12/30/2015 - Period Instruments and satisfaction
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Ab-Soul Type Beat

Ever since the baroque revival of the 1970s, there has been much discussion in the use of so-called period instruments. Many people have argued the music of the baroque composers, and in many cases that of the classical composers, cannot be performed properly on modern instruments. What reasons would someone have for saying such a thing? What follows is a discussion in the instruments of the orchestra and exactly how they changed drastically through the nineteenth century. Let me leave out any discussion in the piano because I am limiting this discussion to instruments that became standard within the orchestra, and because the evolution from the piano is such a tremendous topic by itself.

Ab-Soul Type Instrumental

In the center of the nineteenth century there is a great revolution in instrument making. Actually, many of these changes had been slowly occurring over the course of a century possibly even, especially with the string instruments. However, the appearance of music in the late eighteenth century probably had some impact on the evolution from the instruments of the orchestra. Extreme contrasts of dynamics were required in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Although, that's, no doubt, an important factor behind the need to manufacture louder instruments, with increased dynamic range, I have faith that it was not the only factor.

There were another reason for the nineteenth century preoccupation with enhancing the dynamics of instruments. Audiences were getting larger and concert halls were getting larger in order to accommodate these larger audiences. Orchestras were required to produce a greater volume of sound to fill the new concert halls. Making orchestras larger was hardly the answer. Larger orchestras find it difficult playing fast tempi with precision. This is the reason Beethoven preferred a forty-piece orchestra for his symphonies whilst could have had them performed by a sixty-piece orchestra. The option between using a small or large orchestra to perform a given composition, obviously, boils down to how big the string section is. The volume of woodwinds and brass is determined by the score, however you can have as big or as small a string section as you like. The standard orchestra in the late eighteenth century consists of: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, string basses, two oboes, two bassoons, two kettle drums, sometimes 2 or 3 horns, sometimes a trumpet or even two, as well as flutes. By 1800 two clarinets had also become a standard part of the orchestra. What follows is a discussion difference between modern orchestral instruments and their earlier counterparts, having an emphasis on the development of the string instruments.

The Violin

One thing I would like to discuss could be the violin bow. The main violin bow, in the event the instrument was fist created by Amati, in 1550, was shaped more or less like a hunting bow. It were built with a pronounced arch for it, and the hairs were rather slack. The tension of the hairs was controlled by subtle movements in the bowing hand. This managed to get easy to bow all four strings at the same time, or one at a time when necessary. When the player wanted to bow 3 or 4 strings, he would slacken the bow hairs a lttle bit. When he wanted to bow one or two, he would increase the tension a little. This type of bow had changed little within the time of Bach.

One other thing that made it easier to bow all 4 strings at once, was the fact that the bridge was not quite as arched as a modern violin, thus putting the strings more detailed being in the same plane. On the modern violin, one can bow three strings simultaneously, but it is difficult to do this without giving greater pressure, and so greater loudness, towards the string in between the opposite two. Modern violinists must sort of fake it, whenever they play Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. When Bach requires four notes to get played simultaneously, the player of a modern violin will rapidly slowly move the bow, one string during a period, causing the notes to become heard in rapid succession, one after the other, closing approximating the sound that one would get from bowing all notes at once. About the violin of Bach's day, this method wasn't necessary, as the bow could simply be moved across all 4 strings simultaneously.

The violin bow underwent a gradual change throughout the 18th century, becoming less and less arched. At the end of the eighteenth century a male named Tourte created a new design of bow. This bow actually curved slightly toward the hairs, rather than away from them. This new bow could play much louder than the old baroque bow. Also, unlike the baroque bow, this new bow could provide an equally loud volume along its entire length. Using this type of new bow, a competent violinist could make the change from upbow to down bow almost imperceptible. It turned out perfectly suited to the new style of music, using its broad, sweeping melodic lines. Precisely the same reasons that make the Tourte bow so well suited for nineteenth century music help it become somewhat unsuitable for 18th century music, especially early 18th century music.

The old baroque bow produced a robust sound in the middle of its length, the sound getting much weaker because the string was approached by either end in the bow. This is actually an advantage when performing baroque music, using its highly articulated phrasing and lean texture. The previous baroque bow allowed more nuances of shaping a note. Together with the Tourte bow, it is challenging to shorten a note without so that it is sound chopped off. With most baroque music, it's advantageous to make the up-bow sound distinctive from the down-bow. The old baroque bow is more preferable suited to the lean, transparent textures of baroque music. In polyphonic music, it is easier to hear each of the individual lines if each player does not smoothly connect their notes, but allows some "space" between them. This is possible on the modern violin, but comes naturally with a baroque violin.

The body from the violin went through major adjustments to the middle of the nineteenth century. A chin rest was added by Louis Spohr at the beginning of the nineteenth century, resulting in a whole new technique of playing. The strings were made thicker, and eventually were wound with metal, the sound post appeared thicker, the bass bar appeared thicker and stronger, and much more tension was wear the strings. Together with the thicker strings, the bow must be drawn over the strings with considerably more pressure in order to get these to vibrate, but the sound is a lot louder. The neck, rather than coming straight out of your belly, was glued on within an angle, which makes the angle with the strings across the bridge more acute.

