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date: 18 October 2019

Ophicleide (Fr. ophicléide, basse d’harmonie, contrebasse d’harmonie; Ger. Ophikleide; It. oficleide)locked

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


(Fr. ophicléide, basse d’harmonie, contrebasse d’harmonie; Ger. Ophikleide; It. oficleide)

A keyed brasswind instrument, the bass member of the family whose soprano is the keyed bugle (it is classified as an Aerophone: trumpet). It was patented by the French maker Halary (Jean Hilaire Asté) in 1821. The word ‘ophicleide’ was compounded from the Greek ‘ophis’ (a serpent) and ‘kleis’ (a cover or stopper); however, the ophicleide differs from the Serpent, even from those late types in which direct fingering was abandoned and all toneholes were covered by keys. ‘Ophicléide’ was the name given by Halary to the largest of the family of instruments covered by his patent, but it has come to be used for other sizes. The name was later extended to other instruments of like tessitura and use: some early valved basses were known as ‘valved ophicleide’, ‘ophicléide à piston’ or ‘Ventilophilsleide’ (see below). The tone of the instrument is full and resonant, having some of the characteristics of both the saxophone (which developed from it) and the euphonium (which replaced it). The derogatory comments of some musical historians of an earlier generation were seen to be unjustified at the end of the 20th century, when playing of a high standard could again be heard. Composers such as Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Verdi and Wagner wrote important parts for it; its characteristic tone in their works is rarely well replaced by the modern orchestral tuba....

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