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date: 27 February 2020

Serpent (Fr. serpent; Ger. Serpent, Schlangenrohr; It. serpentone)locked

  • Reginald Morley-Pegge
  • , revised by Philip Bate
  •  and Stephen J. Weston


(Fr. serpent; Ger. Serpent, Schlangenrohr; It. serpentone)

A lip-energized wind instrument with side holes and a cup-shaped mouthpiece, sometimes called the ‘bass of the cornett family’. Its original purpose was to strengthen the sound of church choirs, especially in Gregorian plainchant. In the mid-18th century it was adopted by military bands, where it was gradually replaced during the 19th century by the valved bass brass instruments.

In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification the serpent is ranked as a trumpet.

The serpent differs from the ‘great’ (bass) cornett – from which it is evidently derived – by the more pronounced conicity of its bore, its thinner walls, and the absence of a thumb-hole. It consists of a sinuous conical tube about 2·13 metres long; inserted into its smaller end is a right-angled metal crook, which increases the length to about 2·44 metres. The bore expands from about 1·3 cm to nearly 10·2 cm. The mouthpiece is generally of ivory or horn and is similar to that of the bass trombone, sometimes nearly hemispherical in shape and with an exceedingly narrow rim. A metal mouthpiece with a wider rim came into use later, mainly among military-band players. The serpent originally had six finger-holes (...

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Paris, Conservatoire [in F-Pn]
M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle
Galpin Society Journal
London, British Library
Oxford, Christ Church Library