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Ever since the baroque revival from the 1970s, there has been much discussion of the use of so-called period instruments. Many people have argued how the music of the baroque composers, and also that of the classical composers, can not be performed properly on modern instruments. What reasons would someone have for saying this? What follows is a discussion of the instruments of the orchestra and exactly how they changed drastically in the nineteenth century. I'll leave out any discussion from the piano because I am limiting this discussion to instruments that became standard in the orchestra, and because the evolution of the piano is such a tremendous topic by itself.
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In the heart of the nineteenth century there was clearly a great revolution in instrument making. Actually, several changes had been slowly taking place over the course of a century or so, especially with the string instruments. However, design for music in the late 18th century probably had some relation to the evolution of the instruments of the orchestra. Extreme contrasts of dynamics were needed in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Although, that has been, no doubt, an important factor behind the desire to manufacture louder instruments, with additional dynamic range, I have faith 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 forced to produce a greater number of sound to fill the modern concert halls. Making orchestras larger was hardly the answer. Larger orchestras find it difficult playing fast tempi with precision. That is why Beethoven preferred a forty-piece orchestra for his symphonies when he could have had them done by a sixty-piece orchestra. The choice between using a big or small orchestra to perform a given composition, naturally, boils down to how big the string section is. The number of woodwinds and brass depends on the score, nevertheless, you can have as big or as small a string section as you want. The standard orchestra in the late eighteenth century is made up of: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, string basses, two oboes, two bassoons, two kettle drums, sometimes two or three horns, sometimes a trumpet or even two, and a couple flutes. By 1800 two clarinets had also become a standard part of the orchestra. Below is a discussion of the differences between modern orchestral instruments and their earlier counterparts, with the emphasis on the development of the string instruments.
First thing I would like to discuss is 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 with it, and the hairs were rather slack. The tension of the hairs was controlled by subtle movements from the bowing hand. This caused it to be easy to bow all strings at the same time, or one at a time when necessary. In the event the player wanted to bow 3 to 4 strings, he would slacken the bow hairs somewhat. When he wanted to bow 1 or 2, he would increase the tension somewhat. This type of bow had changed little from the time of Bach.
One other thing that made it easier to bow all strings at once, was the truth that the bridge was not quite as arched as a modern violin, thus putting the strings closer to being in the same plane. On a modern violin, you can bow three strings simultaneously, however it is difficult to do this without giving greater pressure, and thus greater loudness, on the string in between one other two. Modern violinists need to sort of fake it, whenever they play Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. When Bach necessitates four notes to become played simultaneously, you of a modern violin will rapidly move the bow, one string at a time, causing the notes to get heard in rapid succession, one after the other, closing approximating the sound any particular one would get from bowing all notes at once. On the violin of Bach's day, this method wasn't necessary, as the bow could easily be moved across all strings simultaneously.
The violin bow underwent a gradual change throughout the eighteenth century, becoming less and less arched. At the end of the eighteenth century a guy named Tourte created a new kind of bow. This bow actually curved slightly toward the hairs, as opposed to away from them. This new bow could play much louder compared to old baroque bow. Also, unlike the baroque bow, this new bow could produce an equally loud volume along its entire length. With this new bow, a competent violinist could make the change from upbow to down bow almost imperceptible. It was perfectly suited to the modern style of music, using its broad, sweeping melodic lines. Exactly the same reasons that make the Tourte bow very well suited for nineteenth century music help it become somewhat unsuitable for eighteenth century music, especially early 18th century music.
The old baroque bow produced a powerful sound in the middle of its length, the sound getting much weaker since the string was approached by either end from the bow. This is actually a benefit when performing baroque music, featuring 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 tough 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 can be easier to hear every one of the individual lines if each player will not smoothly connect their notes, but allows some "space" between them. This is possible over a modern violin, but comes naturally which has a baroque violin.
The body with the violin went through major alterations in the middle of the nineteenth century. A chin rest was added by Louis Spohr at the beginning 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 much more tension was wear the strings. Together with the thicker strings, the bow needs to be drawn over the strings with much more pressure in order to get these phones vibrate, but the sound is really a lot louder. The neck, as opposed to coming straight out from the belly, was glued on with an angle, which makes the angle from the strings across the bridge more acute.
