Sharp pitch: Music department graduate students Karen Cook and Stephen Pysnik A.M. '10 play crumhorns from the instruments collection. [Credit: Les Todd]
Sharp pitch: Music department graduate students Karen Cook and Stephen Pysnik A.M. '10 play crumhorns from the instruments collection. [Credit: Les Todd]

Devil's Own: Duke University Musical Instruments Collection

November 7, 2012

In the late 1950s, an emerging early-music movement sought to develop a richer appreciation for the instruments and performance methods of centuries past. Musicologists delved into the difficulties of guessing a composer’s intent based on limited historical evidence, while instrument makers worked meticulously to create authentic reproductions of the original instruments. Woodwinds such as the crumhorn, previously relegated to Renaissance- era court musicians, were ushered into contemporary use.

The Duke University Musical Instruments Collection (DUMIC), maintained in the Mary Duke Biddle Music Building, includes eleven reproduction crumhorns. The late Robert D. Miller Ph.D. ’72, M.D. ’73, a former member of the Triangle Recorder Society and Duke’s Collegium Musicum, an ensemble that performs in the Renaissance and Baroque traditions, contributed four of the instruments in 2006. The others arrived in 2009 as part of the Charles J. Warner Collection.

Featured regularly in collegium concerts, the crumhorns possess a sharp pitch that, though difficult to produce, emerges through the softer tones of its contemporaries: the stringed lute and viol. Music students can try their hand at the crumhorn too: Back in 2010, Martin Connor ’12 (“Sounding the Bells for Haiti,” May-June 2012) won a composition contest sponsored by DUMIC for his piece Scherzo for Crumhorns.

Listen to a recording of "Noel, Noel" from the Duke Collegium Musicum.