Period Music Debate

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by rowuk, Nov 7, 2006.

  1. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Age:
    61
    16,609
    7,945
    Jun 18, 2006
    Germany
    There are many opinions about using period instruments, copies of period instruments and instruments that are "improved" copies. Let us limit the debate to trumpet only. Try and keep the criticism constructive!
    I'll start with some basic definitions:

    Natural Trumpet= a true period instrument without vent holes to help tune

    Baroque trumpet= looks like a natural trumpet but has 1 to 4 holes to help tune closer to what audiences expect today, and makes it easier for a trumpeter not specializing in this horn to switch. A recent invention (1960s)

    Well tempered= modern audience expectations for intonation

    mean tempered= a different sense of being "in tune" used by many musicians specialised in "period" performing practice
     
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Age:
    61
    16,609
    7,945
    Jun 18, 2006
    Germany
    Robins 10 Cents:
    Period instruments have a completely different sound than modern ones. It is useful to explore this sound when trying to understand what composers may have wanted. Having experienced the new old sound, one is free to decide whether it is worth the effort to climb on that bandwagon. I have tried it and feel it is more than worth the effort. Most conductors that I have worked with are also interested (this helps to keep the competition away!).

    Playing period instruments requires learning some new skills (lip trills, massive lipping up or down, balance in an ensemble, accepting cracked notes.....).

    Period instruments are generally harder to play in tune when the rest of the ensemble has modern instruments. Here is where the "baroque" trumpet comes in with its vent holes. Here you have 95% of the sound with only 50% more work.
    Good pieces to experience the difference:
    Mozart Requiem, Beethoven Symphonies, Haydn choral works
    bad piece to get started with:
    Bach Brandenburg Concerto #2

    Period does not only mean natural trumpet. The 19th century had deep F trumpets too. They also have a different sound than modern horns. Turn of the century cornets are also interesting and different!
     
  3. Dale Proctor

    Dale Proctor Utimate User

    8,208
    7,603
    Jul 20, 2006
    Heart of Dixie
    Ah, period instruments. My main gig is performing on period instruments. Not as old as natural trumpets, but early valved instruments, mainly those used in the mid 1800's in the U.S. Yes, I play in a "Civil War" brass band. We use authentic period instruments and play the original music (although we've reprinted it to make it readable). Quite a unique sound - nothing like today's brass instruments. A very smooth, mellow sound. They're all rotary valve and extremely conical in nature. It seems that piston valves were more popular in Europe than in the U.S. at the time.

    Each instrument has its own intonation problems, and the group as a whole has others, given that these instruments were designed to different pitches. Back "in the day", bands would buy entire sets of instruments from the same manufacturer to at least insure that they could be tuned with each other. We don't have that luxury, and have gone through quite a few horns to find a set that will tune together. Even so, the bass has his slide in as far as it will go, and the Eb cornet and the Bb cornet (me) have their bit and slide out almost as far as they will go.

    To play these instruments "well tempered" requires an intimate familiarity with the horn you're playing, and an awareness of problem notes in the other instruments. It's a constant battle with alternate fingerings and lipping, but we can generally pull it off.

    Some groups such as ours use reproduction instruments which play much better in tune (at least the good reproductions do), but also have a more modern sound. Others just play the old music on modern instruments. These two options probably result in a better-in-tune, "nicer" performance, but that special sound's just not there. I feel that a proper historic presentation should come as close as possible to the original sound and style. The antique instruments and original music achieve the sound, but the style is open to some debate, as there are no period recordings. The best guess may be to listen to some of the earliest recordings from the 1900's of cornet soloists.

    BTW, I even became somewhat proficient on a borrowed Eb keyed bugle a few years ago, but the owner sold it.:-( Now, that's a different sound. A horn full of holes. Here's a pic of my period Bb cornet. Made by Henry Lehnert in Philadelphia shortly after the Civil War, solid German silver, "Allen" style pinched rotary valves. A very nice horn! Go to our web site for photos and descriptions of 20 or 30 more instruments we have. www.otbrass.com

    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2006
  4. cornetguy

    cornetguy Mezzo Forte User

    797
    4
    Sep 12, 2005
    Saint Paul, MN
    ok i am going to really open a can of worms. I agree with taruskin's assertion that period performance (of 17th-19th century works) isnt' really about "how Beethoven heard the works" or "what Bach had to put up with" it really tells us more about the post WWII aesthetics. The "period" performance is really the late 20th/21st century performance practice, and what we call "modern" is actually an older performance style. Read Text and Act for yourselves
     
  5. cornetguy

    cornetguy Mezzo Forte User

    797
    4
    Sep 12, 2005
    Saint Paul, MN
    i have heard civil war re-creation bands and find them interesting.
     
