baroque musette with three chanters (chalumeaux)


The most historically technologically advanced member of the bagpipe family, the baroque musette is distinguishable from its relatives due to the presence of a set of four or six drones (pipes that give a continuous pedal note to support the melody) in a compact construction bringing all the bores folded together in a single piece of wood or ivory. This type of bagpipe appeared during the first half of the 16th century and this singular characteristic earns it the typological name of monoxylon drone musette. This detail of its construction, remarkable as much for its ingenuity as for the great skill it asked of the craftsman, permitted the maker to place several sound pipes sometimes totalling more than 2m30 in length, in one small cylinder, 15cm long and 3 to 4cm in diameter. Each pipe was fitted with one or several small, lateral tuning runners (coulisses) that allowed the player to select the drones according to the tonality used.

Initially mouth-blown, from the second half of the 16th century the bag of the monoxylon drone musette was equipped with a bellows, which made it more comfortable to play and increased the longevity of the reeds (all double and varying in number from 5 to 8 depending on the model).

If the construction of the drones is astonishing, then the construction of the melodic elements is even more remarkable. Initially devoid of keys, like most instruments at the time, from the early 17th century the musette's chanter was fitted with an increasingly sophisticated set of keys. The addition of a second chanter (called the petit chalumeau) by Martin Hotteterre in the second half of the 17th century extended the ambitus of the musette to one octave and one sixth, enabling it to play two voices simultaneously. From being a mono-melodic bagpipe, the musette became bi-melodic. It was in the latter form that the musette enjoyed its golden age, the French Baroque, during which a rich repertory was solely devoted to the instrument. Between 1650 and 1760, some fifty concertos were dedicated to the musette and it had a solo role in many operas, from Lully to Rameau. Countless sonatas, duets, trios and cantatas included the "soft and tender musette" which symbolized love, tenderness and innocence. The musette is emblematic of French Baroque pastoral music.

It was apparently because of opera that the tri-melodic musette was constructed. A third chanter increased the ambitus towards the lower register, bringing the tessitura of this type of instrument to two octaves and a quarter, the most extensive scale of all bagpipes. Preserved models of this type are extremely rare.

The mim model was reconstructed from an incomplete set of separated and damaged elements, purchased in 1985 by a professional musette player from an antique dealer. The turning on the bells of the two melodic pieces made it possible to attribute their production to the same workshop despite the absence of a signature (signed musettes are a rarity). Thanks to the expertise of the buyer, assisted by an internationally renowned bagpipe maker, the instrument's restoration was eventually accomplished after twelve years of research and delicate work, involving the reconstruction of numerous missing or mutilated parts. The result was a revelation: an instrument of the highest quality that since then has resonated within prestigious baroque orchestras throughout the world.

The recent discovery of the origin of the original pieces has revealed that some of them came from the instruments listed as HB002 and M452, stolen from the Instrument Museum in 1981 during an era when many instruments disappeared in this way because of inadequate security at the old premises storing the collections. Thanks to the honesty of the buyer and the expert care taken to restore the instrument, this rare baroque musette with three chanters remains in Belgium and in a condition that makes it possible to exhibit it amongst the rich mim collection of bagpipes, of which it will be one of the finest.

Listen to an excerpt of "Les fêtes d'Hébé" by Jean-Philippe Rameau. It is Jean-Pierre van Hees who plays the restored musette HB002 / M452 with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, conductor Frans Brüggen.

musette HB002
detail of HB002
canter (chalumeau) of M452
musette containing pieces of HB002 and M452, with bag but without cover