Mozart's orchestras were quite small by today's standards.
The scores for his orchestral works often include no percussion at all,
and when they do usually just the tympani. We can list several reasons for his small orchestras:
- He played in smaller spaces for smaller audiences. Concerts were often held in
palaces or even private homes.
- His piano was not very powerful. The modern concert grand piano is much improved.
The piano, of course, was the instrument on which Mozart himself usually performed, and
he would not want to play with an orchestra that would overpower him.
- A number of modern instruments were not yet invented. We mention some of them below.
Musical Instruments in Mozart's Time
In the 18th
century many current musical instrments had not yet been invented.
- Brass Horn Family
No brass instruments in Mozart's time had valves. Metal working techniques were just
not yet good enough to make them. Tubas had not been invented.
- Woodwind Family
Woodwinds in Mozart's time truly were all wood. Saxophones had not been invented.
The contra-bassoon did not exist. There was no piccolo in Mozart's orchestra,
nor a bass clarinet.
- Percussion Family
Percussionists today play all sorts of specialized instruments that did not exist in Mozart's
- Electronic Instruments
Electricity was not available in Mozart's time.
There were no electronic keyboards, no electric guitars, no electronic devices of any kind.
Many of the instruments that Mozart did have were significantly different,
and have been much improved today.
In Mozart's day the Piano was quite a new invention. Mozart's piano had a much
smaller range than the modern piano - at least an octave less on both the treble
and bass ends. His piano also had only one string for each note, while our modern
piano has three strings per note except at the bottom end, so a modern piano
is much more powerful than Mozart's. Of course Mozart's beautiful piano concertos
and piano sonatas do sound somewhat different on the pianos we have today. Do they
sound better? Not everyone agrees on that.
Violin makers in the 18th century the
were already making instruments with the same shape and proportions of our modern
violin. In fact many of the most prized violins in use by fine musicans today were made
then. Herr Karl usually plays on a violin that was made in 1703, more than half
a century before Mozart was born. Compositions like his Violin Concerto in G that
we do in Wolferl would have sounded very much the same in his day.
The Harpsichord, not the piano, was the most common keyboard instrument in the
Wolferl's world. On the outside Mozart's piano and Mozart's harpsichord looked
quite similar. Inside, the harpsichord has a string for each note, just as Mozart's
piano had. However the strings of the harpsichord are plucked by quills when
you press the keys, rather than being struck by hammers as the strings are in a
piano. Because of this different mechanism, the harpsichord player has very
little control over how loud or soft the sound will be. That control is the
great advantage of the piano.
A string instrument which is plucked with a pick. A mandolin has four pairs of
strings, with each pair tuned the same as one of the four strings on a violin.
The mandolin of Mozart's time had a very rounded back.
When Mozart called for the Horn in his scores, he expected an instrument which
today we call the "natural horn". This instrument is similar in shape to the
French Horn, but it has no valves. As you can imagine, it's really difficult to play
on the natural horn a composition such as the Horn Concerto we do in Wolferl.
In the late 18th century flutes were wooden,
unlike the modern metal flute. Their sound is somewhat softer and sweeter than the
modern flute. The modern flute also has many additional keys, making it much easier to
play certain fast passages and trills.
The glockenspiel has a metal bar for each note,
which the player strikes with a mallot, essentially a small hammer. This instrument
is often found today in marching bands. Just between us, in Mozart's opera "The
Magic Flute" Papageno carries a "magic" glockenspiel but he doesn't actually play it.
He just pretends to play the glockenspiel while someone off-stage plays the
music on a celesta, which is an instrument that also has metal bar for each note,
but the celesta has a keyboard, so you can play chords and fast passages on it
much more easily.
The clarinet has developed and improved a lot since
Mozart's day. The clarinet that Anton Stadler would have used for the first performance
of Mozart's beautiful clarinet concerto might not have had more than five keys.