Period Instruments and Performance

Ab-Soul Type Beat
Ever since the baroque revival from the 1970s, there has been much discussion from the use of so-called period instruments. Lots of people have argued that the music of the baroque composers, as well as 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 in the instruments of the orchestra and just how they changed drastically during the nineteenth century. I’ll leave out any discussion in the piano because I am limiting this discussion to instruments that became standard inside the orchestra, and because the evolution with the piano is such a huge topic by itself.

Ab-Soul Type Instrumental
In the heart of the nineteenth century there is a great revolution in instrument making. Actually, many of these changes had been slowly taking place over the course of a century roughly, especially with the string instruments. However, the perception of music in the late 18th century probably had some impact on the evolution with the instruments of the orchestra. Extreme contrasts of dynamics were needed in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Although, that was, no doubt, an important factor behind the drive to manufacture louder instruments, with an increase of dynamic range, I have faith that it was not the only factor.

There was clearly another reason for the nineteenth century preoccupation with helping 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 amount of sound to fill the modern concert halls. Making orchestras larger was not really the answer. Larger orchestras find it difficult playing fast tempi with precision. This is why Beethoven preferred a forty-piece orchestra for his symphonies when he could have had them carried out 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 amount of woodwinds and brass depends upon the score, nevertheless, you can have as big or as small a string section as you wish. The standard orchestra with the late eighteenth century is made up 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, and 2 flutes. By 1800 two clarinets had also be a standard part of the orchestra. Below is a discussion difference between modern orchestral instruments and their earlier counterparts, having an emphasis on the development of the string instruments.

The Violin

The very first thing I would like to discuss could be the violin bow. The initial violin bow, once the instrument was fist designed by Amati, in 1550, was shaped more or less like a hunting bow. It a pronounced arch with it, and the hairs somewhat slack. The tension of the hairs was controlled by subtle movements from the bowing hand. This got easy to bow all four strings at the same time, a treadmill at a time when necessary. Once the player wanted to bow 3 to 4 strings, he would slacken the bow hairs a little. When he wanted to bow one or two, he would increase the tension a little. This type of bow had changed little inside the time of Bach.

Another thing that made it easier to bow all four strings at once, was the fact the bridge has not been quite as arched as a modern violin, thus putting the strings nearer to being in the same plane. On a modern violin, one can bow three strings simultaneously, however it is difficult to do this without giving greater pressure, and for that reason greater loudness, to the string in between the opposite two. Modern violinists have to sort of fake it, once they play Bach’s sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. When Bach requires four notes to become played simultaneously, you of a modern violin will rapidly slowly move the bow, one string during a period, causing the notes being heard in rapid succession, one after the other, closing approximating the sound that particular would get from bowing all four notes at once. About the violin of Bach’s day, this method wasn’t necessary, because bow could be easily moved across all 4 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 design of bow. This bow actually curved slightly toward the hairs, rather than 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 produce an equally loud volume along its entire length. Using this type of new bow, a skilled violinist could make the change from upbow to down bow almost imperceptible. It absolutely was perfectly suited to the modern style of music, featuring its broad, sweeping melodic lines. Precisely the same reasons that make the Tourte bow so well suited for nineteenth century music allow it to be 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 string was approached by either end from the bow. This is actually an advantage when performing baroque music, featuring 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 tough to shorten a note without which makes it sound chopped off. And with most baroque music, it can be advantageous to make the up-bow sound not the same as the down-bow. The old baroque bow is more effective suited to the lean, transparent textures of baroque music. In polyphonic music, it can be easier to hear all the individual lines if each player will not smoothly connect their notes, but allows a little bit of “space” between them. This is possible over a modern violin, but comes naturally with a baroque violin.

The body in the violin went through major modifications 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 appeared thicker and stronger, plus more tension was put on the strings. Together with the thicker strings, the bow should be drawn over the strings with much more pressure in order to get the crooks to vibrate, but the sound is really a lot louder. The neck, as opposed to coming straight out of the belly, was glued on in an angle, which makes the angle from the strings across the bridge more acute.