Many of these changes resulted in a huge loss of overtones, resulting in a much dryer sound. That is why the old baroque violin has this type of sweet, pretty sound, compared to a modern violin. Here is the price that was paid so that you can increase the volume of the instrument. With the new instrument, dynamics had become the dominant means of achieving variety of expression, while nuances of articulation were the key means of achieving expressive variety together with the baroque violin. Also, a musician playing a modern violin, so that you can compensate for the inherently dry sound, could make almost constant utilization of vibrato, a technique, which was only used sparingly, and just for special effect, in the eighteenth century.

Eighteenth century books on violin playing, including the one by Leopold Mozart, tell us that vibrato should often be used to add spice to some note. Vibrato is the daily bread and butter in the modern violinist. It is used almost constantly. Without them, the sound can be dull and dry. I will mention here that i'm speaking of the fingered vibrato, not the bowed vibrato. The bowed vibrato is produced by a rapid pulsation of the bow across the strings. This effect was rather common inside the baroque period and is intended to imitate the tremulant in organs.

In the center of the nineteenth century great instruments built with the great masters of old, for example Stradivari, Gaunari, and Stainer, to name a few most important, were separated and rebuilt to help make them like the newer violins. Many literally broke in two from the strain. There aren't any instruments built by the great masters, who have not been rebuilt, a lot of them many times over. I think this is a great tragedy.

Anything that has been said above about the violin is also largely true of the viola and cello. The bass violin were built with a somewhat different history. In Germany, three hundred years ago, a three stringed bass was commonly used. The Germans found out that a bass just three strings, stood a beautiful, more pure sound than a single with four. However, the greater versatile four string bass become the norm and the three string bass became obsolete.


The woodwinds also underwent a total makeover in the nineteenth century. The taper of the internal bore also was changed. This led to a louder instrument which has a different timbre than the old ones. The old baroque woodwinds had 7 or 8 holes. Six holes were closed directly by the fingers and the others were closed by keys. In the current woodwind, all of the holes are closed by keys. As a result of nature of the arrangement from the holes, and mostly because of the fact that they are closed directly with the fingers, each woodwind is readily playable in one certain key and it is progressively more difficult to play in keys which are more and more distantly related to principle key of the instrument. The modern woodwinds, with the key mechanisms utilized to cover the holes, instead of being covered directly through the finger tips, are just as effortless to play in one key as in another. Besides equal simplicity of playing in all keys, another critical difference it that every note on a modern woodwind has pretty much the same timbre, while on a baroque woodwind, particularly the flute, each tone will have a noticeably different timbre.

Inside the clarinet and oboe the internal bore was widened. The finish bell of the clarinet became less flared. This triggered a different sound. The bassoon from the eighteenth century was constructed differently too, the main difference being the walls with the instrument were thin enough to vibrate. It is really an important difference. The laws of acoustics dictate that this timbre of a wind instrument is not affected by the material it's made from as long as the walls from the instrument are too think to vibrate. The thinness from the wooden tube of that the old bassoons were made gave it a sweeter sound, but the new bassoons were much louder.


The primary change in the brass instruments was the invention of valves that happen to be operated by pressing levers with all the fingers. This made the instruments far more versatile. With the old brass instruments the gamer had to change the tension of his lips to produce different notes, the only notes being available to be the ones of the harmonic overtones. Horn players employed short lengths of tubing called crooks. As a way to play in a different key, the horn player removed one crook and inserted another. It was a bit cumbersome and composers rarely wanted horn players to change crooks inside a movement, though they generally had to change crooks between movements.

Horn players in Mozart's day had identified that they could change a communication by a semitone by inserting their fist carefully to the end bell and holding it right. This gave them the opportunity to play things that they can't otherwise play, however, this technique was used sparingly because of the difference in timbre of the not thus produced. The invention of valves gave each of the brass much more versatility. From the late eighteenth century the trumpet was outfitted with one valve, that has been controlled by the thumb. This enabled the trumpet player to learn a lot more notes. It turned out this type of trumpet for which Josef Haydn composed his famous trumpet concerto. Inside the nineteenth century three valves which control the flow of air through sections of tubing were combined with the trumpet, allowing the gamer much more versatility. The trombones, naturally did not need to be outfitted with valves given that they always had a slide which changed the size of the vibrating column of air, thus changing the note.

The smaller internal bore of the old brass instruments gave them, well, no pun intended, a brassier sound. The trumpets had a greater portion of a bite with their sound. The horns were somewhat harsh compared to the smooth sounding modern horn. The trombones had a slightly harsh edge for their sound compared to modern trombones.

Advantages and disadvantages

So which is better, the previous baroque instruments of modern ones? I can't think either is better. They are only different. The old instruments have a sweet sounding quality which comes through even in recordings. These are perfectly suited to the background music of Bach and Handel. They're great on recordings nevertheless they will never have an important devote the modern concert world since their sound is too weak to fill a large concert hall. Though it may be possible to do justice on the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments in the event the musicians have an intimate understanding of the style, it would be sheer madness to learn Strauss or Debussy on baroque instruments.

Are you aware that music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, you can easily make the argument that it should be played on the same type of instruments they'd in their time, and possibly certain aspects of their music are available through more clearly for the old instruments. But it is also easy to debate that their music pushed the instruments of time to their limits, and also beyond. Their music was revolutionary. It turned out ahead of its time in many ways, especially the music of Beethoven. Why must we have to put up with the restrictions that were forced on them when we can hear their music played very effectively with modern instruments?

Ultimately, it's the skill, understanding and sensitivity with the musicians to the kind of music that they are playing that produces the biggest difference, not the type of instruments they are playing.

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