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Period Instrument Primer

Luigi Boccherini cradling a Baroque cello with his calves

Luigi Boccherini cradling a Baroque cello with his calves

Live Broadcast, Wednesday at 12:15 pm


Today’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert welcomes three players who specialize in using period instruments (though prized instruments like the Stradivari were made in the 17th and 18th centuries, they’ve been rebuilt to modern specifications).

Side by side cellos (image from celloheaven.com)

Side by side cellos (image from celloheaven.com)

Today’s cellist, Anna Steinhoff will play a Baroque cello, which does not have an end pin, but rests on the calves. It sits lower and at a different angle to the player than does the modern cello. It was built for resonance in smaller rooms, rather than projection, penetration and virtuosity, which is more desirable in the modern, larger concert hall. The tension on the strings of Baroque cellos is not as great due to the lower tuning frequency. This, along with the use of gut strings, creates a different tone quality from the modern cello.

Today’s flutist, Leighann Daihl, will be playing on a Baroque flute, which is made of wood (an ancient design), and lacks the keys of the modern instrument (though Leighann’s has one key), which means she has to stop the air with the fleshy part of her finger.

Side by side modern and Baroque flutes

Side by side modern and Baroque flutes

The third part of this trio is taken by harpsichordist Jason Moy. Harpsichords come in many shapes and sizes. Some have two or even three keyboards stacked in tiers. Touching a key causes a lever to pluck the string inside. A piano works with levers that strike the strings with a felt-covered hammer.

Harpsichord mechanism

Harpsichord mechanism

Period instrument players generally tune their instruments to A415, whereas modern players tend to favor A440 (the Chicago Symphony tunes to A442). The resulting A sounds about a half step lower than the modern A.

 

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