A mysterious and alluring brass instrument, the history of the Cimbasso is somewhat shrouded in uncertainty...
Thought to have derived from the Italian for ‘bass horn’ - Corno in Basso - the Cimbasso made its first appearance in Europe in the early 19th Century, responding to an insatiable appetite for a deep, homogenous, and warm tone that stepped away from the Trombone, and later, the weighty, broad sounds of the humble Tuba.
Created during the Industrial Revolution, which spanned 80 years between 1760 & 1840, the demand for musical instruments dramatically increased as manufacturing processes evolved, and supply was finally able to keep up with demand.
This lifted limitations on the imagination and paved the way for huge strides in the rates of new, exciting inventions; with renowned composers such as Verdi hungry for change.
The deepest brass voice
Although it’s widely debated whether Verdi did dislike the Tuba, he wrote openly in a letter preparing for a performance of Aida at La Scala in 1871 of his wish to find a more understated sound:
“I wish to insist again on a fourth trombone. I would prefer a trombone basso which is one of the same family as the others. If this turns out to be too much trouble and is too difficult to play, then get again one of those ordinary ophicleides that go down to the low B. In fact, use anything you like, but not that devil of a tuba which does not blend with the others!”
The deepest brass voice below the trombone, the original Cimbasso temporarily quenched this artistic thirst.
The birth of the modern Cimbasso
However, the imbuing Tuba-like instruments of the mid-19th Century with an even greater range and volume, and an entirely different timbre created by increasing wide-bore profiles and larger cones, simply weren’t enough for ostentatious composers like Verdi, who called for instruments with narrower bore profiles because their timbre was much more complimentary to the comforting bass voice of a harmonic trombone section; leading to the birth of the modern Cimbasso in 1881.
Now a cornerstone instrument in many orchestral Tuba players’ arsenals, the Cimbasso as we know it today has stood the test of time for some 136 years now providing the backdrop to many film and video scores.
Browse our online shop for our range of Cimbassos.