Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)


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By his invention, an older and smaller instrument, the chalumeau, of eleven notes, without producible harmonics, was, by an artifice of raising a key to give access to the air column at a certain point, endowed with a harmonic series of eleven notes a twelfth higher. The chalumeau being a cylindrical pipe, the upper partials could only be in an odd series, and when Denner made them speak, they were consequently not an octave, but a twelfth above the fundamental notes.

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Thus, an instrument which ranged, with the help of eight finger holes and two keys, from F in the bass clef to B flat in the treble had an addition given to it at once of a second register from C in the treble clef to E flat above it. The scale of the original instrument is still called chalumeau by the clarinet player; about the middle of the last century it was extended down to E.

The second register of notes, which by this lengthening of pipe started from B natural, received the name of clarinet, or clarionet, from the clarino or clarion, the high solo trumpet of the time it was expected that this bright harmonic series would replace. This name of clarinet, or clarionet, became accepted for the entire instrument, including the chalumeau register.

It is the communication between the external air and the upper part of the air column in the instrument which, initiating a ventral segment or loop of vibration, forces the air column to divide for the next possible partial, the twelfth, that Denner has the merit of having made practicable. At the same time the manipulation of it presents a difficulty in learning the instrument. It is in the nature of things that there should be a difference of tone quality between the lower and upper registers thus obtained; and that the highest fundamental notes, G sharp, A and B flat, should be colorless compared with the first notes of the overblown series.

This is a difficulty the player has to contend with, as well as the complexity of fingering, due to there being no less than eighteen sound holes. Much has been done to graft Boehm's system of fingering upon the clarinet, but the thirteen key system, invented early in this century by Iwan Muller, is still most employed. The increased complication of mechanism is against a change, and there is even a stronger reason, which I cannot do better than translate, in the appropriate words of M.

Lavoix fils, the author of a well-known and admirable work upon instrumentation:. There are several clarinets of various pitches, and formerly more than are used now, owing to the difficulty of playing except in handy keys. In the modern orchestra the A and B flat clarinets are the most used; in the military band, B flat and E flat. The C clarinet is not much used now. All differ in tone and quality; the A one is softer than the B flat; the C is shrill. The B flat is the virtuoso instrument. In military bands the clarinet takes the place which would be that of the violin in the orchestra, but the tone of it is always characteristically different.

Although introduced in the time of Handel and Bach those composers made no use of it. With Mozart it first became a leading orchestral instrument. The Basset horn, which has become the sensuously beautiful alto clarinet in E flat, is related to the clarinet in the same way that the cor Anglais is to the oboe. His name given to the instrument has been mistranslated into Italian as Corno di Bassetto.

There is a bass clarinet employed with effect by Meyerbeer in the "Huguenots," but the characteristic clarinet tone is less noticeable; it is, however, largely used in military bands. The Basset horn had the deep compass of the bass clarinet which separates it from the present alto clarinet, although it was more like the alto in caliber.

The alto clarinet is also used in military bands; and probably what the Basset horn would have been written for is divided between the present bass and alto clarinets. Preceding the invention of the sarrusophone, by which a perfected oboe was contrived in a brass instrument, a modified brass instrument, the saxophone, bearing a similar relation to the clarinet, was invented in by Sax, whose name will occur again and again in connection with important inventions in military band instruments.

The saxophone is played like the clarinet with the intervention of a beating reed, but is not cylindrical; it has a conical tube like the oboe. The different shape of the column of air changes the first available harmonic obtained by overblowing to the octave instead of the twelfth; and also in consequence of the greater strength of the even harmonics, distinctly changing the tone quality. The sarrusophone may fairly be regarded as an oboe or bassoon; but the saxophone is not so closely related to the clarinet.

There are four sizes of saxophone now made between high soprano and bass. Starting from the fourth fundamental note, each key can be employed in the next higher octave, by the help of other two keys, which, being opened successively, set up a vibrating loop. The saxophones, although difficult to play, fill an important place in the military music of France and Belgium, and have been employed with advantage in the French orchestra. The fingering of all saxophones is that attributed to Boehm. The cup shaped mouthpiece must now take the place of the reed in our attention. Here the lips fit against a hollow cup shaped reservoir, and, acting as vibrating membranes, may be compared with the vocal chords of the larynx.

They have been described as acting as true reeds. Each instrument in which such a mouthpiece is employed requires a slightly different form of it. The French horn is the most important brass instrument in modern music.

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It consists of a body of conical shape about seven feet long, without the crooks, ending in a large bell, which spreads out to a diameter of fifteen inches. The crooks are fitted between the body and the mouthpiece; they are a series of smaller interchangeable tubings, which extend in length as they descend in pitch, and set the instrument in different keys. The mouthpiece is a funnel shaped tube of metal, by preference silver; and, in the horn, is exceptionally not cup shaped, but the reverse: it tapers, as a cone, from three-quarters of an inch diameter to about a minimum of three-sixteenths of an inch, and is a quarter of an inch where the smaller end of the mouthpiece is inserted in the upper opening of the crook.


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The first horn has a mouthpiece of rather less diameter than the second. The peculiar mouthpiece and narrow tubing have very much to do with the soft voice-like tone quality of the horn. For convenience of holding, the tubing is bent in a spiral form. There is a tuning slide attached to the body, and, of late years, valves have been added to the horn, similar to those applied to the cornet and other wind instruments.

