What is the story behind the shape of the bell on the English horn (AKA the cor anglais)?

But first, a quick look at the clarinet family for a comparison.

The standard clarinet (in Bb or A) has a normal looking "bell-shaped" bell (some kind of rotated exponential curve).
Each of the clarinet's larger siblings such as the basset horn (in F) has a bell that comes off at an upturned angle, and is usually made of metal rather than wood.
I can understand some reasoning behind this – if the bell continued straight downward, then the instrument would be too tall and pointed into the ground. So, the instrument designers have curved it upwards to face the audience. To get the curve smooth it is easier to make it from metal. But importantly, the bell is still basically bell-shaped.

clarinets and basset horn, showing similar "bell-shaped" bells

The oboe family is a different.

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

oboe and English horn, showing "stumpy" vs "onion-shaped" bells

Why don't the oboe and the English horn have similarly shaped bells?

  • How does this affect 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. ? Jan 3, 2021 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 Feb 2, 2021 at 1:58

1 Answer 1


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.

According to Grove Dictionary of Musical instruments (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2014) the impact of the bell is far more significant:

The bell acts as a highpass filter with respect to the internally generated spectrum and has profound influence on the tone quality of the instrument [...] With spheroidal Liebesfuss an additional property, cavity resonance becomes evident.

  • 1
    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). Feb 5, 2021 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. Feb 5, 2021 at 16:56

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