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30 Dec 2015
Ab-Soul Type Beat
Ever since the baroque revival of the 1970s, there has been much discussion of the use of so-called period instruments. Many people have argued that this 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 this? What follows is a discussion with the instruments of the orchestra and just how they changed drastically during the nineteenth century. I will leave out any discussion from the piano because I am limiting this discussion to instruments that became standard from the orchestra, and because the evolution from the piano is such a huge topic by itself.

Ab-Soul Style Instrumental
During the nineteenth century there were a great revolution in instrument making. Actually, many of these changes had been slowly occurring over the course of a century or so, especially with the string instruments. However, the appearance of music in the late 18th century probably had some affect on the evolution from the instruments of the orchestra. Extreme contrasts of dynamics were required in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Although, which was, no doubt, an important factor behind the need to manufacture louder instruments, with an increase of dynamic range, I believe that it was not the only factor.

There is another reason for the nineteenth century preoccupation with improving the dynamics of instruments. Audiences were getting larger and concert halls were getting larger as a way to accommodate these larger audiences. Orchestras were required to produce a greater number of sound to fill the modern concert halls. Making orchestras larger was not really the answer. Larger orchestras have a hard time playing fast tempi with precision. For this reason Beethoven preferred a forty-piece orchestra for his symphonies whilst could have had them done by a sixty-piece orchestra. The decision 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, nevertheless, you can have as big or as small a string section as you desire. The standard orchestra from the late eighteenth century is made up of: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, string basses, two oboes, two bassoons, two kettle drums, sometimes several horns, sometimes a trumpet or even two, as well as flutes. By 1800 two clarinets had also turned into a standard part of the orchestra. What will happen is a discussion of the differences 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 initial violin bow, if the instrument was fist created by Amati, in 1550, was shaped more or less like a hunting bow. It stood a pronounced arch for it, and the hairs were rather slack. The tension of the hairs was controlled by subtle movements from the bowing hand. This managed to get easy to bow all 4 strings at the same time, or one at a time when necessary. Once the player wanted to bow 3 or 4 strings, he would slacken the bow hairs a little. When he wanted to bow a couple of, he would increase the tension a little. This type of bow had changed little within the time of Bach.

Another thing that made it easier to bow all four strings at once, was the fact the bridge wasn't quite as arched as what modern violin, thus putting the strings more detailed being in the same plane. On a modern violin, one can possibly bow three strings simultaneously, but it's difficult to do this without giving greater pressure, and for that reason greater loudness, on the string in between the opposite two. Modern violinists ought to 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 gamer of a modern violin will rapidly slowly move the bow, one string at a time, causing the notes being heard in rapid succession, one by one, closing approximating the sound that particular would get from bowing all notes at once. About the violin of Bach's day, it wasn't necessary, since the bow could be moved across all four strings simultaneously.

The violin bow underwent a gentle change throughout the eighteenth century, becoming less and less arched. After the eighteenth century a person named Tourte created a new type of bow. This bow actually curved slightly toward the hairs, as an alternative to away from them. This new bow could play much louder as opposed to old baroque bow. Also, unlike the baroque bow, this new bow could provide an equally loud volume along its entire length. With this particular new bow, a talented violinist could make the change from upbow to down bow almost imperceptible. It was perfectly suited to the modern style of music, having its broad, sweeping melodic lines. The same reasons that make the Tourte bow so well suited for nineteenth century music allow it to be somewhat unsuitable for eighteenth century music, especially early eighteenth century music.

The old baroque bow produced a powerful sound in the middle of its length, the sound getting much weaker because string was approached by either end of the bow. This is actually an edge when performing baroque music, with its highly articulated phrasing and lean texture. The existing baroque bow allowed more nuances of shaping a note. Together with the Tourte bow, it is difficult to shorten a note without which makes it sound chopped off. Sufficient reason for most baroque music, it can be advantageous to make the up-bow sound distinctive from the down-bow. The old baroque bow is more effective 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 doesn't smoothly connect his or her notes, but allows a bit of "space" between them. This is possible on the modern violin, but comes naturally having a baroque violin.

The body of the violin went through major changes in the middle of the nineteenth century. A chin rest was added by Louis Spohr at the outset of the nineteenth century, producing a whole new technique of playing. The strings were created thicker, and eventually were wound with metal, the sound post appeared thicker, the bass bar is made thicker and stronger, plus more tension was place on the strings. With all the thicker strings, the bow should be drawn over the strings with a lot more pressure in order to get these to vibrate, but the sound is much louder. The neck, as opposed to coming straight out of your belly, was glued on within an angle, which makes the angle from the strings across the bridge more acute.

