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Period Instruments

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What are early or period instruments and how are they different from other instruments?

We are now in a period in which access to music and musical instruments of all kinds has not only exploded, but it has become difficult to focus on a single sound, a note, or some chord. These instruments were constructed when a horse was the fastest mode of transport, candles were the light, wood was the primary material. There is little metal, only some wire, gut strings or modern substitutes on lutes, and glue rather than screws or fasteners. Only the best material is used, for its density, working properties and its contribution to the whole.

These lutes, guitars, harpsichords and pianos were originally made in workshops by experienced artisans rather than by any method of mechanized production, though they certainly utilized methods of uniform production. The resulting instruments are softer, lighter, simpler and have more individuality than contemporary electronic, digital or acoustic counterparts. They reflect the player's and maker's personality. But they are fragile, unpredictable and difficult to maintain and tune. So recordings of them are an ideal medium, since we can do all the preparation for recording off-stage. Noises can be minimized and unequal-tempered tunings, which abound in these recordings, can be made more accurate.

Who made them?

The larger keyboard instruments in the collection are: a two-manual Frank Hubbard Harpsichords Inc. 1980, after Taskin 1769 with a carefully reproduced historical action and stringing; a single-manual Italian after an anonymous 1694 instrument at the Smithsonian Institution by Johannes Secker; a Viennese-style piano after Stein, c. 1785 by Secker. The Haydn sonata in D and the guitar and piano music were recorded on an 1825 John Broadwood and Sons square piano, restored, loaned and prepared by Marinus Van Prattenburg. The William Byrd and John Blow pieces were recorded on an Edward R. Turner copy of small Italian Gregorii model, loaned by Jenni Gehlbach.

The lutes used are: an 8-course lute after Frei, 1978, and a 13-course lute after Duiffopruchar/Widhalm 1980 by Robert Lundberg; two 11-course lutes after Hofmann and anonymous French-school, 1986 and 1990, mandore after anonymous French, 1994, 14-course theorbo after Hofmann, all by Clive Titmuss; a 14-course theorbo after an anonymous French-school model by Richard Berg, 1984.

The guitar is a copy of Panormo, around 1820 by Clive Titmuss.

How are they recorded?

The instruments are difficult to record technically, in the sense that they don't make a loud or penentrating sound and require a background of near silence. But they need a special approach in the recording process, and in some cases difficulties were overcome by the ingenuity of our recording engineers, Don Harder, David Kelln, and Frank Lockwood. When we needed to correct imblance of treble and bass, or of one instrument or the other, we needed to find and correct a source of noise in the keyboards, or to improve the signal to noise ratio of the lute, they found a way. The instruments themselves generate noises, and this must be carefully managed by the player and technician. So the listener will find an intriguing mix of location and studio sound, and a variety of microphone techniques was used on different instruments, according to their needs. The material heard in the early recordings was re-mastered and de-noised for web purposes, but the individual character of the recordings was not lost.


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