Improvements to bagpipe chanters seem to be flavour of the month in this issue. Such things are by no means a new phenomenon though. Perhaps the most complex was among the earliest.
This article is extracted, with the author’s permission, from a much longer one by Barry O’Neill, originally published in The Sean Reid Society Journal, Volume 2. March 2002.        This article is extracted, with the author’s permission, from a much longer one by Barry O’Neill, originally published in The Sean Reid Society Journal, Volume 2. March 2002.      

The sordellina was a bellows–blown smallpipe with a single stock holding three or more melody pipes. These had double reeds and cylindrical bores, and allowed the instrument to play polyphonic music. One or more of them were completely closed until their keys were depressed, like the Irish regulators. Whereas the petit chalumeau of the musette de cour was played with the fingers and thumbs, the sordellinas extra pipes were played with other parts of the hand according to a 17th source.
The instrument flourished in Naples from the late 1500's into the 1600s, then faded, perhaps due to a change in musical styles or the invasion of a competitor, possibly the French oboe as improved by the Hotteterres. No specimen of the instrument survives. In fact we have no references to it past the 1680's when, ironically, it was depicted on a commemorative booklet for the funeral of a famous maker
It appears to be descended from either or both of the piva and the sordina, two Italian peasant bagpipes with multiple melody pipes. (The feature of multiple chanters survives in the large zampogna of Sicily and many other bagpipes. References from the 1400's and 1500's suggest an instrument that was associated with the peasantry but known to the gentry. Sporadic written evidence from this time indicates that a more refined instrument was evolving, one giving sweeter tones, equipped with bellows, made by professional instrument builders and played by professional musicians.
The first possible record of it in the hands of the elite appears in 1472 in the Naples state archives, where one Antonio Ambrosio, “master builder of bagpipes” asks the sum of four ducats for two cornemuses and a sordina.
Whilst there is no extant instrument surviving there are a number of contemporary illustrations.
 Canon Manfredo Settala, 1633 – who made and owned at least 6 different types of sordellina Mersenne Harmonie Universal, 1636
 A “Musical Machine” invented by Michele Tondini in 1670 with the figure of Polyphemus playing a sordellina
 Portrait of Francois Langlois, c 1630, an art dealer and musician, with his instruments.
The best known illustration is perhaps not the most reliable. Marin Mersenne includes it the original 1636 French edition of his Harmonie Universelle. The instrument is not played in France, he states, but he will describe it for the benefit of French builders who may want to reproduce it.  {See p. 26]
The most convincing depictions of the sordellina are those made by, or belonging to Manfredo Settala, who was born i in 1600 and died in Milan in 1680.  He made woodwinds of various types in innovative designs and a picture of his earliest sordellina was painted around 1630.  In 1664 a catalogue was printed of the contents of the museum he founded in Milan. It lists the following sordellinas:
1 . An ivory sordellina, with 42 keys of gilded silver.
2 . Another sordellina of which no other in existence is more perfect; in the leather bag is inserted four pipes provided with 56 keys; the fourth pipe was an invention of the same Settala, through which the instrument achieves a consonance of celestial harmony.
3 . Another sordellina that plays a second octave, an invention of Settala, provided with 42 keys.
4 . Two other choral sordellinas with 42 keys. (Choral suggests a matched pair to be played together.)
5 . Another sordellina without keys, with five pipes of horn of buffalo.Settala died in 1680, and a booklet produced for his funeral survives. It includes a series of drawings, one  has an inscription taken from two biblical psalms; Deficit spiritus meus - my spirit fades away. This seems like a pun: spiritus can also be translated breath, and a sordellina lies deflated on the table. The instrument seems to be like the one in Settala’s youthful portrait, except that there is a tangle of keys underneath the two front pipes.
Barry O’Neill concluded his article with the following:
“Trying to reconcile these pieces of information, I conclude that there was a prototypical form of the sordellina through most of the seventeenth century. The more elaborate types we read about were likely to have been museum pieces or requested by rich owners who wanted extra parts on their instruments for the sake of conspicuous consumption. They were not responses to the needs of a musician.”
However, evidence from only a little later, this time in England, suggests that this might not always be the case.

[ Ed.: You can hear the sordellina being played at product_info.php?info=p171_horst-grimm---il-libro-della-sordellina-cd.html ]

Canon Manfredo Settala’s sordellina 1633

The sordellina in Mersenne’s Harmonie Universal, 1636

A detail from Settala’s funeral brochure, 1680.
A very similar depiction was printed in the previous issue of Common Stock