The ophicleide is an instrument that had a brief heyday in the 19th century until it was replaced by the tuba. Berlioz included it in his Symphonie Fantastique. Mendelssohn, Verdi and Wagner also wrote for it.

The unusual name comes from two Greek words: ophis (serpent) and kleis (key). The ophicleide is a keyed version of its predecessor, the aptly named serpent.


The ophicleide was invented in 1821 and it was used in military bands as well as orchestras.


It was also associated with the clergy. A series of 19th century French postcards depicted “The Priest and his Ophicleide.”


And what does an ophicleide sound like?

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