These changes resulted in a huge loss of overtones, resulting in a much dryer sound. This is the reason the old baroque violin has this type of sweet, pretty sound, over a modern violin. Here is the price that was paid to be able to increase the volume of the instrument. With the new instrument, dynamics became the dominant means of achieving selection of expression, while how to go about articulation were the key means of achieving expressive variety with the baroque violin. Also, a musician playing a modern violin, as a way to compensate for the inherently dry sound, will make almost constant utilization of vibrato, a technique, which was only used sparingly, simply for special effect, in the eighteenth century.

Eighteenth century books on violin playing, including the one by Leopold Mozart, inform us that vibrato should be used to add spice into a note. Vibrato is the daily bread and butter in the modern violinist. It is used almost constantly. Without one, the sound will be dull and dry. I would mention here that we are speaking of the fingered vibrato, not the bowed vibrato. The bowed vibrato is produced by a rapid pulsation in the bow across the strings. This effect was rather common inside the baroque period and is meant 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 so that you can make them like the newer violins. Most of them literally broke in two from the strain. There are no instruments built from the great masters, which may have not been rebuilt, many of them many times over. In my opinion this is a great tragedy.

Everything that has been said above in regards to the violin is also largely the case with the viola and cello. The bass violin were built with a somewhat different history. In Germany, in the eighteenth century, a three stringed bass was popular. The Germans found that a bass just three strings, a beautiful, more pure sound than a with four. However, the more versatile four string bass get to be the norm and the three string bass became obsolete.


The woodwinds also underwent a total makeover in the nineteenth century. The taper in the internal bore also was changed. This ended in a louder instrument which has a different timbre than the original documents. 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 modern woodwind, all of the holes are closed by keys. As a result of nature of the arrangement of the holes, and mostly because of the fact that they are closed directly with the fingers, each woodwind is easily playable in one certain key and it is progressively more difficult to play in keys which might be more and more distantly related to the fundamental key of the instrument. The current woodwinds, with the key mechanisms used to cover the holes, as opposed to being covered directly from the finger tips, are just as easy to play in one key such as another. Besides equal easy playing in all keys, another critical difference it that each note on a modern woodwind has virtually the same timbre, while on a baroque woodwind, mainly the flute, each tone will have a noticeably different timbre.

From the clarinet and oboe the internal bore was widened. The conclusion bell of the clarinet became less flared. This triggered a different sound. The bassoon in the eighteenth century was constructed differently too, the main difference being the walls of the instrument were thin enough to vibrate. It is deemed an important difference. The laws of acoustics dictate how the timbre of a wind instrument just isn't affected by the material it is made from as long as the walls from the instrument are too want to vibrate. The thinness with the wooden tube of that the old bassoons were made gave it a sweeter sound, nevertheless the new bassoons were much louder.


The principle change in the brass instruments was the invention of valves that are operated by pressing levers with all the fingers. This made the instruments much more versatile. With the old brass instruments the player had to change the tension of his lips to produce different notes, the only real notes being available being 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. This was a bit cumbersome and composers rarely requested horn players to change crooks inside a movement, though they usually had to change crooks between movements.

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

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

Advantages and disadvantages

So which is better, that old baroque instruments of modern ones? I would not think either is best. They are only different. The existing instruments have a sweet sounding quality links through even in recordings. They may be perfectly suited to the music of Bach and Handel. They may be great on recordings nevertheless they will never have an important place in the modern concert world since their sound is too weak to fill a huge concert hall. Even though it is possible to do justice towards the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments when the musicians have an intimate idea of the style, it would be sheer madness to learn Strauss or Debussy on baroque instruments.

As for the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, you can easily make the argument it should be played on a single type of instruments they had in their time, and maybe certain aspects of their music are available through more clearly around the old instruments. Yet it's also easy to argue that their music pushed the instruments of their time to their limits, as well as beyond. Their music was revolutionary. It absolutely was ahead of its time in lots of ways, especially the music of Beethoven. Why must we have to put up with the constraints that were forced to them when we can hear their music played effectively with modern instruments?

Ultimately, it does not take skill, understanding and sensitivity with the musicians to the style of music that they are playing which makes the biggest difference, not the type of instruments they are playing.


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