Woodwind to Brass instruments

Back now after this slight digression, the clarinet in the Symphony Orchestra. It's a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde instrument in that in its upper registers it can be shrill and strident, but at lower registers is capable of soft and delicate playing. You just have to listen to the famous Acker Bilk and his jazz band to hear how mellow a sound clarinet can make, complete with Acker Bilk's passionate vibrato. Vibrato, of course, is just not the done thing in a modern symphony orchestra, although old recordings of Russian orchestras sound as if they have Acker bilk's Russian cousins playing.

The clarinet is also extremely agile, and this quality is taken to the extreme in jazz bands, Eastern European and klezmer bands, whether playing can be virtuosic. Personally, I'd much prefer to hear a clarinet played in a jazz klezmer band, because to me it brings out the instruments true character, and in comparison I find orchestral clarinet slightly dull. The clarinet is also common in American military bands, but the often play arrangements of violin music, but is not so common to hear this in the UK.

So the clarinet is a very versatile instrument which can be purely a melodic instrument, I can embroider the school with complicated scales, arpeggios and ornamentation.

Onwards the bassoons. The bassoons the last member of the woodwind family. By the time we got to the bass clarinet, the length of the instruments to produce the deep notes had become a problem, and the end of the instrument is bent round and upwards in an upward bell, so that the instrumental sound doesn't go straight into the floor. When you get to the bassoon, the length of pipe needed for its notes is eight-foot, and would have to be played like an Alpine horn if it were not for the fact that it is bent round in a U shape, so end up only half that length. Because of its length, the finger holes have to be an awfully long way apart, and some of them are bored at an angle through the wood so that the internal openings of the finger holes are in the correct position, but I brought closer together within a somewhat difficult and painful stretch of the fingers, by the time they get to the outside of the instrument. Many years ago, I saw on television a sensible bassoon with somebody had signed, which had a whole lot of keys and changes to make fingering more logical and the positioning of fingering more manageable. It sounded fine to me, but evidently bassoon players were up in arms as this made it an easy instrument to play, and presumably they were frightened of losing prestige and earning power (rather reminiscent of the shipyard workers on the Clyde of lost out to South Korea. Perhaps bassoon players are losing out to bass guitar players?)

The early history of the bassoon is somewhat confused. In Italian it is called Fagotto from its resemblance to the Roman bundle of fragments. This resulted in the legend that is much older instrument and really it is. It seems to date from the 16th century. Although the bassoon, like any instrument, has developed an improved in an evolutionary manner, it doesn't seem to have gone that far with the bassoon, and many of the notes behave differently on different instruments, play out of tune out to be corrected with the lips, and so on. The one-step, to make a sensible bassoon that I spoke about above, was soon crushed, so it looks if the bassoon is going to be a ridiculous instrument play to play for ever more.

The Big Daddy of bassoons is the Double Bassoon, for which occasional orchestral parts are written, but is an economic difficulty to have a double bassoon is to with his wildly expensive instrument, sitting through most of the concert doing nothing and playing only a few notes here and there. I don't think I've ever come across a bassoon being played in a jazz band, but I've come across several barn dance bands, basically English barn dance bands, who include a bassoon as their base instrument instead of a bass guitar or double bass. It gives a certain year old look to the band, is certainly quirky, and is great fun for the bassoonist who normally has to play either very boring parts in an orchestra, or terrifyingly exposed orchestral parts which gets them sweating and waking up at night for many nights before the concert.

Right, that's done with the woodwind, this kit onto the plumbing section, the brass. Let's have a look at the French horn. I really must find out how many miles of piping using one of these instruments, but it must be a lot. In some ways is a little bit like a bassoon, in a rather difficult and unstable instrument to play. It is, however, a very important instrument in the orchestra in that it can be a melodic instrument, filling the harmonies either quietly always huge volume, or can be used for pure decoration and embellishment within the orchestra.

Most primitive instruments or horns made of conch shells, elephant tusks or cowhorn, and would probably not musical instruments in the way we think of music now, but with the playing crude fanfares during ceremonies. There are also used for signalling during hunting, particularly in France, hence the name of French horn. It was probably first used in an orchestral setting by Lully (1632 to 1687). Back then it was a less tight coil of tubing, so that it could be carried over the shoulder. In 1711 it was used at the Theatre Royal in Dresden, and later was used in the Imperial Opera in Vienna. Rameau (1683 to 1764, used a pair of hunting horns in his operas. At first they weren't popular instruments, being considered noisy and coarse in tone, with the instrument has changed considerably over the years.

A basic horn produces notes in the harmonic series, so that horn measuring 12 feet in length (coiled up of course) would be in the key of F. A simple horn could only play notes in the harmonic series beginning on F, that is the F one octave below middle C. If you cut the horn to a different length, the starting on a different note, it would have the same relative harmonic series but each note would be shifted up or down proportionally. It was a musician in the court of Dresden, who in 1770 developed the technique of dumping down the unpleasantly loud notes of instruments, by stuffing a wodge of wool into the bell of the horn. He noticed that it change the pitch of the instrument by a semitone downwards. He found that inserting his hand into the bell he could modify notes that fell on the harmonic series, giving instrument a whole new range of notes. Music started to be written to include these extra notes.

Another important invention improve the French horn. Music is developed to the stage where it didn't just continue in the opening key, the changed key frequently during the performance. This meant that horn player couldn't select an appropriate horn for the key of the peace at the beginning, would have to keep changing the instrument during the performance (much as a whistle player in an Irish ceilidh band will have a range of whistles in different keys, and swap them around as they come to tunes that are in different keys. The whistle can only play in one key much like the original horns.) To overcome this problem a device known as the Crook was invented. The Crook is a length of tube that can be detached from the main tubing of the instrument and be replaced by a longer or shorter tube, thus changing the length of the whole instrument and of course its basic key. This was a definite improvement, but a piece of music had to give musician time to change over the tubing section, which was quite fiddly and noisy.

During the 1800s a complicated valve system was developed to connect and disconnect sections of tubing were permanently in place. Manufacturing technology needed to produce low-cost high precision valves to divert airflow, and developed from the steam engine technology and gun manufacturing, and was put to good use in the evolution of the French horn to its present state. With the addition of the valves, the standard has become the horn in F, and this is used to accept when playing early music.

Although the valve system didn't get introduced until the 1800s, valve systems were in use by the Romans. An archaeological discovery of a Roman horn instrument, called the Tibia was discovered in Pompeii in 1876. As its name suggests, it was made from a thigh bone, but then manufacturing techniques were more limited back then. However, this instrument had a valve system consisting of 11 sliding sockets, any number of which could be closed independently. But then the Romans were clever (am I biased? I do have Roman ancestry.)