1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wind Instruments

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WIND INSTRUMENTS (Fr. instruments à vent, Ger. Blasinstrumente, Ital. strumenti da fiato), a numerous and powerful section of the orchestra, classified according to the acoustic properties of the instruments and to certain important structural features. The first great natural subdivision is that of (A) mouth blown, and (B) mechanically blown, instruments.

Section A falls into the classes of (1) wood wind, (2) brass wind, with their numerous subdivisions.

1. (a) Wood Wind. — Pipes without embouchure or mouthpiece, such as the ancient Egyptian nay, a long flute with narrow bore held obliquely, and the syrinx or pan-pipes, both of which are blown by directing the breath not into the pipe but across the open end, so that it impinges against the sharp edge of the rim. (b) Pipes with embouchure but no mouthpiece, such as the transverse flute, piccolo and fife; see Flute and Mouthpiece, (c) Pipes with whistle mouthpieces, an ancient contrivance, extensively used by primitive races of all ages, which finds application at the present day in the flageolet, the whistle, and in organ pipes known as the flue-work. A large class of medieval instruments, widely diffused but now obsolete, were known as recorders, beak or fipple-flutes, flûtes à bec, flûtes douces, flûtes anglaises (Fr.), Plock or Blockflöten, Schnabelflöten (Ger.). (d) Reed instruments, by which are to be understood not reed pipes but instruments with reed mouthpieces, which subdivide again into two families owing to the very different acoustic conditions produced by the combination of a reed mouthpiece with (1) a cylindrical pipe and (2) a conical pipe. These combinations influence not only the timbre, but principally the harmonics obtained by overblowing and used to supplement the fundamental scale given out as the lateral holes are uncovered one by one; the practical difference to the performer may be summed up as one of fingering, (d1) comprises pipes with cylindrical bore with either single or double reed mouthpiece, such as the clarinet family, the obsolete batyphone (q.v.) and the family of cromornes (q.v.). To these we may add the aulos and tibia of ancient Greece and Rome, which at different times had single and double reed mouthpieces. These pipes all overblow a twelfth. (d2) Pipes with conical bore and either single or double reed mouthpiece. This class comprises the important members of the oboe family (with double reed) derived from the Schalmey and Pommer of the middle ages, the Schryari, an instrument which had an ephemeral existence, at the end of the 16th century and consisted of an inverted cone with a double reed placed within a pirouette or capsule, which had the result of restricting the compass of the instrument to the fundamental scale, for harmonics can only be produced when the reed is controlled by the lips (see Reed Instruments). The modern family of saxophones with single reed mouthpiece, intended to replace the clarinets in military bands, may be classed with the wood wind, although actually made of brass for durability. The same may be said of the sarrusophones, a family of brass oboes with double reed, invented by M. Sarrus to replace the oboe in military bands. To these we may add the Cheng (q.v.) or Chinese organ, consisting of a set of pipes arranged in a hollow gourd and sounded by means of free-reeds, the air being fed to the pipes in the reservoir by the mouth through a pipe shaped like the spout of a tea-pot. The Cheng is important, as embodying the principle of the harmonium. (e) Wooden tubes of conical bore having lateral holes and sometimes from one to three keys, played by means of a cup or funnel mouthpiece, such as the obsolete cornet (q.v.) or Zinke, which enjoyed such widespread popularity during the 16th and 17th centuries, and their bass the serpent. The bagpipe and its drones and chaunter are indirectly mouthblown, with the exception of the Union or Irish and of the Border bagpipes, and of the French bagpipe known as musette, in which the bag is fed with air by means of bellows, instead of through an insufflation pipe.

2. The Brass Wind consists of the following classes: (a) Tubes of fixed length, such as the natural trumpet and French horn, all medieval horns and trumpets, including the busine, the tuba, the oliphant, the hunting horn and the bugle, the classical buccina, cornu, lituus and tuba. The compass of all these was restricted to the few notes of the harmonic series obtained by overblowing. (b) Tubes of which the length is varied by a slide, such as the sackbut family, the slide trombone and slide trumpet. When the slide is drawn out the column of air is lengthened and the pitch proportionally lowered. Each position or shift of the slide enables the performer to overblow the harmonic series a semitone lower, (c) Tubes of which the length is varied by lateral holes and keys. To this class belong the keyed bugle and its bass the ophicleide, the obsolete keyed trumpet and the bass horns and Russian bassoon, which immediately preceded the invention of valves. The saxophones and sarrusophones might also be classed with these (see above, 1 d2). (d) Tubes of which the length is varied by valves or pistons. This class is the most modern of all, dating from the invention of valves in 1815, which revolutionized the technique and scoring for brass instruments. A rational subdivision of valve instruments is made in Germany into whole and half instruments (see Bombardon and Valves), according as to whether the whole length of tubing comes into practical use or only half, or from the performer's point of view whether the fundamental note of the harmonic series can be produced, or whether the series begins with the second member, an octave above the first, in which case it is obvious that half the tubing is of no practical value. The principal piston instruments are: the whole instruments — contrabass and bass tubas, bombardons or helicons; the euphonium or tenor tuba; the half instruments — saxhorns, Flügelhorns, tenor horns, cornets, the valve trombone, valve trumpet and valve horn (French horn), and the Wagner tubas, which are really the basses of the French horn and are played with funnel-shaped mouthpieces. The brass wind is further divided according to the shape of the mouthpiece used. (a) With funnel-shaped mouthpiece, such as the French horn, tenor horn and Wagner tubas; and (b) with cup-shaped mouthpiece, comprising all the other brass wind instruments except the bugle, of which the mouthpiece is a hybrid, neither true funnel nor true cup.

Section B: Mechanically Blown Instruments. — This section consists mainly of instruments having the air supply fed by means of bellows; it comprises the two classes: (1) with keyboard, (2) without keyboard.

1. This includes all kinds of organs: the ancient hydraulic organ or hydraulus, differing from the pneumatic only in that water pressure was used to compress the air supply instead of the bellows being weighted by means of the foot and body of the performer at first and later by means of weights; the reed organ, consisting of pipes furnished with beating reeds, known also as the reed work when incorporated with the large church organ; the medieval portative and positive organs; the large modern church organ. To this class also belong the accordion and concertina and the numerous instruments of the harmonium type which have free instead of beating reeds, a difference which confers upon them the power of dynamic expression denied to all organs fitted with flue pipes or pipes having beating reeds. The complex instruments known as organized pianos also come within this category.

2. This comprises the bagpipes known as musette, and the Union or Irish and the Border bagpipes having a wind supply fed by bellows instead of by the insufflation pipe proper to the bagpipe; the barrel organ having instead of a keyboard a barrel studded with nails, which lift the valves admitting air to the flue pipes generally hidden within the case.

(K. S.)