Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection

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soprano saxophone

The soprano saxophone is an end-blown single-reed aerophone invented in Belgium around 1840 that is now distributed throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is heard today primarily in the following contexts: military/marching/concert bands (rarely today, more frequently in the past), as a solo instrument in recital settings or with a concert band, in mixed saxophone ensembles (see Saxophone Ensembles), and as an auxiliary solo instrument in jazz combos and jazz big bands. The soprano saxophone is performed both by amateurs and professionals, males and females. School-age children can learn the tenor saxophone as part of school music programs and choose to continue their study in the university setting with lessons and/or ensemble participation, or even earn degrees in saxophone performance at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Amateurs can also find musical outlets in community concert and jazz bands. Professionals operate in one or both of two general spheres: the classical/educational domain, centered in academic institutions where performers teach, present formal recitals, solo with school ensembles, and direct student ensembles; and the jazz/commercial domain, where they perform at concert and club venues as members of established bands/combos or as back-up musicians for other performers, produce commercial recordings, do studio session work (recordings for movies, television, and commercials), and free-lance as teachers and clinicians. A substantial body of solo literature that is performed primarily in the classical sphere for soloist competitions and student and faculty recitals has accrued since the latter half of the 19th century. This repertoire grew exponentially in the course of the 20th century. Today, at least in the United States, the soprano saxophone is most strongly associated with jazz idioms. Description The soprano saxophone is basically a conical tube that is constructed in two sections, the neck and the body, with a single-reed mouthpiece attached to its narrow end. Made from drawn brass, the tube is straight with a slightly flaring bell. Twenty of its twenty-one tone holes are located along the length of the body, the twenty-first on the neck. These holes vary greatly in their size, but in general start out wider at the bell end and become narrower near the mouthpiece end. All have raised rims (called collars) and are covered and uncovered with leather- or felt-padded keys controlled with a complex system of buttons, rod-axels, and springs. The single beating-reed (of cane) that is used to generate sound on this instrument is affixed over a flat rectangular opening (called the table) on a plastic mouthpiece (can also be made from wood or metal) with the aid of a screw-tightened metal ligature. The base of the mouthpiece is slid over the end of the neck, which is lapped with a thin layer of cork to make the joint airtight and to allow for the fine-tuning of the instrument. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production The player, either standing or seated, holds the instrument vertically in front of him- or herself. A neck strap attached to the back of the instrument supports most of the instrument’s weight, assisted by a thumb rest for the right hand thumb. The thumb and all the fingers of the left hand and all the fingers of the right hand are used to operate the keywork. The tip of the mouthpiece is inserted into the player’s mouth and pressed upon from the top with the upper teeth and from beneath (the reed side) with the lower lip; a tight seal around the mouthpiece is produced with the player’s lips using the embouchure muscles. The instrument functions acoustically as an open conical tube, meaning that it overblows at every harmonic partial (starting at the octave above the fundamental). With all the finger holes covered the lowest sounding pitch on the soprano saxophone in B-flat is A-flat3; the upper limit of its range depends on the performer, but E-flat6 is usually given as its nominal highest note. Its compass is therefore about two-and-one-half octaves, and over this range it is fully chromatic. It has a rich, full tone over much of its compass, and a wide dynamic range. Jazz saxophonists and avant-garde musicians in particular often challenge the conventional limits of sound production: by extending the instrument's upper register; through the bending of pitches; and by producing expressive timbral effects achieved through overblowing, multiphonics and other forms of intentional distortion. As with all B-flat and E-flat saxophones, notation for the soprano saxophone is written in the treble clef between B-flat3 and F6; it sounds a major second lower than notated. Origins/History/Evolution The soprano saxophone is a member of a family of like instruments invented around 1840 by the Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax. A patent for the saxophone family was awarded to Sax by the French government on 22 June 1846, but the actual invention of the instrument may have been as early as 1838. He designed two lines of saxophones each in seven registers, one set for orchestral use (all but one model in this line are now obsolete) and the other for military band use (of which four registers, including the soprano saxophone in B-flat, remain in common use today). Sax’s original concept and design of the soprano saxophone has held up fairly well over time, although numerous changes to his key-work system and the addition of more tone holes have been made by subsequent makers over the years, some of which have been retained, others not.

