Fagottini, bassoonists and builders in 18th- and 19th-century Naples

By Giovanni Battista Graziadio

A very evident Neapolitan bassoon tradition over several centuries has been brought to light during my current PhD research. The compilation of a list of more than 25 active woodwind players and their professional activities in Naples, for example, illustrates a continuing tradition in pedagogy and performance in this region from the 17th until the end of the 18th century. Furthermore, it was possible was able to locate many arias with remarkable or technically demanding obbligato bassoon parts in operas and oratorios, mainly from the first half of the 18th century, written by various Neapolitan composers.  The information presented in this article is also taken from ongoing investigations and concerns little-known Neapolitan bassoon builders, instruments, players, and repertoire for bassoon, specifically calling for small-sized bassoons. 

As was true in larger centers such as Paris, Lyon, London, Dresden or Vienna, builders and players were connected to each other because of the main and multiple musical city institutions, such as music schools and theatres. This may have been even more apparent in such a community as 18th- or 19th-century Naples, “where everybody knew everyone.”  Besides constructive competitiveness, a continuous osmosis of knowledge and innovation devoted to meet the needs of the players or to test builders’ new experimentation to answer those needs was generated.

More unpublished information has been discovered about local wind instrument makers. These are just a few names among the 14 woodwind makers from a total of 120 musical instrument makers working between the 18th and 19th centuries in Naples:1

Giovanni Trusiano Panormo (24.03.1746–11.08.1814) 

Geronimo Custode (?–?)

Cristofaro Custode (Naples 1768– ?)

Giorgio Trusiano (ca. 1777–08.07.1824) 

Andrea Venbacher (born ca. 1785) 

Vincenzo Schultz (born ca. 1798) 

Surprisingly, the oldest surviving Neapolitan bassoon which could be located until now is a “fagottino”, an octave bassoon made by Cristofaro Custode, preserved in the Musical Instruments Museum of Rome. Each joint is clearly stamped “Custode IN Napoli” (Fig. 1).2

Figure 1: Custode fagottino

Cristofaro Custode (possibly related to Geronimo Custode, about whom nothing is yet known) is often written as “Custodi” and probably taught Vincenzo Schultz how to build wind instruments.3 A flute located in the collection “Carreras” (in Pisa, Italy) confirms this collaboration, as it is stamped “Custodi e Schulz”.4 Both Custode and Schultz worked for the “Real Collegio di Musica”. This music school was established in 1806, attempting to continue and keep the cultural heritage and teaching tradition of the former famous four Neapolitan music schools (Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo, Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio a Capuana, Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, Conservatorio della Pietà de’ Turchini) in one single institution.5

On 12 December 1821, an allocation of expenses from the “Real Collegio” states that Custode was paid for building some new bassoon parts for instruments played by the students Giuseppe Del Cupola and Raffaele De Rosa.6  Another entry, dated 22 December 1831, reports that Vincenzo Schultz was paid for two new bassoons, as well as for repairs and new keys added to the bassoons played the students of the “Real Collegio”.7

The presence of German/Austrian surnames among the Neapolitan wind makers was probably due to the Austrian Viceroyalty existing between 1707 and 1734; moreover recent studies also illustrate how “German” luthiers were established in the Neapolitan Kingdom already at the end of the 16th century.8  Perhaps a connection could be drawn to an immigration phenomena of a “German presence” that might be traced back almost two centuries. 

Influences of Austrian-German building styles can be seen in Neapolitan oboes and flutes from the end of the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries. Vito Hinterland (or Interlandi), a Neapolitan clarinet player and music theorist, illustrates many instruments with detailed drawings in his unpublished “Nuovo Trattato Generale – Scientifico, artistico teorico prattico musicale” (Naples, 1846).9 In Figure 10 in Libro III – Art. XV, he describes the bassoon, mentioning the builder Simiot from Lyon as the builder “à l’avant-garde” of this instrument; nonetheless in drawings, he clearly shows a bassoon with an Austrian/German key mechanism and style (Fig. 2). 

Figure 2: Hinterland illustration full-sized bassoon

The similarities between the Neapolitan and the Austrian and German styles are even more apparent in the instruments built by Raffaele Giuseppe Sabatino De Rosa (born in ca.1804).10  Raffaele De Rosa was himself an excellent bassoon player and a musician in the Schindler Swiss Regiment Number 2.11 He represents the perfect example of the conjunction of the two categories musician and instrument maker, embodying his most demanding customer. Being part of that very complex and varied society of 19th-century Naples, De Rosa must have learnt from the examples of his former builder colleagues (like Custode and Schultz), adding to his own experience.

