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Flute Family

The transverse flute replaced the recorder as an orchestral instrument, largely because of its ability to play louder. Some credit is due to the virtuoso flautist Quantz (1697—1773), whose treatise The True Art of Flute Playing is still used for teaching. He was in the service of Frederick the Great ot Prussia (1712-1786), himselfan ableplayer and composer for whom Quantz wrote over 300 concertos. During Haydn’s time, the flute became a permanent member of the orchestra. Mozart wrote several works for the instrument including two solo concertos and one with harp. The modern flute dates from developments introduced by Theobald Bohm around 1830. Bohm’s system used a series of pads to cover the finger holes, allowing them to be better placed acoustically, and enabling the player to perform in any key.


Oboe Family

The oboe developed during the mid-seventeenth century as a more refined version of the shawm. In the eighteenth century it was still a relatively loud and coarse instrument but Bach, at least, recognized its potential for subtlety and it became one of the first wind instruments to win a permanent place in the Classical orchestra. During the nineteenth century oboe makers added the Bohm keywork system, bringing it close to its modern form. The oboe’s alto cousin, the cor anglais, is not a full member ot the orchestra but is used frequently for its expressive, mournful sound. The bass ot the family, the bassoon, developed as a short step from the curtal, and quickly became the bass woodwind instrument in Haydn’s orchestra. Mozart considered it expressive enough to deserve a concerto.


Clarinet Family

Much of the clarinet’s development was the work of Johann Denner and his son at Nuremberg from 1690 to 1720. With its single reed it belongs to a far smaller and younger family of instruments than the double reeds, and has only one possible ancestor, the chalumeau. It rapidly became popular, though, because it possessed a smoother, fuller (some might say blander) tone than the oboe. Haydn barely used it, but Mozart was deeply impressed with the instrument, particularly in the hands of the virtuoso Anton Stadler, for whom he wrote his final concerto. Mozart also wrote for the basset horn - the lower, mellower cousin of the clarinet — in his Requiem. But apart from its use in a few works by Beethoven and Mendels-sohn, the basset horn went quickly out of fashion, replaced by the alto clarinet.


Wind instruments that have an enclosed, vibrating air column set into motion by a reed or by blowing across or through an aperture; as distinct from brass instruments, in which the air column is set into motion by the vibration of the player’s lips. Keyboard instruments sounded by the same means as woodwinds (e.g., the organ) are excluded. Despite the name woodwind, this group of instruments is no longer composed only of woodenbodied instruments. Flutes, piccolos, and saxophones are now usually made of metal. Conversely, some early instruments made of wood, such as the cornett and the serpent, are not regarded as woodwinds because they are lip vibrated.


Woodwinds may be classified according to the means by which the air column is set into motion as well as by the extent to which the tube of which they consist more nearly approximates a cylinder or a cone. All, however, vary their pitch by the same method: all have side holes that can be covered or left open so as to vary the effective length of the tube. The principal families of European woodwinds encountered today and their principal characteristics are listed in the accompanying table.


Recorder Family

Thought to have originated in northern Italy in the fourteenth century, the recorder became popular throughout Europe; an instrument from as early as 1350 was found at a house in Dordrecht in the Netherlands. Henry VIII of England, himself an accomplished player, had 76 recorders of various sizes as well as 72 flutes. The two differ in that the recorder works like a whistle, whereas the far older and more widespread flute is played by blowing over a hole as one might over the top of a bottle. The transverse or sideways-flute became the standard in Europe but for a long time remained a relatively coarse-sounding instrument compared with the sweeter-toned recorders. The flute gradually superseded the recorder during the eighteenth century, although Bach continued to use both.

Shawm Family


Shawm-like instruments are thought to have entered Italy at the time of the fifth Crusade (1217-21) and were used in outdoor ceremonial or dance music. In the fifteenth century, shawms and trumpets became the main instruments of the so-called “high”, or loud, outdoor ensembles, and appear in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. In France after 1500 they were known as hautbois (meaning high or loud woodwind) and this name was eventually transferred to their more refined descendant, the oboe, in the late seventeenth century. During the sixteenth century, the rough-sounding shawm became less popular in ensemble music, giving way to a mellower blend of strings, cornetts, and trombones. Although the shawm was Middle Eastern in origin, the later development of its two vibrating reeds probably
owes a debt to the indigenous European bagpipe. The air supply distinguishes the shawm and the bagpipe — the shawm is blown, the double reed held between the lips, while the bagpipe’s windbag acts as a bellows operated under the player’s arm. A number of other instruments developed in Europe using the double-reed principle. The racket, which appeared in the midsixteenth century and was similar to the shawm, was made of tubes folded several times to fit inside a compact cylinder. In Michael Praetorius's 1619 compendium of early seventeenth-century musical knowledge, the Syntagma Musicum, the racket’s sound is described as “quiet, almost like blowing through a comb.” Another variant, the curtal, with its U-shaped tube within a single piece of wood, was the forerunner of the modern bassoon.


[Fr. anche; Ger. Rohrblatt; It. ancia; Sp. lengueta, cana], A thin, elastic strip, fixed at one end and free at the other, set into vibration by moving air. Reeds are the sound generators in woodwind instruments (except flutes) and many other aerophones [see ill.]. Woodwinds generally use reeds made from cane, particularly from the arundo donax grown in southern France. Plastic reeds have recently found limited acceptance, however. Organs and accordions have steel or brass reeds.

Cane reeds are constructed as either double reeds or single reeds. A double reed, used in the oboe, the bassoon, and shawms, consists of two pieces of cane carved and bound into a hollow, round shape at one end and flattened out and shaved thin at the other. The single reed of the clarinet or saxophone is a flat strip of cane shaved at one end and fastened at the other to a mouthpiece. Bagpipes and folk clarinets use idioglot single reeds, which are formed by a narrow, U-shaped slit in a tube of cane.

In woodwinds, a reed and a pipe constitute a coupled system with a soft reed. The vibrating reed sets the air column in motion, but, because the reed is capable of vibrating over a wide range of frequencies, the length of the pipe determines the frequency of the system. Metal reeds, on the other hand, are hard: they vibrate at one pitch only. Thus metal-reed instruments characteristically have many reeds and, except in the organ, no pipes (e.g., the mouth organ and harmonium). Metal reeds, except in the organ, are usually free reeds: they do not strike the frame that holds them and do not interrupt the flow of air. Cane reeds usually act as beating reeds: they beat against the frame that holds them (or, in the case of double reeds, the two halves beat against one another), periodically cutting off the airstream and producing a sharper sound, rich in upper partials. The reeds of organ pipes behave in this way as well, though they are made of metal.

Woodwind instruments such as the oboe, bassoon, clarinet, and saxophone are played by setting the lips directly onto the reed, thus damping it slightly and enabling fine tuning. In many reedpipes, however, the reed is removed from the player’s control and enclosed in a wind cap, producing a harsher, “reedier” sound.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622

Adolph von Menzel. A Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci.

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