The historical importance of the gemshorn – indeed even the existence of an eight holed instrument with recorder-like fingering – is a subject of some conjecture, yet alone whether there really were matched consorts, as long featured in the early music revival. However, what you get is a sweet toned and very beautiful instrument, small for its pitch, but with a shape likely to exasperate the makers of cases for musical instruments.
The reverse conical bore, aided by the natural curvature of the gemshorn allows a keyless bass instrument to be made with a finger stretch of only slightly more than a renaissance soprano recorder. Just take that in! The natural cowhorn material and finish on mine is very attractive. The plug is a hardwood, which looks better and more durable than plaster of Paris, as sometimes used. There is no provision for tuning as far as I can see. A horn augmentation around the windhole is there to direct the air flow and protect the fipple, I presume. A nice touch by maker Peter ****** is a small hollowing of the underneath of the horn to aid the right thumb in supporting the instrument, though with a weight of just over 700gms the bass gemshorn is a real lightweight amongst early woodwind instruments of its pitch.
No fingering chart is supplied - rather an omission I think – so I downloaded Pavel Ĉíp’s chart, but there is no certainty that this was what Peter ****** intended on his instruments, and some experimentation is required for notes outside the key of F major. This chart shows a compass of a ninth, and although over-blowing of about a third is possible I have not achieved any confidently. The voice of the bass is strong enough to support a trio of renaissance recorders.
As an alternative to buying a gemshorn from the Early Music Shop you could make your own, but an instrument maker friend came quite close a divorce while boiling a large panful of cows horns for 36 hours in the domestic kitchen. One should be also be aware that the gemshorn is very sharp; I was with a friend outside the Wigmore Hall when we were stopped and searched by a policeman, who took some persuading that the gemshorn carried by my friend was not an offensive weapon. The bass reviewed here would be particularly lethal.
Not suitable for vegans.