Thursday, December 14, 2006

If I ran the orchestra (2)

From a wish list:

(1) Basset clarinets (or more properly, clarinets with basset extensions to written c (as opposed to basset horns, a different instrument, narrow bore alto clarinets in F with the same written c extension)) are useful. The Mozart Clarinet Concerto was probably written for such an instrument. Should be more of them.

(2) Ophicleides. The rattle made by these brass-winds is more terrifying than a tuba will ever achieve. Essential to the Symphonie Fantastique. (Check out the Norrington recording).

(3) Natural horns. Essential. With the proper handhorn technique, an entire repertoire, from Beethoven's Sonata in F to the Brahms Trio is taken to another timbral universe.

(4) Trumpets in (low) F. The move of orchestral players towards the higher-keyed trumpets (Bb and C, 4' keys, territory previously associated more with the cornet) is another timbral loss. The darkness of the F trumpet is particularly important in Mahler.

(5) Bassoon consorts. A few makers here and there are making smaller-sized instruments, at soprano/alto/tenor pitches, chiefly for children (or others with small hands), but opening up the possibility of full consorts of modern bassoons.

Addendum: Gordon Mumma wrote to add the following:

In your orchestra series, you justly
complement several neglected instruments.
Re the natural horn, it should be extended
earlier than Ludwig's Op. 17. It should be
heard it in J.S.B's Brandenburgs, and later
than the Brahms Trio into Ben Britten's
Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings.
Even my old HORNPIPE requires it, etc.


Scott Spiegelberg said...

I disagree about the F trumpets. The upper registers don't sound dark, they sound harsh because of the slightly out-of-tune upper partials. Now, sometimes that harshness could be appropriate for a Mahler or Tchaikovsky symphony. But in general the C trumpet is more centered, darker, more beautiful.

Daniel Wolf said...

Scott: I don't quite understand. Do you mean that the partials of the higher pitches are deviate from a harmonic series, or that the upper modes of vibration are out of tune? If the first, then I'd love to see a spectrogram showing that.

In any case, my plea is to restore the F trumpet to the repertoire written for it, and to revive it for new music. I have heard it played here in Mahler with some frequency and am absolutely convinced by the sound, and I believe that new repertoire could open up the under-used contralto register of the instrument.

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