Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Philip Dale talks us through the romantic trombone that he plays in Bruckner’s sixth symphony:

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Pedal Harp


Frances Kelly and her 18th century, single action pedal harp.

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The clarinet was a relatively late developer compared to many orchestral instruments.

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James Anderson, OAE musician, tells us a bit about his Cimbasso which he’ll be playing at our Glyndebourne performances of Falstaff  this summer…

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The countertenor is the highest male adult voice.  Peter Giles, a professional countertenor and noted author on the subject, defines the countertenor as a musical part, rather than a vocal style or mechanism. The countertenor range is generally equivalent to an alto range, extending from approximately G3 or A3 to E5 or G5 and they will usually have a vocal center similar in placement to that of a mezzo-soprano.

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The sackbut is a trombone from the Renaissance and Baroque eras and, along with the cornetto and organ, was one of the most important instruments in Baroque polychoral (a Venetian style of music which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation) works.  It belongs to the brass family, a lot like a trumpet, except that it has a telescopic slide with which the player varies the length of the tube to change pitches.

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With its unique plucked sound, stately shape and often beautifully adorned exterior, the harpsichord is one of the most recognisable sounds and images of the glorious baroque.

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“Majestical and Stately, and not much Inferior to the Trumpet.” So wrote Henry Playford of the oboe in The Sprightly Companion, an oboe ‘how to’ published in 1695. Handel’s ‘favourite’ instrument, Tomaso Albinoni’s vehicle to fame (listen to his Opus. 7 oboe concertos) and the lucky recipient of some of Vivaldi’s most technical writing (he wrote 17 concertos for oboe and strings), the Baroque oboe is one of the OAE’s glorious instruments.

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Today’s horn, what is often known as the French horn, is a descendant of the natural horn, which in turn is a descendant of the hunting horn. Small and circular in shape, the hunting horn was easy to carry and convenient to play whilst sat atop a moving horse. Although the basic shape is still the same, the horn has undergone many developments which have made it a more versatile and manageable instrument. The natural horn is a complex instrument which although confined to the back seat of the stage, is one of the often unsung heroes of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

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Period Instruments. Some frequently asked questions

period instruments

 1. Why is the orchestra called “The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment”?

We are a period instrument orchestra named after the age in European history known as The Enlightenment, an era spanning the late seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This was a time of great experimentation and innovation, a period during which instruments, techniques and also the form of musical performance developed greatly.

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What makes the OAE a ‘period instrument orchestra’ is that the players use either original instruments or copies of original instruments from the Age of the Enlightenment (17th/18th centuries). This means that the sound they create is closer to the sound that composers such as Mozart and Haydn would have had in mind when composing. Performing with period instruments and endeavouring to be as faithful as possible to the composer’s original intentions is known as Historically Informed Performance or HIP for short.

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