The bombard is the most representative instrument of Brittany.
Some 15th century religious sculptures and paintings depict the
bombard as the instrument of the devil.
Where is the bombard mainly played?
The bombard is normally used in Breton bands or in duos to accompany
the bagpipe but it has also been used in some orchestral works
and in concerts with the organ on account of its tone and musical
The bombard, or rather its cousin, is found in Eastern Europe,
Asia and North Africa. At the time of its conception, the bombard
was a diatonic instrument (having only tones and semi-tones in
contrast with chromatic instruments that enable the same note
to be played as a natural, or with a sharp or flat). The bombard
was based on either a major or a minor scale. Up until the Middle
Ages, a bombard was a rustic oboe comprised of a cylindrical tube
in which open sound holes were drilled without keys. Later, the
oboe appeared with a key concealed in the "bell", where the lower
part of the tube widened into a cone shape with two holes. This
was in Mozart's time.
Bombards with unconcealed keys are more rustic in comparison
to modern bombards. The bombard was played as a solo instrument
and was very popular under the "Ancien régime". Some people carried
a bombard in their pocket when leaving church and let it be seen
although they did not play it. The bombard is a very old instrument
that can be found in various forms in many countries. Instruments
of various sizes in the bombard family were used for serious music
up until the end of the 17th century. The bombard has long been
very popular in Brittany where it is almost always associated
with the "biniou kozh" or bagpipe with which it plays
A variety of musical styles may be played on the bombard. As
this instrument is typically Breton, pieces can be found for "bagadou"
(marching bands) or "festou noz" (traditional Breton
"bagadou" was established, the traditional horn blowers
from Lower Brittany played in duos (bombard and "biniou-bihan"
or small bagpipes) or in trios (bombard, bagpipes and drums).The bombard is hardly ever played on its own. It plays an octave below the bagpipe.
Playing the bombard
Obtaining a sound
To obtain a note, the bombard player blows into a double reed and then modulates the sound by stopping the various holes in the body of the bombard. The bell then amplifies the sound, which is LOUD.
Bombard players are called "talabarder" (in Breton,
the talabard is a bombard) and never play on their own. Since
playing the bombard takes a great deal of physical effort, some
rest time is necessary. That is why the bombard is traditionally
accompanied by bagpipes or other bombards. Playing the bombard
requires strong lungs. The main difficulties with the bombard
are associated with playing staccato notes as well as notes in
the second octave. To do this, it is necessary to blow even harder
and squeeze the lips tighter. The way the reed is squeezed plays
a large role in the quality of the sound that is produced.
The body of a bombard is usually made of ebony, yew, cherry or acacia. The key on the outer part of the body enables the player to produce tonic notes. The reed is inserted in the narrowest end of the body and it is this that produces vibrations. The body amplifies the vibrations and, depending on the number of holes that are stopped, changes the pitch. The body is sometimes made in two pieces bound together with brass or horn rings. It is thus easier to turn during its manufacture. The bell is fitted at the other end of the body.
The mouthpiece is made of two strips of reed or yew secured in a metal tube with cork glued on the end so as to help keep the reed in the body of the bombard. Contact between the cork and the wood must be perfect to prevent air turbulence from altering the sound.
The reed is not always considered an integral part of the instrument since it is changed regularly without making any particular change to the sound.
The bombard has a simple design and is made from wood, although
not necessarily from Breton species: yew and pear. Now it is made
mainly from ebony, a very hard black wood, which is used a great
deal by violin makers.