Three full-size bassoons have been located in private collections, all which have Austrian- and German-style influences (such as double cork, Eb and C# keys on the long joint operated by the left little finger, Bb key by the right ring finger, double F# on front and back of butt joint – or specifically Austrian, like the wing-key position operated by left thumb, a platform on long joint for D and Eb tone holes, as found in Tauber’s bassoons, and keys carved into wood instead of using metal saddles, like in Wolfgang Kūss instruments). A tenoroon in G made by De Rosa located in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (Fig. 3) has the double value of being made by a wind instrument maker and a bassoonist who might have needed such an instrument himself. Together with the full-sized bassoons by De Rosa, this tenoroon also has aesthetic and mechanical similarities to Austrian and German styles. Although further investigations are necessary, the appearance of this tenoroon is very similar to that of the FT6 Anonymous tenoroon in G listed in our catalogue.

Figure 3: Da Rosa tenoroon in G

In the same period of De Rosa’s activity, which is certainly second and third quarter of 19th century,12 the reed maker Giuseppe Banci advertised reeds for oboe, English horn, bassoon, “quartino di fagotto” (tenoroon in F), contrabassoon and clarinet.13 In his advertisement, Banci also mentioned that if orders were made in advance, he would be able to provide suitable reeds for any sort of reed instrument built in the Viennese, Neapolitan or Parisian style, as well as for other varieties not specified. This would confirm the actual existence of a Neapolitan style in wind instrument construction which still needs further research. 

The aforementioned Giuseppe Del Cupola (1802–1855/56), often written as “Del Cupolo”, was a virtuoso bassoonist, “fagottino” player and teacher.14 He was bassoonist in the orchestra of the Real Teatro del Fondo in Naples, certainly at least during the season of 1838–39.15 In this same theatre on December 3 1838, Del Cupola performed “variazioni per fagotto con accompagnamento d’orchestra”, as well as a cavatina from the opera La Parisina by Donizetti with a G tenoroon (“quintino fagotto”) after the first and the second act of L’Elixir D’Amore by Donizetti, perhaps even using an instrument made by his fellow student, De Rosa.16 De Rosa was not only his friend but also the bassoon teacher of his son, Vincenzo Antonio Maria Del Cupola (born on 12 June 1833), who became also another famous bassoon virtuoso and teacher. As reported in Vincenzo’s biography, his father Giuseppe gave him first music and bassoon lessons and Vincenzo might have started learning bassoon, perhaps on the same tenoroon played by his father.17

The Neapolitan Giacomo Pagnoncelli was a renowned bassoonist with an international performing career and teaching activities; these are well-documented in newspapers and other archival documents from 1837 to 1849. Pagnoncelli was also celebrated as a virtuoso of the “fagottino”. He gave concerts together with famous singers, performing his own potpourri arrangements of opera arias, like those from the opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata by by Verdi, as well as his own compositions, probably using a tenoroon made by Raffaele De Rosa.18

It could not be considered a coincidence if both Pagnoncelli and Del Cupola performed opera arias on a small-sized bassoon together with their own compositions, but possibly more a common practice, particularly among 19th-century Neapolitan bassoon players. In fact, Neapolitan bassoonists might have had familiarity with small-sized bassoons due to a much older performance practice with these instruments, perhaps starting already a century before. Music expressly calling for “fagottino” was written by 18th-century Neapolitan composers and can be found in Porpora’s Siface, Act III, Scena I (1730) and in Anfossi’s Achille in Sciro, Act II, Scena XIII (1774). It is possible to hypothesize that small-sized bassoons were already used in 18th-century Naples.  Considering this, it should not be surprising to find Neapolitan musical examples with an exceptionally high range notated for a full-size bassoon. An example can be found in Perez’s dramma pastorale L’Isola Disabitata (1748), where the bassoon part suggests the use of an octave bassoon in some arias and recitatives.19

A recently-discovered book in a private collection entitled Tocchi Nuovi di Guerra – da osservarsi da tutti i regimenti dell’esercitogathers together 16 military tunes (not only marches but also military figures like “Ritirata”, “Assemblè”, “Rapello”, “Attacco”, “Drapò”, “Maneggio delle Armi” and others) used in the Neapolitan area during the first half of 19th century.20 Even if there are not specific parts calling for a fagottino or a tenoroon in this collection, we have seen in the pilot project “Fagottini and tenoroons” what fagottino/tenoroon parts could look like in located repertoire. Small-sized bassoons could have been employed to play the bass-line of this music, similarly to one of the functions of viola writing.21 With this in mind, it is possible to hypothesize that Raffaele De Rosa, because of his activity as wind band musician, might have played these tunes not only with the bassoon but also with a tenoroon built by himself. 

