Hear the Sounds of the Actual Instruments for Which Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Handel Originally Composed Their Music

When we go to a con­cert of orches­tral music today, we hear most every piece played on the same range of instru­ments — instru­ments we know and love, to be sure, but instru­ments designed and oper­at­ed with­in quite strict para­me­ters. The pleas­ing qual­i­ty of the sounds they pro­duce may make us believe that we’re hear­ing every­thing just as the com­pos­er orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed, but we usu­al­ly aren’t. To hear what the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Han­del, and Haydn would have had in their head as they com­posed back in their day, you’d have to have an orches­tra go so far as to play it not with mod­ern instru­ments, but the same ones orches­tras used back in those com­posers’ life­times.

Enter Lon­don’s Orches­tra of the Age of the Enlight­en­ment, which takes its name from the era of the late 18th cen­tu­ry from which it draws most of its reper­toire — and from which it draws most of its instru­ments, a vital part of its mis­sion to achieve peri­od-accu­rate sound. You can read more about the OAE’s instru­ments on its web site, or bet­ter yet, head over to its Youtube chan­nel to hear those instru­ments demon­strat­ed and their his­tor­i­cal back­grounds explained. Here we have four of the OAE’s videos: on the clar­inet they use for Mozart’s Clar­inet Con­cer­to, on the con­tra­bas­soon they use for Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­pho­ny and Hayd­n’s Cre­ation, the organ they use for Han­del’s Organ Con­cer­to, and an oboe like the one Haydn would have known.

“We love the music we play,” says OAE dou­ble bassist Cecelia Brugge­mey­er, “and we love ask­ing ques­tions about the music we play.” So when you use an instru­ment like the 300-year-old bass she shows off in anoth­er video, “you sud­den­ly find it does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do the things a mod­ern instru­ment will do, and that sets up a whole train of ques­tions.” These include, “What would Bach have heard? How might the play­ers in his day have played? What does that mean for us, play­ing today? What does that mean for live music now, with this his­toric infor­ma­tion? We’re not try­ing to re-cre­ate the past. We’re try­ing to make some­thing that’s excit­ing now but using what was from the past” — not a bad metaphor, come to think of it, for the entire enter­prise of clas­si­cal-music per­for­mance in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

Watch a Musi­cian Impro­vise on a 500-Year-Old Music Instru­ment, The Car­il­lon

Vis­it an Online Col­lec­tion of 61,761 Musi­cal Instru­ments from Across the World

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

Hear a 9,000 Year Old Flute—the World’s Old­est Playable Instrument—Get Played Again

The Musi­cal Instru­ments in Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Get Brought to Life, and It Turns Out That They Sound “Painful” and “Hor­ri­ble”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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