Many of these changes resulted in an enormous loss of overtones, resulting in a much dryer sound. That is why the old baroque violin has a real sweet, pretty sound, compared to a modern violin. This can be the price that was paid as a way to increase the volume of the instrument. With the new instrument, dynamics had become the dominant means of achieving various expression, while how to go about articulation were the principle means of achieving expressive variety using the baroque violin. Also, a musician playing a modern violin, so that you can compensate for the inherently dry sound, could make almost constant usage of vibrato, a technique, which was only used sparingly, and just for special effect, three hundred years ago.
Eighteenth century books on violin playing, including the one by Leopold Mozart, show that vibrato should often be used to add spice to a note. Vibrato is the daily bread and butter with the modern violinist. It is used almost constantly. Without it, the sound would be dull and dry. I would mention here that i'm 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 within the baroque period and is supposed to imitate the tremulant in organs.
In the heart of the nineteenth century great instruments built by the great masters of old, for example Stradivari, Gaunari, and Stainer, to name these most important, were taken apart and rebuilt to help make them like the newer violins. Some of them literally broke by 50 percent from the strain. There aren't any instruments built with the great masters, who have not been rebuilt, many of them many times over. I think this is a great tragedy.
Anything that has been said above concerning 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 learned that a bass with simply three strings, stood a beautiful, more pure sound than a single with four. However, the harder versatile four string bass ended up being the norm and the three string bass became obsolete.
The woodwinds also underwent an entire makeover in the nineteenth century. The taper in the internal bore also was changed. This led to a louder instrument with a different timbre than the original documents. The old baroque woodwinds had seven or eight holes. Six holes were closed directly from the fingers and the others were closed by keys. In the current woodwind, all of the holes are closed by keys. Due to the nature of the arrangement of the holes, and mostly because of the fact that they are closed directly with the fingers, each woodwind is well playable in one certain key which is progressively more difficult to play in keys which can be more and more distantly related to the fundamental key of the instrument. The modern woodwinds, with the key mechanisms utilized to cover the holes, instead of being covered directly by the finger tips, are just as simple to play in one key like another. Besides equal ease of playing in all keys, another significant difference it that many note on a modern woodwind has basically the same timbre, while on a baroque woodwind, particularly the flute, each tone have a noticeably different timbre.
In the clarinet and oboe the internal bore was widened. The end bell of the clarinet became less flared. This resulted in a different sound. The bassoon with the eighteenth century was constructed differently too, the gap being the walls in the instrument were thin enough to vibrate. It is deemed an important difference. The laws of acoustics dictate that the timbre of a wind instrument isn't affected by the material it really is made from as long as the walls in the instrument are too want to vibrate. The thinness of the wooden tube out of which the old bassoons were made gave it a sweeter sound, however the new bassoons were much louder.
The principle change in the brass instruments was the invention of valves which are operated by pressing levers with the fingers. This made the instruments far more versatile. With the old brass instruments you had to change the tension of his lips to create different notes, the one 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 called for horn players to change crooks inside a movement, though they often 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 in to the end bell and holding it really right. This gave them a chance 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 each of the brass much more versatility. Inside the late eighteenth century the trumpet was outfitted with one valve, that was controlled by the thumb. This enabled the trumpet player to play a lot more notes. It was 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 put into the trumpet, allowing the ball player much more versatility. The trombones, obviously did not need to be outfitted with valves because they always had a slide which changed the length of the vibrating column of air, thus changing the note.
Smaller internal bore from the old brass instruments gave them, well, no pun intended, a brassier sound. The trumpets had much more of a bite with their sound. The horns were a little harsh compared to the smooth sounding modern horn. The trombones stood a slightly harsh edge to their sound compared to modern trombones.
Benefits and drawbacks
So which is better, the existing baroque instruments of modern ones? I do not think either is better. They are only different. The old instruments have a sweet sounding quality which comes through even in recordings. They're perfectly suited to the background music of Bach and Handel. They may be great on recordings but they will never have an important devote the modern concert world because their sound is too weak to fill a big concert hall. While it is possible to do justice towards the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments if the musicians have an intimate knowledge of the style, it would be sheer madness to try out Strauss or Debussy on baroque instruments.
When it comes to music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, it is possible to make the argument who's should be played about the same type of instruments that they in their time, and perhaps certain aspects of their music purchased through more clearly about the old instruments. But it is also easy to believe that their music pushed the instruments of 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. How is it that we have to put up with the restrictions that were forced with them when we can hear their music played very effectively with modern instruments?
Ultimately, oahu is the skill, understanding and sensitivity with the musicians to the type of music that they are playing that produces the biggest difference, not the sort of instruments they are playing.