Gemshorn The gemshorn is the only medieval flute with a sharply tapering conical bore. Its shape is determined naturally since it is made from the horn of a chamois or ox. The tone has a sweet color somewhere between a soft recorder and an ocarina. Its haunting delicate sound is even more impressive when one considers the ordinary material from which it is constructed. Shepherds probably used its gentle tones to calm animals.

The first clear illustration of the gemshorn is found in Virdung'sMusica Getutscht (1511). By mid sixteenth century the instrument had fallen out of use. It has survived in the organ stop of the same name. The stop contains a strong fifth-sounding partial.

A gemshorn consists of a horn which is shortened from the lower end, depending on the desired pitch, so that the tip is retained. The opening is sealed with wood or clay except for a narrow gap for blowing. Modern versions often receive a beak-shaped mouthpiece of wood or clay, but the historical illustrations do not show this. The tone holes as well as the labium are drilled directly into the horn.