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Other articles by Mike Diprose

More about instruments

When you’re playing an ensemble work, like the Bach B minor Mass, you can feel the trumpets standing on your drum if you’re doing it properly. It makes a unified sound, and that sound is in the drum with the trumpets on it. When they were playing those things by Finke that looked like what Gottfried Reich was playing in the painting by Haussmann, you could literally feel it as they opened the fingerhole - Whoops! – all the sonic weight comes off the drum. You can still feel that even when they are using the modern ones that look like trumpets if you’re not close enough to see the holes.4)

It would be convenient for players of the modern trumpet if a similar mouthpiece could work on the natural trumpet but to date; all of the convincing clarinists that I have heard use one with a cup diameter between 19 and 21mm, similar to most originals. This is still relatively small given the length of the instrument, which, typically in D (nearly 8ft), is the same length as an alto trombone in third position, albeit playing an octave or so higher.

The large cup not only favours a strong, focussed principale (third octave) register but also allows space to "place" (bend) notes on an instrument of fixed length. Opening nodal vent holes instantaneously changes the acoustic length of the tubing in much the same way as valves do, making different demands on the mouthpiece and the player’s technique. Using an appropriate, usually differently-sized mouthpiece for each instrument, and to practise changing between them can make things easier for the "muscle memory".

Andrew Clark is an admirable horn player but In Defence of Performers’ compromises (EMR June 2011) seems to lament becoming a victim of his own versatility. The following paragraphs are not intended to offend Andrew personally but to question the environment that could lead to such preconceptions. Answers to his rhetorical questions can be found in original sources, such as this one from Petri, 1781:

If instruments really should show the bass line, it would be much better for my hypothesis if I take the origin of music from the brass instruments - horns and trumpets ...... So if violins and pipes make horns and trumpets the source of the melody, we would tune the bass instruments from the horns, which are diatonic in their main tonality, and have only one possibility of a fifth, to give a home (rest) for the melody. That’s why they have the big double forth (11th partial), as a major semitone (semitonium modi) to enter the dominant (quintam toni) (12th Partial).5)

Original Baroque horns are of fixed length and can be warmed to pitch with air before playing; getting yet sharper is an indication of throat tension. The difference in sound between a cello with a spike and one without is very obvious on any stage with a resonant cavity beneath its boards. The difference between playing pre-19th century music on a violin with or without a chin rest 6) is a big difference, since it is technically no more necessary than valves would be on a horn. In my experience, the majority of violinists and violists that have developed a chin-off technique with an all-unwound gut, equal tension set up have two open ears, are stylistically-aware and consequently "easy to work with".

1) "Messing" is German for brass.

4) Jeremy Montagu: interview with E. Bradley Strauchen, HBS Newsletter, 2002. (in EMR 138 p.15, I misattributed the word strainer instead of colander to Jeremy.)

5) J. S. Petri, Anleitung zur praktischen Musik (1782), p 17. (Much of which is recycled from Praetorius through Mersenne, Matheson, Quantz, L. Mozart etc).
Sollten Instrumente wirklich den Bass vorstellen, so waere dis desto besser fuer meine Hypothese, wenn ich von den Messingsinstrumenten, oder Horns und Trompeten den ursprung der Musik herleite......Wenn daher Geigen und Pfeiffen, und ihr Urquell die Horns und Trompete Melodie dazu machen, so waeren sie so gennante Bassinstrumente ja auch nach den Horns eingerichtet, welche im Haubttone diatonissch fortgehen, und nur den einzigen Einfall in die Quinte des Tons haben, um Ruhepunkte der Melodie zu machen. Denn dazu haben sie die doppelte Quarte, die grosse nämlich, als das semitonium modi zum Einfalle in quintam toni.

6) According to Sigiswald Kuijken, the chin rest was first proposed by Spohr in 1832 www.earlymusicworld.com/id19.html
cf Elizabeth Wallfisch Chins-off version 2, King’s Music, 2005.