September 12th, 2013

words are sexy

Thursday word: ophicleide

ophicleide (OHF-i-klayd) - n., a keyed brass instrument of the bugle family.


While I'm on an obsolete brass kick. Much used in the 19th century, a bass instrument with the same range as a modern trombone, now replaced by the tuba. It was invented in 1817 by yet another Frenchman, Jean Hilaire Asté, though he was an instrument maker rather than bandleader. It's a long-bore instrument, to be so deep, and doubles back on itself like a snake -- thus its name, coined from Greek roots óphis serpent + kleís, key. It was difficult to play well, resulting in the following anonymous doggerel:

The Ophicleide, like mortal sin,
    Was fostered by the serpent.
Its pitch was vague; its tone was thin;
    Its timbre, rude and burpant.

Composers, in a solemn vote,
    Declared its sound "non grata";
And that's why Wagner never wrote
    An Ophicleide Sonata.

Thus spurned, it soon became defunct,
    To gross neglect succumbing;
A few were pawned, but most were junked
    Or used for indoor plumbing.

And so this ill wind, badly blown,
    Has now completely vanished:
I nominate the Sousaphone
    To be the next one banished.

Farewell, egregious Ophicleide!
    Thy epitaph's engraved:
"I died of ophicleidicide,
    My sound made men depraved."

---L.