The presented information about makers, instruments, players and music shows a performance practice of the ‘small giants’ at least in Naples, where familiarity with small-sized bassoons seems to have been quite evident; further research may expand this to the rest of Italy.


1 Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Registri dello Stato Civile Napoleonico: Quartiere Chiaia – births between 02.01.1809 and 27.12.1809, Atto di Nascita (birth certificate) of his son, Carlo, Bartolomeo, Gioacchino, dated 01.03.1809: Il Signor Cristofaro Custode, di professione Tornitore d’anni 41, Domiciliato in detta Università, ed abitante nella strada di Santa Catarina numero settanta. […] Testimoni (witnesses): Giuseppe San Venerio, di anni quarantatre, Tornitore, domiciliante del quartiere di Chiaja, Strada  Santa Catarina numero settanta ; Francesco Mouton, d’anni ventuno, Musicante […]; birth certificate of Venbacher’s son Giuseppe Antonio Vincenzo, dated 30.10.1809, states that Andrea was 24 years old; Quartiere Porto, Napoli – deaths in 1814: death of Giovanni Trusiano Panormo at the age of 68; – deaths in 1818: on 29.08.1818 is recorded the death of Giorgio Trusiano’s son Francesco Paolo and it states that Giorgio was 43 years old; deaths in 1824: death of Giorgio Trusiano at the age of 47. Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Registri dello Stato Civile della restaurazione (quartieri di Napoli): San Ferdinando – marriages in 1828: marriage certificate of Vincenzo Schultz dated 01.11.1828. Di Stefano, Giovanni Paolo. Documentary Evidence Concerning the Early History of Vincenzo Trusiano and the Panormo Family of Instrument Makers in Italy, Violin Society of America, VSA Papers, Fall 2014. Nocerino, Francesco. Gli strumenti musicali a Napoli nel secolo XVIII, in Storia della musica e dello spettacolo a Napoli. Il Settocento, F. Cotticelli & P.G. Maione (ed.), Turchini Edizioni, 2009.

2 Museo degli Strumenti Musicali di Roma, 4 keys, boxwood, total length: 62 cm, inventory number 773 / 231.

3 Sisto, Luigi. La produzione di strumenti musicali a Napoli nell’epoca di Verdi, in Verdi E Napoli –Testimonianze del Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella – a cura di Luigi Sisto e Lorella Starita, Napoli, 2013, 24–29.

4 Ibidem

5 Marchese di Villarosa. Memorie dei compositori di musica del Regno di Napoli. Napoli, 1840.

6 Archivo Storico del Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella – Preunitario – Copie di deliberazioni – Busta 1 – Carta  510: … A Cristofaro Custodi ducati sei, e grana 20. per aver fatto alcuni pezzi nuovi a’ fagotti degli Alunni del Cupola, e De Rosa, giusta la nota puntata, e valutata dal Maestro Moritz…

7 In Sisto, Luigi. op. cit.Paganzi al Sig. Vincenzo Schulz ducati sessantaquattro in soddisfazione di due fagotti nuovi co’ rispettivi pezzi e rammendi, e per altri rammendi, e chiavette nuove di fagotti forniti per gli alunni del Collegio, giusta la nota valutata dal Maestro Moriz. E per detto Schulz li suddetti ducati sessantaquattro pagasi a D. Salvatore Nizzati per conto della pigione della bottega locata al d.<etto> Schulz, giusta la delegazione del medesimo fatta al detto Moriz, e da questi accettata. 

8 Sisto, Luigi. German lute-makers and society in Naples during the Spanish Vice-reign (1586–1656) in “Studi musicali Nuova serie Rivista semestrale di studi musicologici” Anno 07- numero 02–2016, 371.

9 Almanacco della Real Casa e Corte per l’anno 1830,  Stamperia Reale, Napoli, 103: “Michele Rupp, Vito Interlandi – clarinetti di 1° classe”.

10 Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Registri dello Stato Civile della restaurazione (quartieri di Napoli): Montecalvario – Matrimoni 1833.

11 Florimo, Francesco. Cenno Storico sulla scuola musicale di Napoli, Napoli, 1869, 2191; Giornale del Regno delle due Sicilie, venerdì 6 maggio 1842, 392.

12 Giornale del Regno delle Due Sicilie, venerdì 6 maggio 1842, n. 98, 392. In the section “Avvisi” of this newspaper it is possible to read: Raffaele de Rosa fabbricante di ogni specie d’istrumenti da fiato si di legno che d’ottone tanto a chiavi che a pistoni sul modello più recente perfezionato in Parigi: più costruisce flauti di nuova invenzione così detta alla Boem. I sud. Strumenti sono garenti.i per mesi 4 tanto per l’intonazione che per la perfetta costruzione; il d. de Rosa, che abitava strada S. Bartolomeo n. 39, a 4 maggio è passato ad abitare largo Mercatello nella Porteria del Convitto de’ Nobili n. 40 primo piano.

