Historically informed performance and orchestra

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by gringoloco, Dec 11, 2005.

  1. gringoloco

    gringoloco New Friend

    Feb 15, 2005
    Merida, Yucatan
    Hello all.
    In a recent thread we touched on the topic of what is appropriate in cadenzas in conciertos written for instruments different from those that we generally play today...i.e.-Haydn for keyed bugle and the baroque literature on natural trumpet.
    So my question is: How far do we take this? aside from solo playing, we also play a lot of the germanic rep. on rotaries...but not all. How much historically/stylistically performed performance practice can we incorporate into the modern symphony orchestra?
    I remember hearing Doug Yeo of the BSO play a Rossini overture on oficlide. It was very nice, but is the BSO the right place for it?
    Another example would be the Mahler Chamber Orchestra doing Beethoven 6 with Natural trumpets and everyone else on modern instruments.
    Without stating any of my opinions, anyone have any of their own?
  2. robertwhite

    robertwhite Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    It's important to remember that the use of rotary trumpets has nothing to do with historical authenticity. They've caught on because some notable players and conductors like the way they work for some of the Germanic repertoire.

    There's a couple of European groups who've adopted using valveless trumpets for Baroque and Classical era literature. Chamber Orchestra of Europe's Beethoven Cycle with Harnoncourt is all natural trumpets, (seem to remember reading that in the liner notes anyway).

    I also hear that Mario Venzago, who conducts the Indianapolis Symphony, has been discussing the use of such instruments with the section there. Needless to say, I think it would count as two doubles! :lol:

    About other such instruments, I'm sure Doug Yeo (to use your example) didn't just show up one day and say "Guys, I'll be playing this on the Rossini - cool?" He's put a lot of effort into learning that thing, and would only have suggested it if he was sure it would work.

    Anyway, I think what early instrument groups have shown us is that stylistic tendencies favored by those instruments do a lot to "clean up" our perceptions of how to play them. Understanding how to phrase baroque music, for example, has been greatly informed by early instrument virtuosos. To some degree, we can replicate these stylistic aspects on modern horns.
  3. JJ

    JJ Pianissimo User

    Aug 21, 2005
    That's correct; according to Ed Tarr, who should know, the Vienna Philharmonic didn't switch to rotaries until the 1930s. They apparently played, of all things, piston C trumpets (Besson) in the early 20th century ...

  4. Alex Yates

    Alex Yates Forte User

    Aug 11, 2005
    Atlanta, GA
    I know you are talking orchestras in general here, but I have to say, I love hearing Handel, Scarlatti, Mozart, etc., played on the Forte-Piano as opposed to the Beethoven piano we are all familiar with today. There is a clarity and gentleness that brings these works to life when they are performed on "period" instruments as opposed to modern.

    Yeah, the rotary predicament has more to do with timbre than historical accuracy.

    If an orchestra is going to do something on "period" instruments, it should be all or nothing. Not part of the orchestra playing on authentic instrumentation while the other plays modern. That makes no sense.
  5. Dr. Zink

    Dr. Zink Pianissimo User

    Feb 8, 2007
    North Coast US
    This is a VERY important and timely issue in my opinion and I think timbre is at the very heart of it. The modern orchestra has a very limited tonal palette considering the wide range of music that makes up its standard repertoire. (Style is another more complicated and polemical issue – perhaps another time) One can only hope that thanks to the great strides in the area of “period instrument†performance, orchestras are becoming more aware of the wide range of different instrumental colors which were once apart of their medium. Is it practical? In most instances, perhaps not. Not every orchestra can indulge in resurrecting an obsolete part that had been long ago absorbed into another, or even done away with entirely, such an ophecleide part. Doug Yeo is fortunate that the BSO can indulge in that extravagance, afterall it’s all for the better isn’t it? (we needn’t get into $$ issues – doubling pay and all that)

    Historically speaking, trumpet players are perhaps some of the biggest culprits in the shift in orchestral timbre, especially with regard to romantic literature (afterall, what orchestral instrument has changed as drastically as the trumpet during the 19c, going from an eight-foot-pitched natural instrument to a four-foot-pitched valved instrument in the course of a few decades?) - the obsolescence of the F trumpet in favor of the Bb or C trumpet (itself a modified long-model cornet by the way); C trumpet (at all costs) instead of Bb (not too much difference in timbre but discernable nonetheless); C cornets instead of Bb and A (a BIG difference there!). Piccolo trumpets – YIKES!!! It’s all starting to sound the same: bright. What ever happened to blend? Granted the recent trend in cornets has been toward historical-style cornet mpieces, which is great. But you really can’t fault trumpet players for opting to use equipment that makes their job easier. Accuracy and practicality are the bottom line, and rightfully so. That has been the trumpet player’s credo for more than a century and has become so natural as to become the norm. But at what cost? In this regard they most certainly can be faulted for not appreciating and trying to preserve the original tonal colors of the prescribed instruments. (Shame on conductors for not insisting on it! It’s sad that most of them don’t know any better in the first place - A sticky argument actually, can one trust that composers actually wrote with that in mind?). The increasing use of rotary trumpets is certainly welcomed, but it’s not enough for some repertoire in my opinion. Natural/Baroque trumpets (and appropriate mouthpieces) should become commonplace in the modern orchestra, at the very least for classical music. For Baroque repertoire, which often calls a high caliber of specialized technique it would certainly depend on the player and the work (though certainly best to leave it to the specialists where that’s concerned).

