The Restoration of an 18th C. musette

By Bart Van Troyen

I will walk you through the restoration of an extraordinary instrument, a so-called musette à ravalement. This type of musette has three extra keys which extend the range downwards.

Only four of these have survived the ages, one in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, two in the collection of the Musée de la Musique in Paris, and a part of the main chanter, or grand chalumeau, I was able to buy at auction in 2017.

None of the remaining musettes à ravalement are in playing condition, and all have missing parts, cracks, or have been ‘repaired’ in a way that altered the total length. By making detailed plans of all four, I was able to calculate the length of the missing bell on my instrument. You can find all the drawings below, in case you want to make your own.

Gaspard de Gueidan and his musette à ravalement
Hyacinthe Rigaud, ca. 1735

Many thanks to the Flemish Government, for making this possible.

Repairing the damaged parts

When going through the slideshow, you can see the state the instrument was in when it arrived at the workshop. Four of the key blocks were missing, which probably happened when someone forcefully pulled out the silver keys. With the skilled help of Remy Dubois, I removed the broken bits, and replaced them with ‘new’ pre-convention ivory. New and old are tied together with a dovetail joint, and some parts I had to reinforce with a tiny ivory rod. After careful filing, turning and milling new grooves, it started to look like a usable musette again.

Unfortunately, the inside of the instrument had been altered as well. This is not uncommon as some people tried to raise the pitch so the musettes could be used by traditional bagpipe players. I turned an ivory cone to fill the old bore, and reamed it again with the diameter deduced from the combined plans I had made. This lowered the pitch to A=392.

Completing the instrument

Based on the plans, and after making a wooden replica, I started work on the missing bell. The outside is loosely inspired by the instrument in New York, the inside by one in Paris (D.AD.34674).

To complete the instrument, I also made a drone, petit chalumeau, portevent and a new bag. In the 18th century, they might have been made out of ivory, but I opted for the more animal friendly FSC dalbergia melanoxylon with ivory mounts. Just like the one in the painting above. The design of the missing parts is based on the work of Nicolas Chédeville, I really like the elegance and curves of his musettes.

The second chanter, or petit chalumeau, extends the range upwards. The most common model has 6 keys, but I decided to pull out all the stops and chose an 8 key model. The range of this musette is now c’ to f”’. Not bad for a 300 year-old bagpipe.

The hardest part was making the silver keys, 18 in total. The extra keys à ravalement consist of two parts. The upper part is operated by the right thumb, and allows you to close the lower part. To play an e’, you only use the left key, for d’ you close the left and right key, and all three of them give you a c’. A very clever system, but delicate and difficult to find an equal pressure for all three of them. In the video below you can see how it works.

Musette à ravalement: testing the key action

Plans of the four musettes à ravalement

As you will notice, some plans have missing numbers. This has various reasons. I decided to exclude the diameters for most finger holes on the The New York musette, as they are clearly enlarged after the baroque period. In its original state, these would have been a lot smaller, but I cannot tell how small exactly without making a replica. Sometimes, the keys are stuck so there is no way of telling what’s beneath it.

All of these musettes have been damaged, altered, or have missing parts, so my plans need a bit of trial and error before anyone can make a functioning instrument out of them. But let’s be honest, if you don’t like a challenge, you probably wouldn’t be here in the first place…

Musée de la Musique E.21.63

Musée de la Musique D.AD.34674

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Collection Bart Van Troyen

To be continued, sound samples are coming soon!

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