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Other articles by Mike Diprose

More about instruments

... and it is to such players, undismayed by the fear of treading upon unfamiliar ground, and unbound by the tradition that says, "It can’t be done", that I dedicate this work. 2)

Rather than sniping from an Ivory Tower, Holier than Thou (EMR Oct 2010) was intended to provoke discussion - aiming to narrow the oft-encountered chasm in HIP between "Historically Informed" and "Performance". One or two from another playground chose to vent more than their Fs and As. One referred to it as EM fundamentalist claptrap.

The majority of those who expressed an opinion, particularly younger players eager to fill the gap in the market, reacted more positively. One wrote:

... to value players that opened the doors for the new generation wanting to go a step further. What we (straineers) should not do is to call it natural trumpet. ...I am looking forward to the moment when people in general, and conductors in particular will appreciate the beauty of the natural trumpet the way it is. It shall take whatever it takes, the truth will always be the truth, and natural will always be natural. Quoting Arthur Schopenhauer, All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Barokensemble De Swaen was wound up in June in order to make time available for something new, applying what was learned from the 10-year project in which we combined natural brass, all-unwound gut strings in equal tension (with the odd thick-gut-core wound string on bass instruments); a large, hand-pumped chamber organ - or the real organ installed in one church - and inner-scraped double reeds attached to oboes with single staples, played with the historic "short" fingerings (more about which later).


There is yet further to go but the interconnectedness of these elements naturally revealed many new beauties and a unique ensemble sound. We commissioned new pieces in order to cross-reference the wishes of living composers with the legacies of dead ones, keeping us fresh and open-minded - it’s never "just a note". The large, loyal audience was included: We kept them informed and entertained; they kept us going and relished the "authentic" experience. Our "crazy" ideas were funded solely by voluntary donations from a captivated audience and so it was, if you will, an EM fund-a-mentalist clap trap.

Unsurprisingly, the De Swaen project showed that pre- and early-18th century music can be performed convincingly with uncompromised instruments - and audiences can enjoy it, especially when they know what’s going on. To my knowledge, there are very few, if any, other ensembles and no commercial recordings (yet!) that feature this particular approach. Record producers, promoters and conductors could take note of this opportunity. Personally, I feel that it patronises audiences and demeans ourselves knowingly to compromise our instruments, which in turn, implies that either musicians now lack the ability or composers were unable to write adequately for the instruments at their disposal, but remember: if you try to paint a Vermeer with a spray gun, you may end up with something rather different. 3)

Jeremy Montagu: With reproduction instruments, if you use a modern mouthpiece or drawn tubing rather than rolled and soldered tubing, you’re not going to be able to bend the sound as it needs to be bent, therefore you start drilling holes in the thing, and therefore, you’re playing a colander rather than a trumpet. You open a hole and the sound flies out the window.

1) "Messing" is German for brass.

2) Walter M Smith, Top Tones for the trumpeter - 30 modern etudes, (1934), roughly 20 years before the invention of the first multi-nodal-vent-hole system for "historic" trumpets.

3) Hans Reiners, www.bows-viols.de