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22-Jun-2018 23:15

The Italian ocarina is not a very familiar instrument.

Its distinctive sound has featured in enough recordings and film scores that most people in the developed world have heard it, but most of them couldn't have put a name to what they were hearing.

The Mezzetti brothers from Budrio moved to France and England; one made ocarinas in Paris, the other popularized the instrument in Britain.

These are the Mezzettis I have (all tunable: soprano in G, alto in B flat, alto in G): Another one: Tunable Mezzetti ocarina in fitted case; from Jafafa Hots's photo page Even further upmarket was this de luxe instrument, perhaps by Ercole Roda in France, which had silver-inlaid fingerholes: Tunable ocarina in fitted case with silver-inlaid fingerholes; from a 2013 auction at Gardiner Houlgate in Bath, England Tunability was achieved by pulling a metal tube out, increasng the internal volume of the instrument.

Unlike tubular flutes, the order in which you put your fingers down to play a scale isn't fixed.

The pitch you get depends only on the total area of holes left open; this means that there are many more alternative fingerings for the same note, and by using the smaller holes you can get precise microtonal fingerings.

back to Contents This type of ocarina was invented by Giuseppe Donati of Budrio in 1853.They tried to standardize a group of seven, all playing different pitches in C and G, like this Italian ocarina band from 1911 (picture from an EBay auction): Budrio ocarina band, 1911 There are still groups based around the Budrio factory and in nearby parts of northern Italy continuing that tradition: The larger sizes were always very expensive (the bass was the size of a chicken, very difficult to make), so this idea didn't catch on except as a niche interest.But the instrument in its smaller sizes did, in many other countries around 1900.Despite its obscurity, its sound can make a great contribution to many kinds of music.This is a musician's guide to its possibilities and its place in the world.

back to Contents This type of ocarina was invented by Giuseppe Donati of Budrio in 1853.

They tried to standardize a group of seven, all playing different pitches in C and G, like this Italian ocarina band from 1911 (picture from an EBay auction): Budrio ocarina band, 1911 There are still groups based around the Budrio factory and in nearby parts of northern Italy continuing that tradition: The larger sizes were always very expensive (the bass was the size of a chicken, very difficult to make), so this idea didn't catch on except as a niche interest.

But the instrument in its smaller sizes did, in many other countries around 1900.

Despite its obscurity, its sound can make a great contribution to many kinds of music.

This is a musician's guide to its possibilities and its place in the world.

It wasn't very useful - the range it could usefully cover was only about a quartertone, and tuning slides are rarely made now.