cornet à pistons

The cornet à pistons is an end-blown lip-reed aerophone outfitted with piston valves and interchangeable crooks that make it a fully chromatic instrument that can be pitched in a number of different keys. Originating in 1820s France and falling out of usage by the early 20th century, the cornet à pistons (known in England and the United States as the cornopean) is an early form of the modern cornet. Pictured here is a cornet à pistons made around 1850 in Lyon, France, by the maker Couturier. It looks different from a modern cornet in large part because of the design of some of its valves; the primary tubing of the instrument enters/exits the first and third valves at the bottom of their valve casings rather than their sides, giving the instrument its distinctive rounded look. (More information on the valve designs used for this instrument will be found in the following paragraphs.) While the cornet à pistons were incorporated into dance music ensembles and, at least in France, occasionally in the orchestra, the military band of the mid-19th century was probably the primary setting in which the cornet à pistons was found. Today, the cornet à pistons is of interest primarily to collectors (individuals and museums) of historic brass instruments and to a few performers belonging to ensembles specializing in the performance of mid-19th century dance and military band music. Description The cornet à pistons pictured here is an approximately 4.5-foot length of brass tubing with a cup mouthpiece inserted at one end, a flared bell at its other end, and interrupted mid-course by three spring-loaded piston valves (the first and third valves are of the Stölzel type, the second of the Périnet type--see final paragraph and the Of Tubes, Slides, and Valves special topics page). The bore profile this tubing is cylindrical from the mouthpiece end of the tubing through the valves, at which point it becomes moderately conical until the bell flare. The instrument includes six terminal crooks of various lengths and designs (see detail #1): two straight shank ones (middle right) the incorporation of which produce B-flat2 (shorter) and A2 (longer) fundamentals, respectively; two coiled crooks (upper left) producing A-flat2 and G2 fundamentals; and two oblong crooks (lower left) producing F2 and E2 fundamentals. The instrument also includes a single extender or coupler marked ‘MiB’ (bottom right) that can be added between the E crook and the instrument itself thereby lowering the pitch of the instrument a minor second (m2) to E-flat2. The pre-valve segment of the air column, at its second U-bend, has a tuning slide, as does each valve’s tubing at its U-bend. As pictured in the gallery image, the cup mouthpiece is inserted into the B-flat crook, which in turn is inserted into the lead pipe of the instrument, this combination producing an instrument with a fundamental of B-flat2. The body, all the crooks, and the mouthpiece are stored in a wooden case when not in use (detail #2). Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production A player, either seated or standing, grasps the three valve casings with their left hand and positions the cornet à pistons so that the mouthpiece touches their lips, the valve buttons pointing upwards, and the bell facing forwards. The first three fingers of the right hand operate the three valves; the small finger of this hand hooks around a C-shaped rest that helps the player balance the instrument. The player must choose one terminal crook to establish the fundamental for the instrument according to the needs of the musical work being performed at the moment. Once this is established six further fundamentals can be produced on the instrument by depressing various combinations of valves, each combination adding an additional length of tubing to the air column of the instrument. With each of the seven air column lengths the performer may produce a fundamental pitch (called a pedal tone) and the notes in the natural harmonic series above it by controlling the force of the airstream (with their diaphragm muscles) and its modulation (with their embouchure muscles adjusting lip tension). The fundamental of the basic tube length of the instrument as assembled in gallery #1 is B-flat2; the practical range of the instrument is E3 to B-flat5. The cornet à pistons has a wide dynamic range and in general a mellower tone quality than its cousin the trumpet (listen to audio #1), though there are subtle differences in timbre depending on which crook is installed (generally, with the shorter crooks the instrument has a relatively brighter sound than when the longer crooks are in use). Origins/History/Evolution Carse describes the invention of the cornet à pistons as involving the addition of valves (initially two, and later three) to a relatively obscure French natural horn called the cornet simple (other sources call this instrument the German posthorn and post-horn des Allemande) in the mid-1820s, possibly by the Parisian maker Hilari (or Hilary). Extant cornet à pistons are generally outfitted with piston valves of the Stölzel type, a design patented in 1816 in which the air channel passed in part longitudinally through the interior of the piston itself. They were also outfitted with terminal crooks, like natural horns of the day (see Classical natural horn), used to alter the length, and therefore the key, of the instrument. Given that the cornet à pistons was in a sense a modified natural horn and included several crooks, it should not be surprising that the earliest generation of performers of this instrument were generally horn players, not trumpet players. As the 19th century progressed, design changes to the cornet à pistons took place such as the use of one Périnet valve (a design patented in 1839) and the reduction of the number of terminal crooks down to just two (B-flat and A shanks). By 1865 a descendant of the cornet à pistons with a slightly-less conical bore profile, no crooks, a shallower mouthpiece design, and three Périnet valves had evolved and was favored by trumpet players rather than horn players. This was what we might consider the modern cornet. Some cornet à pistons manufactured in France as late as 1915 continued to be made with Stölzel valves, but long before then the Périnet valve had won out and has remained the primary piston valve design right up to the present for piston valve brass instruments.