They have, to a considerable extent, superseded hand stopping, by which expedient the intonation could be altered a semitone or whole tone, by depression of the natural notes of the instrument. In brass, or other instruments, the natural harmonics depend on the pressure of blowing; and the brass differs entirely from the wood wind, in this respect, that it is rare, or with poor effect, the lowest or fundamental note can be made to sound.

Stopping the horn is done by extending the open hand some way up the bore; there is half stopping and whole stopping, according to the interval, the half tone or whole tone required. As may be imagined, the stopped notes are weak and dull compared with the open. On the other hand, the tubing introduced for valves not being quite conformable in curve with the instrument, and hampered with indispensable joins, unless in the best form of modern valve, affects the smoothness of tone.

No doubt there has been of late years a great improvement in the manufacture of valves. Many horns are still made with crooks covering an octave from B flat to B flat, 8 feet 6 inches to 17 feet; but most players now use only the F crook, and trust to the valves, rather than to change the crooks, so that we lose the fullness of sound of those below F.

The natural horn was originally in D, but was not always restricted to that key; there have been horns for F, G, high A, and B flat. This may, however, be said for the valve horn, that it does not limit or restrict composers in writing for the open or natural notes, which are always more beautiful in effect.

Valves were invented and first introduced in Prussia about A. At first there were two, but there are now generally three. In this country and France they are worked by pistons, which, when pressed down, give access for the air into channels or supplementary tubings on one side of the main bore, thus lengthening it by a tone for the first valve, a semitone for the second, and a tone and a semitone for the third.

When released by the finger, the piston returns by the action of a spring. In large bass and contralto instruments, a fourth piston is added, which lowers the pitch two tones and a semitone. By combining the use of three valves, lower notes are obtained—thus, for a major third, the second is depressed with the third; for a fourth, the first and third; and for the tritone, the first, second, and third.

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But the intonation becomes imperfect when valves are used together, because the lengths of additional tubing being calculated for the single depressions, when added to each other, they are too short for the deeper notes required. By an ingenious invention of compensating pistons, Mr. Blaikley, of Messrs. Boosey's, has practically rectified this error without extra moving parts or altered fingering. In the valve section, each altered note becomes a fundamental for another harmonic scale. In Germany a rotary valve, a kind of stop cock, is preferred to the piston. It is said to give greater freedom of execution, the closeness of the shake being its best point, but is more expensive and liable to derangement.

The invention of M. Adolphe Sax, of a single ascending piston in place of a group of descending ones, by which the tube is shortened instead of lengthened, met, for a time, with influential support. It is suitable for both conical and cylindrical instruments, and has six valves, which are always used independently. However, practical difficulties have interfered with its success. With any valve system, however, a difficulty with the French horn is its great variation in length by crooks, inimical to the principle of the valve system, which relies upon an adjustment by aliquot parts.

It will, however, be seen that the invention of valves has, by transforming and extending wind instruments, so as to become chromatic, given many advantages to the composer. Yet it must, at the same time, be conceded, in spite of the increasing favor shown for valve instruments, that the tone must issue more freely, and with more purity and beauty, from a simple tube than from tubes with joinings and other complications, that interfere with the regularity and smoothness of vibration, and, by mechanical facilities, tend to promote a dull uniformity of tone quality.

Owing to the changes of pitch by crooks, it is not easy to define the compass of the French horn. Between C in the bass clef and G above the treble will represent its serviceable notes. It is better that the first horn should not descend below middle C, or the second rise above the higher E of the treble clef. Four are generally used in modern scores.

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The place of the horn is with the wood wind band. From Handel, every composer has written for it, and what is known as the small orchestra of string and wood wind bands combined is completed by this beautiful instrument. The most prominent instruments that add to the splendor of the full orchestra are trumpets and trombones. They are really members of one family, as the name trombone—big trumpet—implies, and blend well together.

The trumpet is an instrument of court and state functions, and, as the soprano instrument, comes first.

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It is what is known as an eight foot instrument in pitch, and gives the different harmonics from the third to the twelfth, and even to the sixteenth. It is made of brass, mixed metal, or silver, and is about five feet seven inches in real length, when intended for the key of F without a slide; but is twice turned back upon itself, the first and third lengths lying contiguous, and the second about two inches from them.

The diameter is three-eighths of an inch along the cylindrical length; it then widens out for about fifteen inches, to form the bell. When fitted with a slide for transposition—an invention for the trumpet in the last century—this double tubing, about five inches in length on each side, is connected with the second length. It is worked from the center with the second and third fingers of the right band, and, when pulled back, returns to its original position by a spring. There are five crooks. The mouthpiece is hemispherical and convex, and the exact shape of it is of great importance.

It has a rim with slightly rounded surface. The diameter of the mouthpiece varies according to the player and the pitch required. With the first crook, or rather shank, and mouthpiece, the length of the trumpet is increased to six feet, and the instrument is then in the key of F. The second shank transposes it to E, the third to E flat, and the fourth to D. The fifth, and largest—two feet one and a half inches long—extends the instrument to eight feet, and lowers the key to C.

The slide is used for transposition by a semitone or a whole tone, thus making new fundamentals, and correcting certain notes of the natural harmonic scale, as the seventh, eleventh, and thirteenth, which do not agree with our musical scale.

Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)
Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)
Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)
Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)
Extreme Physics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 12)

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