The basset horn


The basset horn is a member of the clarinet family of musical instruments. It is pitched a fourth lower than the ordinary B♭ clarinet, probably invented in the 1760s by Anton and Michael Mayrhofer of Passau, Bavaria. The name derives from its basset (“small bass”) pitch and its original curved horn shape (later supplanted by an angular form). Its bore is narrower than that of the E♭ alto clarinet, and it has a downward extension of compass to the low F of the bass voice (written as C) 1. Here are some interesting facts about the basset horn:

History: The earliest surviving instruments in Paris and London museums date from 1770. The basset horn was most notably associated with the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753–1812), a contemporary and good friend of Mozart. The instrument used by Stadler was invented and built by the Vienna K.K. court instrument maker Theodor Lotz around 1788. It has long been unclear how this instrument might have looked. In a library in Riga in 1992, programs were found of concerts which Anton Stadler played there in 1794. Two of those programs show an engraving of Stadler’s instrument 2.

Unique Features: The basset horn has keywork that extends to a low C or B, allowing it to play several additional lower notes than the standard clarinet. The basset horn is most commonly a transposing instrument in A, although basset horns in C and B♭ and very seldom in G also exist 2.

Educational and Professional: The basset horn is categorized into three levels: student, intermediate, and professional. Student basset horns are usually made of plastic or a composite of rubber and plastic, while intermediate and professional basset horns will usually feature wooden or rubber materials that mimic wood clarinet tones. Wooden basset horns are the best if you want a rich sound from the instrument, so the professional basset horn wins in this category. Clarinet keys are plated with one of two metals: silver or nickel, with a few basset horns featuring Hamilton plating, which is a blend of silver and gold. Each metal type has its benefits and drawbacks and will be more common in some basset horn types over others 3.

Usage: The basset horn is most commonly used in classical music. Mozart wrote his Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581 and Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K.622 for this instrument; the concerto is partly based on an earlier fragment of a Concerto for Basset Horn in G, K.584b. In his last opera La clemenza di Tito, Mozart assigned a basset horn in B♭ in the aria Parto parto, ma tu ben mio, meco ritorna in pace by Sesto (mezzo-soprano) an outstanding solo role in an approximately 8-minute dialogue with the singer, the musical climax of this act, if not the whole opera 2.

Special Things: The basset horn family is comprised of a number of similar instruments. It includes the clarinet d’amore, the basset clarinet, the alto clarinet, and the contra-alto/contrabass clarinet. The basset horn is also used in jazz and film music. The basset horn is most notably associated with the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753 – 1812), who was a good friend of Mozart. In fact, Mozart wrote his famous Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K.622 for this instrument 2.

Songs and Lyrics: There are many songs that feature the basset horn. Some of the most famous basset horn pieces include Georg Abraham Schneider’s two concertos (Op. 90 and op. 105) for Müller’s instrument and orchestra 2. Free sheet music for basset horn is available on websites such as and