine recording titled Graupner: Orchestral Suites. Later, we’ll hear more from this unusual combination of instruments as we explore music for the chalumeau.

A Warbling Dove

The chalumeau is a woodwind instrument with a single reed, like the clarinet or saxophone. Some of the most well-known baroque composers wrote for the chalumeau. Its sweet sound had a quality reminiscent of a bird’s chirp, and therefore one finds the instrument used to imitate bird sounds in the works of Vivaldi, Fasch, Telemann, and others. After under a century of use in Europe, the chalumeau fell out of use, replaced by that other single-reed instrument: the clarinet.

We’ll start with a piece for the chalumeau in its heyday. Here are the opening two movements of Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Chalumeau Concerto in B-Flat Major.

Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Concerto in B-Flat major for chalumeau. Soloist Gili Rinot performed with the Accademia Daniel conducted by Shalev Ad-El.

Unlike the clarinet, the chalumeau has holes drilled in a way that makes overblowing into the upper register nearly impossible. The recorder, flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon all rely on this type of overblowing to form notes in upper range of the instrument. For this reason, the chalumeau has limited notes available—basically, an octave plus three notes! It is no surprise, then, that makers designed chalumeaux in several sizes to increase its range. There were soprano, alto, tenor, and bass chalumeaux.

Well, what could be sweeter than one chalumeau? Let’s listen to the Largo and Allegro from Telemann’s Concerto for Two Chalumeaux in D Minor.

We heard Telemann’s Concerto for Two Chalumeaux in D Minor performed by La Frankfurt Stagione. Soloists were Lorenzo Coppola and Tinardo Capuano.

Perhaps the most well-known use of chalumeaux is in Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditha Triumphans. In aria “Veni, veni sequere,” a chalumeau warbles above a bed of string 16th notes, imitating a dove. The chalumeau and singer, Judith, exchange notes as Judith convinces her handmaiden to accompany her on a dangerous journey.

“Veni, Veni, me sequere,” an aria from Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditha Triumphans. Mezzo-soprano Lucia Sciannimanico and chalumeau-player Ugo Galasso performing with Modo Antiquo and Coro da Camera Italiano.

Unusual Instruments

Welcome back! We’re listening to sweet warbles and inventive chirps of the chalumeau. German baroque composer Christoph Graupner was not content in writing for only one atypical instrument. A sort of Hindemith of his day, Graupner enjoyed writing for unusual instruments including flute d’amore, oboe d’amore, viola d’amore, chalumeau, and up to six timpani! Here are three movements from Graupner’s Suite for Flute, Viola d’amore, and Chalumeau in F Major.

Three movements — Overture, Air en Sarabande, and Air en Polonaise — from Christoph Graupner’s Suite for Flute, Viola d’amore, and Chalumeau in F Major. The Finnish Baroque Orchestra was directed by Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch.

Songs Without Words

We’ll leave our single-reed friend the chalumeau for now and move onto a double-reed instrument — the oboe. In their 2018 Navona records CD Songs Without Words: Torchsongs Transformed, ensemble Les Delices explores 20th-century pop songs and jazz standards on historical instruments, championing singer-songwriters including Michael Lambert, Willie Nelson, and the Beatles. We’ll begin with Erroll Garner’s 1950s hit “Misty."

“Misty” by Erroll Garner in a version arranged and performed by Les Delices. We heard oboist Debra Nagy, gambist Mélisande Corriveau, and harpsichordist Eric Milnes.

Having spent years perfecting some of the earliest repertoire for the oboe, Nagy and her colleagues also perform arrangements of vocal and instrumental music from late 17th-century France. Next up, “Les folies d’Espagne” from Marin Marais’ second book of viol music.

“Les folies d’Espagne” by Marin Marais arranged and performed by Les Delices.

But what would a recording of torchsongs be without music by arguably the most influential band of all: The Beatles. We’ll close with Les Delices’s version of “Michelle.”

“Michelle” performed by Les Delices on their 2018 Navona release, Songs Without Words: Torchsongs Transformed.

Break and theme music

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

:60, Songs Without Words: Torchsongs Transformed, Les Delices, Navona 2018, Tr. 6 Crazy

The writers for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch Schilling.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Harmonia Early Music