Tuesday, January 19, 8500

Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561) - Dulcian

Tielman Susato (also Tylman) (c. 1500 – 1561) was a Renaissance Flemish composer, instrumentalist and publisher of music in Antwerp. While his place of birth is unknown, some scholars believe that because of his name -- Susato meaning de Soest, of the town of Soest -- he may be from the town of that name in Westphalia.

Not much is known about his early life, but he begins appearing in various Antwerp archives of around 1530 working as a calligrapher as well as an instrumentalist: trumpet, flute and tenor pipe are listed as instruments that he owned. From 1543 until his death he worked as a music publisher, creating the first music press in the Netherlands; until then printing had mainly been done in Italy, France and Germany. Soon afterwards, Susato was joined by Pierre Phalèse at Leuven and Christopher Plantin, also in Antwerp, and the Low Countries became a regional center of music publishing. It is possible that Susato also ran a musical instrument business, and he attempted several times to form partnerships with other publishers but none were successful. Sometime after his death his son, who died in 1564, took over his publishing business.

Susato was also an accomplished composer. He wrote (and published) several books of masses and motets which are in the typical imitative polyphonic style of the time. He also wrote two books of chansons which were specifically designed to be sung by young, inexperienced singers: they are for only two or three voices. Most important of his publications in terms of distribution and influence were the Souterliedekens of Clemens non Papa, which were metrical psalm settings in Dutch, using the tunes of popular songs. They were hugely popular in the Netherlands in the 16th century.

Susato also was a prolific composer of instrumental music, and much of it is still recorded and performed today. He produced one book of dance music in 1551, Het derde musyck boexken ... alderhande danserye, composed of pieces in simple but artistic arrangement. Most of these pieces are dance forms (allemandes, galliards, and so forth) and are simple and homophonic in texture; many are based on current popular songs.

Danserye (1551)

Basse Dansen (Low Dances)

V. Bergerette ("La Brosse") ("Pavanne")

[A simplified version of Susato's Fanfare "La Morisque," despite the incorrect title and part designations]

VI. Fanfare "La Mourisque" - Mi Fa Sol Melody & Tonic-Dominant Harmony

(Wind and Percussion Consort)

(Recorder Consort)

Ronden (Rondes)

Ronde XV / Hupfauf


Ronde XV (Mixed Consort - Shawms, Sackbutts, Drum)

Branlen (Branles / Brawls / Brawl Dance)

III. Hoboecken Dans (Oboe Dance) (Recorders, Drums, Tambourine)

Allemanden (Allemandes)

Allemande VI-VII

Allemande VIII

IX-X. Recoupe

Pavanen (Pavanes)

IV. Si Pas Souffrir (Dance) (Recorders and Drums)

Gaillarden (Gaillardes)

Gaillard XV ("Le Tout") ("Saltarello)

[Michael Praetorius - Dulcians / Curtals]

Susato - Le Premier Livre des Chansons (1554)

Chanson "Ce Qui Souloit" (Consort of Curtals [Dulcians])

Often Susato dedicated his publications to prominent citizens of the town. Sometimes he devoted an entire volume to the works of one composer (for example Manchicourt and Crecquillon). Not surprisingly, he seems to have favored other Flemish composers as subjects for publication. He was also one of the first to publish music of the great late Renaissance composer Lassus.


The dulcian is a Renaissance bass woodwind instrument, with a double reed and a folded conical bore. Equivalent terms include "curtal" in English, "dulzian" in German, "bajón" in Spanish, "douçaine"' in French, "dulciaan" in Dutch, and "fagotto" in Italian.

The predecessor of the modern bassoon, it flourished between 1550 and 1700, but was probably invented earlier. Towards the end of this period it co-existed with, and was then superseded by the baroque bassoon, although it continued to be used in Spain until early in the twentieth century. It was played in both secular and sacred contexts, throughout northern and western Europe, as well as in the New World.

The dulcian is generally made from a single piece of maple, with the bores being drilled and reamed first, and then the outside planed to shape. The reed is attached to the end of a metal bocal, inserted into the top of the small bore. Unlike the bassoon it normally has a flared bell, sometimes made from a separate piece of timber. This bell can sometimes be muted, the mute being either detachable, or built into the instrument. The outside of the instrument can also be covered in leather, like the cornett.

Although the bass in F is the most common size, the dulcian comes in many other sizes: tenor (in C), alto (in F or G) and soprano (in C). There are also examples of a "quart bass" dulcian in C and contrabass in F. The range of each instrument is two and a half octaves, centred around the range of the corresponding singing voice: for example, the bass ranges from C two octaves below middle C, to the G above middle C.

The reed on the dulcian is fully exposed, allowing the player to control the sound and intonation with his embouchure. At the time it first appeared, other double reed instruments either had the reed fully enclosed, like the crumhorn or the bagpipe, or partially enclosed, like the shawm. It has been argued the dulcian displaced the bass shawm, on account of its more convenient size, but it has also been argued that the two co-existed and that the bass shawm appeared at about the same time as the bass dulcian. The instrument seems to have been in wide use by the middle of the sixteenth century. A set of instruments in various sizes exist in Brussels: these have a maker's mark of "Melchor" and are thought to be Spanish. Another well known example is a slightly later instrument in Linz, leather covered and with a built in mute. The latest commonly copied example is by Denner, circa 1700, which also has a built in mute. Modern copies of the Linz instrument have a smoother sound and reach the high notes more easily, this is even more the case for modern copies of the Denner instrument.

The dulcian is a flexible instrument, capable of being loud enough to play in outdoor bands, quiet enough for chamber music, and expressive enough to join in with the choir. Its uses would have included playing dance music with the shawms and sackbutts of the city watch, chamber music, and of course the grand polychoral repertoire from Venice and Germany, such as Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz. There are explicit dulcian parts in the sonatas by Dario Castello.

[8504 Funj Sultanate / 8500 Susato / 8500 Luis de Milan]