The curtal or Dulzian (often rendered in English as dulcian) seems to be the first woodwind instrument to be double-bored, that is, to have its trunk of wood bored through in two places with a connection at the bottom so that the tube doubles back on itself. It is thus like the modern bassoon which may have derived from it. Unlike the bassoon, but like so many Renaissance instruments, it was made in a family of sizes (Praetorius lists five).

Curtals. Plate X from Syntagma Musicum II, De Organographia, by Michael Praetorius (1618-19).


Wind band with shawms, cornett, sackbuts, and curtal. Procession in Brussels (detail, 1615). Dennis van Alsloot. Madrid, Prado.


Sackbuts & curtals. Los Ministriles: Spanish Renaissance Wind Music. Piffaro, Joan Kimball & Robert Wiemken, directors. Archiv 453 441-2 (1997). Trk 16 Recurde e alma dormida (excerpt).


In reality, the bass size — Praetorius’s Chorist-Fagott — was the most common and found a use as a continuo instrument right into the 18th century when it was finally supplanted by the bassoon. One obvious difference from the Baroque bassoon is the curtal’s lack of a “chimney” — a bell section extending well above where the bocal is attached.

Curtal. Procession in Brussels (detail, 1615). Dennis van Alsloot. Madrid, Prado.


Curtal player. The Pilgrimage of the Infanta Isabelle to Laken in 1622 (detail) by Nicolas van der Horst. Brussels, Musée de la Ville.

Cornetts, sackbuts, & curtal. Lo Splendore d’Italia. The Whole Noyse. Intrada II 58602 (1993). Trk 36 Canzon vigesimaterza.


Praetorius says of the Dulzian: “In their lower range and tone, dulcians are similar to the low shawms, though still quieter and softer; and perhaps it is from this loveliness of sound that they are called ‘dulcians’—from ‘dulcisonantes’, or ‘sweetly sounding’.”