What is the story behind the shape of the bell on an English Horn?

But first, a quick look at the clarinet family for a comparison.
The standard clarinet (in Bb or A) has normal looking "bell-shaped" bell (some kind of rotated exponential curve).
The Clarinet's larger brother/sister the basset horn (in F) has a bell that comes off at an upturned angle, it's usually made of metal rather than wood. I can understand some reasoning behind this – if the bell continued straight down the instrument would be too tall, and pointed straight into the ground. So the instrument designers have curved it upward to face the audience. To get the curve right, it is easier to make it from metal. The bell is still basically bell-shaped. Clarinets and Basset Horn

The oboe family is a different.
The standard oboe (in C) has a stumpy little bell with not too much flair to it at all (no offence).
A larger member of the oboe family the english horn / cor anglais (in F) has a "bell" that is very different – it's onion-shaped.

Oboe and English Horn

Why don't the oboe and the english horn have a similar shape bell?

How does this effect the sound that each instrument produces?

What would an oboe with an onion-shaped bell sound like?
and What would an english horn with a bell-shaped bell sound like?
(and why is this presumably undesirable?)

  • I'm thinking it might have something to do with the function that each instrument plays in the orchestra – the oboe will often be playing somewhat penetrating sound along with the rest of the wind section, whereas the mellower cor anglais is more often used for some kind of featured solo part. ? – Elements in Space Jan 3 at 11:10
  • btw, there are around 5 shapes of mutes going around... some of the instrument you mention could have historically benefited from the shapes of the bell matching the mute physics. But I doubt cor anglais is less penetrating than an oboe. Furthermore, the bells have a function in transposed instruments, and that is where I think your question comes from, i.e. the quality of sound on period (non-valve) instruments – Hatebit Feb 2 at 1:58

According to German Wikipedia (no other language seems to have the article), for this Liebesfuß (translates to something like bell of of love, some of the instruments also have names ending in d'amore as oboe d'amore - which answers your question how oboe with that bell would sound -) the onion shape is not important.

Aside: It is also present in some basset clarinets, currently in the middle of first picture of English Wikipedia.

The main purpose is, to reduce the diameter to arrive at a more mellow sound. So the onion shape somehow seems to have been considered as a nicer alternative to a shrinking cone.

  • I know about the oboe d'amore, it's in A, in-between the regular oboe and english horn. I hadn't heard of the (basically extinct) clarinet d'amore though, that sure is a curiosity. I do like that german word; it's helpful to have a proper name for the bulbous bell: Liebesfuß "Love-foot" (haha ha). – Elements in Space Feb 5 at 16:54
  • Those links seem to suggest that a Liebesfuß acts like a silencer/muffler which I assume has the opposite effect to the amplifying trumpet shaped bell. But I still don't really understand why the upper oboes (regular and piccolo) have the normal bell, and the lower oboes have the Liebesfuß. Or while all of the modern clarinets have the normal bell. – Elements in Space Feb 5 at 16:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.