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Musical Instruments

Upright serpent (Russian bassoon) with a dragon’s head

Key data

Dubois & Couturier, Lyon, 1835–1837

Maple; two valves, S-bend and mouthpiece made of brass;

Head made of painted sheet metal;

H 100 cm, dia. 3.1–5.4 cm

Inv. 1956.413.


Being made of wood with a conical bore, the upright serpent (aka Russian bassoon) looks remarkably like a bassoon. Instead of a double reed, however, it is fitted with a metal mouthpiece rather like a trombone mouthpiece. The instrument is thus more closely related to the serpent. Its zoomorphic head, in this case a fire-breathing dragon, is a pointer to the instrument’s use in military marching bands where its twin purpose was to egg on the soldiers and terrify the foe. This instrument was used only briefly and is signed in two places by the maker: DUBOIS / COUTURIER / Lyon (stamp).

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Basel Historical Museum
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