Cromorne is a French woodwind reed instrument of uncertain identity, used in the early Baroque period in French court music. The name is sometimes confused with the similar-sounding name crumhorn, a musical woodwind instrument probably of different design, called "tournebout" by French theorists in the 17th century (Boydell 2001a; Boydell 2001c).
By contrast, the crumhorn (also called Crum Horn or Crumm Horn or Krumm horn or Krummhorn or Kumbhorn of Krummpfeife or storto or cornamuto torto or piva torto) is a capped double-reed instrument usually shaped like a letter "J" and possesses a rather small melodic range of a ninth (i.e. just over an octave) unless extended downward by keys, or by the technique of underblowing, which increases the range by a perfect fifth (Boydell 2001b). However, it was apparently little used in England or France, and was called a "tournebout" by French theorists including Mersenne (1636), Pierre Trichet (ca 1640), and even as late as Diderot (1767) (Boydell 2001a; Boydell 2001b; Boydell 2001c).
According to musicologist and specialist Bruce Haynes, who has been a leader of research in this field, the French redesigned the instrument called a "shawm" in English. In France, the shawm and the oboe were both called "hautbois", (literally meaning 'high wood') and were considered part of the same family: the oboe was developed from the shawm to meet the changing needs of the French court orchestras. It appears that the "protomorphic" hautboy was developed between 1640–1664 and was first used by Lully. By 1670 it appears that the Hotteterres and Philidors had developed the Baroque 3-key oboe as we know it.
French woodwind developers however only created three kinds of oboes: the oboe in C, the haute-contre oboe in A (pitched like the oboe d'amore), and the taille de hautbois in F (like the modern English horn (in the UK known as the Cor anglais)).
It seems that there was also a family of double reed, oboe-like instruments created during the early 17th century: the cromornes. There was a court ensemble in France called the "cromornes et Trompettes marines," and it seems that the cromorne was constructed in several different sizes from soprano to bass, although by the time the new Baroque oboes were developed, they probably began to replace the perhaps less-refined cromornes playing the upper parts. As there was no true "bass oboe" at the time, however, lower pitched cromornes, especially the basse de cromorne, continued to be used. The bassoon took some time to be "remodelled" for use in the new French orchestra, and it appears that for some time during the 17th century and early 18th century the bass cromorne was used as the bass oboe. Andre Danican Philidor was a player of this instrument, which appeared in the works of Lully and Charpentier.
During the 18th century, it seems that some cromornes were still built, and the instruments we have from this period called "Kontrabass-Oboe" (contrabass oboe) in German were in fact modified, high Baroque bass cromornes. They were probably used in the some of the numerous oboe bands that existed at the time. However, research has yet to turn up a larger body of facts about this instrument. In appearance, it looked like a long, straight oboe with a bocal and finger-extension keys with characteristic wooden "rings" around the bore to mount these keys. It was understood by the middle of the 18th century that the cromorne, or "basson de hautbois," was played until the "basson" was perfected and used instead.
Some holdover instruments influenced by the cromorne's design may include the basse de musette used in Protestant Switzerland. These instruments became an influence on Heckel as he gathered ideas for his Heckelphone, a wide-bore type of baritone oboe in C sounding one (not two, like the basse de cromorne) octave lower than the oboe, that has been called for by a variety of 20th century composers including Strauss, Copland, and Hindemith. This instrument is still manufactured by Heckel in Germany.
There is also a common organ stop called "cromorne". It is a reed stop usually at 8′ pitch. Tonally it has a buzzing sound otherwise similar to an oboe, although usually more powerful than an oboe stop, and less powerful than cornet or trumpet stops.
It has been suggested that the stop, which can sound like an unrefined clarinet or bagpipe, was originally intended to resemble the sound of the actual French cromorne. There are similar variant organ stops with names such as Krumm Horn, Crumm Horn, cromorna and so forth depending on native language in the country of organ manufacture.
An organ stop with any one of these names typically will be of similar physical pipe design. There is less distinction or difference between the design of an organ 'cromorne' and an organ 'Crumm Horn' which may bear some of the responsibility for the confusion of the actual instruments which the stops are emulating.
Jean-François Dandrieu – Basse de Cromorne from Organ Suite in D
- Boydell, Barra R. 2001a. "Cromorne (i)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Boydell, Barra R. 2001b. "Crumhorn". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Boydell, Barra R. 2001c. "Tournebout". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.