    I appreciate modern orchestras (and trumpet playing), I truly and most sincerely do. But I, and surely others do as well, know better that what we here today (speaking of certain repertoires) is not necessarily what the composer heard or intended, and that piques my interest to no end. (I.m big on tapping into the aesthetic of the music, and timbre is as much a part of it as interpretation) Are players willing to go more historically informed with regard to instrument choice (style and technique aside)? On the whole probably not, though there are those out there who are taking the bold step in that direction. Will audiences accept it or even care? Sadly not if it sounds different – people know what they like and they only like what they know. I am optimistic and hopeful.

    Those are some of my thoughts, for what their worth. I look forward to hearing others

  6. Dale Proctor

    Dale Proctor Utimate User

    Jul 20, 2006
    Heart of Dixie
    Interesting discussion. One of the bands I'm a member of presents "period-correct" (or close to it) performances from the middle 1800's. We use period instruments and play the music of the day. Most of us use period mouthpieces, too, and the sound from these old brass and German silver instruments is unlike anything you hear today. No edge to the sound at all, just a reserved, rich, slightly diffused sound. Of course, they're harder to play in tune, the accuracy suffers slightly, and they wear you out much faster, but that's the tradeoff for historical accuracy. BTW, I learned to play part of the Haydn on an Eb keyed bugle (I know, it should be a keyed trumpet ;-) ) a few years ago and it was really a different sound than what the modern audience is accustomed to hearing. I'm all for using the correct instrumentation for a period performance, but generally, that's not feasable. I think it's OK to present a featured soloist on a period instrument accompanied by a modern orchestra, but mixing period and non-period instruments in an ensemble or orchestra is a no-no, in my opinion.

    Olde Towne Brass
  7. BrassOnLine

    BrassOnLine Piano User

    Nov 22, 2007
    Well, I think that you should be consequent with the instrument and the technic ability. If you play Haydn on a modern trumpet, Why it should sound like a keyed trumpet ???
    It is a different instrument. A different sound. Approach all resources aviable.

    A modern symphony is just that, a modern symphony. Don't ask for pears to an orange tree...

    It could be a joke... It is not the right place.
    Everybody should play an instrument which fits on the entiere ensemble. If not, it could appears you're claiming for your 15 minutes of fame...

  8. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Dr Z.,
    a truly GREAT post! As to if the audience even cares, I dare say YES if historic intonation models are used. Most casual listeners that I know, consider mean tuning for instance to be "out of tune"!

    As far as instrumentation, it would be a considerable widening if the Bb trumpet were simply used more often, the brazen big band sound is VERY useful in things like Bernsteins Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and the like. Pieces depicting heaven and hell, like Mozarts Requiem could be an EASY intro to the nat for the busy symphonic player. I guess the goal needs to be more timbral diversity instead of absolute security if this is to work though. Arguments about why this and that don't work seem to be more "excuses" than reasons.

    The Royal Academy in London requires the nat as part of a trumpet major. That lets me believe that at least some of the next generation of players will be better prepared to offer more sonic diversity than the present players holding positions.
  9. Dr. Zink

    Dr. Zink Pianissimo User

    Feb 8, 2007
    North Coast US
    Thank you so much, I sincerely appreciate your recognition. However with regard to audiences I must beg to differ - only because I'm speaking from an American vantage point. As of yet, and in general, American audiences have viewed early music/period instruments as more of a gimmick than a legitimate representation of historical music. Though this is gradually changing. If you think about it it only stands to reason - instruments such as the cornetto and natural trumpet (and others) really are irrelevant to the American musical conscience (as is much of their repertoire - St. John Passion, Orfeo in English is the way to go. Heaven forbid an audience not be able to understand the words!). they have no place in our musical heritage so of course they are seen as gimmicks. Talk about frustrating from a players stand point; when you put on a wonderful chamber program of 17c church and instrumental music and get twelve people in the audience! Larger ensembles draw more because they have larger advertising budgets and can draw on the crowd that need to be seen as well as the modest yet growing cognoscenti. Remember the american "classical" musical conscience is largely that of the light classics, tunes from musicals and opperettas and the like as established in the late 19th century. Symphonies and the like considerably less so if at all. (any wonder why Andre Rieu is so popular?!!)Thankfully however there are cognoscenti out there, and it is a growing demographic. That's what is making early music float in America. Nevertheless instruments like the natural trumpet and the cornetto will remain a curiosity - I guess its our cross to bear - "what's that? a wooden trumpet?" Yeah, something like that. As I said people know what they like and they like what they know. For the time being the incorporation of period instruments into the orchestra should only be done surreptitiously: where practical and unobtrusively and only if they can fit in with regard to intonation etc - depends on the players - look how successful Doug Yeo has been. Careful though, just because you are a trumpet player doesn't mean you CAN play the baroque trumpet. One hopes one would have the good sense to realize where one falls in that regard.

    I'm a big advocate for greater use of Bb in the orchestra. Why must it sound brazen? I know it can and is appropriate in places, but it doesn't have to, only if you play it that way. I know its not necessarily easy, but who said it was supposed to be? Take the Maurice Murphy, didn't he use mostly Bb?

    That's truly wonderful. (However I'll reserve my aversion for most of the english baroque trumpet players - though I have tremendous respect for what they accomplish technique wise)

    Forgive me if I seem to pontificate, i've just become jaded in my old age thats all. I look forward to further discussion.

    Last edited: Mar 24, 2008

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