13 Gazzetta di Firenze, giovedì 9 novembre 1843, n. 134, 4. The word “Quartino di Fagotto” can be found also here: Catalogo della Collezione etnografico-musicale Kraus in Firenze. Firenze: Salvadore Landi 1901, 26: Nr. 775 – Fagott, Quartino di Fagotto a undici chiavi con suo astuccio, di Stehle di Vienna. See FT45 in catalogue: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3246282

14 Registri dello Stato Civile della restaurazione (quartieri di Napoli): Montecalvario ; San Giuseppe born from 1833 until 1856. Giuseppe del Cupola had 11 children with his wife Carolina De Crescenzo. Studying the 11 different birth certificates of each child, it could be deduced that Giuseppe was born in the second half of October 1802 and died before July 6 1856, when his last daughter was born. Giuseppe taught bassoon in the “Real Albergo Dei Poveri” in 1847 as reported in the Appendice – Documentiof Chirico, Teresa. “La Musica Nel Real Albergo Dei Poveri Di Napoli Nell”800.” Francesco Florimo e l’Ottocento Musicale: Atti Del Convegno, Morcone (BN), 19–21 Aprile 1990, 1999.

15 Maione P. – Seller F., Il palcoscenico dei mutamenti: il teatro del Fondo di Napoli 1809–1840 in Recercare, Vol. 9 (1997), 97–120.

16 Programma Giornaliero / Degli spettacoli, balli, feste, concerti ed altri divertimenti pubblici. N° 199–Napoli, Lunedì 3 Dicembre 1838 – On the front page of this 4-sided newspaper/advertising pamphlet, we can read: Real Teatro del Fondo – SERATA D’INTROITO A BENEFIZIO DEL SIG. / GIUSEPPE DEL CUPOLA / PROFESSORE DI FAGOTTO / si rappresenta il melodramma il melodramma giocoso in / due atti, intitolato / L’ELIXIR / D’AMORE / Poesia del signor Felice Romani / Musica del cav. Gaetano Donizzetti / … /Il suddetto professore eseguirà dopo il 1° ed il secondo atto dell’opera, delle variazioni per fagotto con accompagnamento d’orchestra, e col quintino fagotto eseguirà una cavatina del mastro Donizetti nell’opera LA PARISINA /…… /.

17 Caputo, M. C. Annuario Generale della Musica Volume Primo, Napoli 1875, 81.

18 De Gregorio, Mario. A Scena Aperta, Spettacoli al Teatro dei Rozzi (1817–1947), 98. Jaume Radigales i Babí, Els Orígens del Gran Teatre del Liceu, L’Abadia de Montserrat 1998, 67, 225. Giornale del Regno delle due Sicilie, lunedì 14 febbraio 1842, 132. Gazzetta di Firenze, martedì 12 luglio 1842, 4. Gazzetta di Firenze, martedì 19 luglio 1842, 4. Gazzetta di Firenze, martedì 8 novembre 1842, 3. Gazzetta di Firenze, martedì 2 Marzo 1847, 4. Giornale di Avvisi e Atti Giudicali, sabato 22 maggio 1847, 3. Gazzetta Musicale di Milano, 23 Giugno 1847, 199: “[…] Il Pagnoncelli suonò col fagottino un pot-pourri  da lui stesso intessuto sopra motivi dei Lombardi: ebbe plausi e li meritò nei cantabili; […]”. Il Pirata, Giornale di Letteratura, Teatro e Varietà, sabato 2 giugno 1849, 189. Libretto: La battaglia di Legnano; tragedia lirica in quattro atti di Salvatore Cammarano. Posto in musica da Giuseppe Verdi, da rappresentarsi nel Teatro in via della Pergola, la quaresima dell’anno 1849. Firenze 1849, G. Ricordi e S. Jouhaud, 4.

19 G.B. Graziadio, “The range: a case study in Neapolitan repertoire”. See:  https://historical-bassoon.ch/the-range-a-case-study-in-neapolitan-repertoire/

20 Written on the front page of this collection: “TOCCHI NUOVI DI GUERRA/ DA OSSERVARSI/ DA TUTTI I REGIMENTI DELL’ESERCITO/ secondo prescrivono le nuoveOrdinanze/ per uso/ D.S.E. // Si vendono da Giovanni Colameo rigatore di carta di musica al vicolo di S. Giuseppe”. Giovanni Colameo was a Neapolitan printer active at the beginning of the 19thcentury; further mentions of Colameo are found in a title by Francesca Seller which will be soon be published.

21 Graziadio, G.B. op.cit.