  6. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Forte User

    Age:
    43
    1,144
    3
    Oct 11, 2004
    Farnham (a place too smal
    Another fun aspect to throw into the mix is performance practice - I have heard some players playing on baroque and natural trumpets, yet blowing them like a modern orchestral instrument. Sometimes conductors want the instruments to look "authentic" yet want it to sound like every other group they work with.
    Other players approach the early music with a certain degree of historically informed performance practice even when playing on modern instruments.

    Purely personally, I would prefer people to play stylishly on whatever instrument they are holding, rather than make a fuss about playing on the "correct" instrument. After all - the rest of the orchestra often won't be working on period instruments, the players are probably not playing in the same way as the players of the age did and the audience are not going to be hearing things in the same way.


    That said - historically informed performance groups are of great interest to me. Hearing Crispian play on the actual trumpet that some baroque pieces were written for made me think very differently about the way I approached the works, even though I was playing them on a piccolo trumpet.

    The only time I find myself on historically accurate instruments is when playing Gilbert & Sullivan - I have got a couple of 1920's Hawkes & Son trumpets (both with the rotor Bb/A mechanism) and when I can persuade the other guy that it is a good idea, I take both along for the week. Not only does it make the transposition a doddle (you don't transpose, you just change the key) but the tone and balance you can get is incredible. They have a lighter feel than the modern orchestral instruments and playing under the singers is comparitively much easier.
     
  7. ecarroll

    ecarroll Artist in Residence Staff Member

    2,212
    8
    Jul 13, 2005
    NY/CA
    TMers,

    In my opinion every period has a style and aesthetic, thus the concept of "period performance practice" and "period instruments" can be appled across our entire musical history. New music is "period" music. It always has been. Unfortunately, these terms were coined by shoddy journalists writing about the explosion of performances that started back in the 70s by Harnoncourt, Gardiner, and others (performances that I really like, by the way). Pity the poor writers -- they really don't know better.

    As Robin correctly points out, the romantic period produced a wealth of new instruments (within our own family the ophicleide, keyed bugle, echo cornet and double-bell euphonium spring instantly to mind, as does the Wagner tuba, cimbasso, and so on), each with its own sound and characteristic.

    A quick glance at http://www.harrypartch.com will reveal new instruments from the fertile mind of this early/mid 20th century American composer. Electro-acoustic composers, starting with Mort Subotnick, have taken instrument design and software into concert halls and launched a whole new set of "period" sounds that continue to be developed today.

    Exciting stuff, isn't it?

    Best,
    EC (period performer)
     
  8. Solar Bell

    Solar Bell Moderator Staff Member

    8,187
    1,911
    May 11, 2005
    Metro Detroit
    My wife says the Romantic Period started with the Righteous Brothers singing "Unchained Melody"

    -cw-
     
  9. Mr. Stomvi

    Mr. Stomvi Pianissimo User

    211
    2
    Nov 14, 2003
    Check out the following url for "The Chesnut Brass Company" brass quintet.

    http://www.chestnutbrass.com/site/brassmusic/

    A really cool group that I had the privilage of hearing this summer in Springfield, OH. Played all sorts of period instruments (and period music) including over the shoulder saxhorns, cornopeans, keyed bugles, ophicleides, etc. It's a really funny sight watching a quintet play with their backs turned to the audiance as they play their over the shoulder saxhorns with the bells aimed at the audiance. Really unique tone qualities from all the different horns. Where else can ya hear all these different horns in one concert ? :-).

    Seth Moore
     
  10. Dale Proctor

    Dale Proctor Utimate User

    8,208
    7,603
    Jul 20, 2006
    Heart of Dixie
    I agree, period (even modern period) instruments must be played as the instrument they are. You see the same thing today with people playing cornets like trumpets. It's work, but a little research and proper practice on a given type of instrument goes a long way in playing it in a more "correct" style. Of course, what's correct can be a matter for debate, especially with pre-recording era music and instruments.

    In my opinion, the only time "period" brass instruments and modern instruments should be mixed is when a soloist is playing the period instrument, accompanied by group of modern instruments. Mixing period and modern instruments in an ensemble is a waste of time for everyone involved. A performance with a mix of modern/period instruments will enjoy none of the advantages of modern horns and will have all the drawbacks of the period horns.

    I have a 1920's Conn trumpet with the A/Bb rotary tuning slide valve. I've played it in a group that plays early 20th century "society music" (with some parts in A) and you're right, the horn fits the orchestration and the style of the music perfectly. And it plays very well in A!
     

Share This Page