Many of these changes resulted in a tremendous loss of overtones, resulting in a much dryer sound. This is why the old baroque violin has this kind of sweet, pretty sound, compared to a modern violin. This is actually the price that was paid in order to increase the volume of the instrument. With all the new instrument, dynamics took over as dominant means of achieving variety of expression, while how to go about articulation were the primary means of achieving expressive variety with all the baroque violin. Also, a musician playing a modern violin, as a way to compensate for the inherently dry sound, can make almost constant use of vibrato, a technique, which was only used sparingly, and just for special effect, three hundred years ago.

Eighteenth century books on violin playing, like 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 will be dull and dry. I should mention here that we are speaking of the fingered vibrato, not the bowed vibrato. The bowed vibrato is made by a rapid pulsation of the bow across the strings. This effect was rather common in the baroque period and is intended to imitate the tremulant in organs.

In the center of the nineteenth century great instruments built by the great masters of old, like Stradivari, Gaunari, and Stainer, to name these most important, were taken apart and rebuilt in an effort to make them like the newer violins. Many of them literally broke by 50 percent from the strain. There aren’t any instruments built by the great masters, that have not been rebuilt, many of them many times over. For me this is a great tragedy.

Precisely what has been said above about 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 frequently used. The Germans learned that a bass with three strings, stood a beautiful, more pure sound than one with four. However, the greater versatile four string bass get to be the norm and the three string bass became obsolete.


The woodwinds also underwent a complete makeover in the nineteenth century. The taper of the internal bore also was changed. This ended in a louder instrument with a different timbre than the original copies. 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 modern woodwind, all of the holes are closed by keys. As a result of nature of the arrangement of the holes, and primarily due to the fact that they are closed directly by 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 basic key of the instrument. The modern woodwinds, with the key mechanisms accustomed to cover the holes, instead of being covered directly from the finger tips, are just as fast to play in one key such as another. Besides equal simple playing in all keys, another essential difference it that each note on a modern woodwind has pretty much the same timbre, while on a baroque woodwind, especially the flute, each tone will have a noticeably different timbre.

From the clarinet and oboe the internal bore was widened. The final bell of the clarinet became less flared. This triggered a different sound. The bassoon of 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 this timbre of a wind instrument isn’t affected by the material it’s made from as long as the walls in 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 key change in the brass instruments was the invention of valves which can be operated by pressing levers with all the fingers. This made the instruments a lot more versatile. With the old brass instruments you had to change the tension of his lips to generate different notes, the only notes being available is the ones of the harmonic overtones. Horn players employed short lengths of tubing called crooks. To be able to play in a different key, the horn player removed one crook and inserted another. This was a bit cumbersome and composers rarely wanted horn players to change crooks in a movement, though they generally had to change crooks between movements.

Horn players in Mozart’s day had determined that they could change an email by a semitone by inserting their fist carefully to the end bell and holding it simply right. This gave them to be able to play things that they couldn’t otherwise play, but this technique was used sparingly due to difference in timbre of the not thus produced. The invention of valves gave every one 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 experience a lot more notes. It absolutely was this type of trumpet for which Josef Haydn composed his famous trumpet concerto. In the nineteenth century three valves which control the flow of air through sections of tubing were included with the trumpet, allowing the gamer much more versatility. The trombones, of course did not need to be outfitted with valves because they always had a slide which changed the size of the vibrating column of air, thus changing the note.

The lesser 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 on their sound. The horns were a lttle bit harsh compared to the smooth sounding modern horn. The trombones were built with 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 don’t think either is way better. They are only different. The previous instruments have a sweet sounding quality which will come through even in recordings. They’re perfectly suited to the background music of Bach and Handel. They are great on recordings nevertheless they will never have an important invest the modern concert world because their sound is too weak to fill a big concert hall. Even though it is possible to do justice on the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments if the musicians have an intimate idea of the style, it would be sheer madness to play Strauss or Debussy on baroque instruments.

Alternatives music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, you can easily make the argument who’s should be played on a single type of instruments they’d in their time, as well as perhaps certain aspects of their music do come through more clearly about the old instruments. However it is also easy to debate that their music pushed the instruments of time to their limits, as well as beyond. Their music was revolutionary. It turned out ahead of its time in lots of ways, especially the music of Beethoven. How come we have to put up with the limitations that were forced in it when we can hear their music played effectively with modern instruments?

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s