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The Trombone ForumHorns, Gear, and EquipmentInstruments(Moderators: tbone62, slide advantage) Sackbuts -- how to get into playing the sackbut?
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harrison.t.reed
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« on: Mar 14, 2017, 12:53PM »

Hey forum!

I am interested in possibly dipping my toes into playing the alto sackbut. At this point, I am not so much interested in absolute historic accuracy, but more of the way the instrument seems to be able to fit into an ensemble of light instruments (woodwinds, strings, quiet organ) without overpowering the entire group.

Ideally I would want to play it in an improvised group of mostly woodwinds. The Lindberg album, Trombone and Voice in the Hapsburg Empire, and his Baroque Trombone disc are excellent examples of the type of music and ensemble I'd want to be putting together.

Now, it seems to me that to get a "real" historically based alto sackbut will set me back at least four thousand dollars, and probably a lot more. To dip my toes into a new hobby, I don't want to be spending that kind of dough.

Does the Wessex sackbut, which I know is a baroque trombone only in shape, and barely that, even come close to hitting any of these key (to me) points?

1. Is it relatively mellow (ie not overpowering) like a sackbut? What are the factors that keep the instrument from cutting like a modern trombone?

2. Is the tone not horrible? I know that it is not an accurate replica of a sackbut, but neither is a Conn 36H. The Conn sounds great. Is the quality and design of the Wessex sackbut such that it sounds nice, if not quite accurate historically?

3. Does anyone know if the shank to the Wessex receiver is proprietary, or do any small shank mouthpieces work? I probably will end up trying to use a very wide rim (which I know is a cardinal sin), but my real purpose is to play something that sounds good and does not overpower a mostly woodwind group. If I can do a DE setup or play my Griego alto piece, that would be ideal.


If anyone who has anything to say about the Wessex sackbut, particularly the alto, wants to comment on it, please do!

If anyone has tips for getting into the hobby of playing sackbut, or models or brands that I have overlooked, please let me know too.

Hopefully this can become an in depth discussion.
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 14, 2017, 01:22PM »

You would be much better off just playing your 36H for your purpose. You can play those rep just fine. Listen to people more specialized players than Lindberg to get the idea of style and go from there. If you really want a compromise sackbut, I would recommend Nartiss over Wessex, and that's not even a close competition;

http://www.lazarsearlymusic.com/Sackbut-Nartiss/Nartiss_Sackbut.htm

But again, you are much better off playing 36H. Half of the rep you describe (solo motet with trombone countermelody by 18th century Viennese composers) are not really sackbut rep anyways. They are mostly more recent, and classical trombones would be more appropriate.
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« Reply #2 on: Mar 14, 2017, 01:24PM »

I'm pretty sure that an accurate mouthpiece will do a lot toward getting the right sound, even on a Hackbutt like mine (mine is a tenor trombone with the bell flare cut off).

I would think that the Wessex will serve your purpose and is a lot less painful to make than hacking the bell flare off an alto trombone (except maybe a pBone Mini, but that may not do well either).

I played in a trio with a violin and a viola (playing cello parts) and it's an interesting experience I wish I could do more of.
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« Reply #3 on: Mar 14, 2017, 01:54PM »

See, the 36H is very loud, still, compared to historically informed and equipped brass players I've heard. In a band or orchestra, it is fine, but not as the only brass in a group of woodwinds. People say the alto is soft and dainty, and it is more so than tenor, but not nearly so much as the baroque trombones I've heard.

I have been using my 36H already for this purpose, and it usually overpowers the group. It's probably just me.

Checking out that other Sackbut now...

Does the Narciss take a standard small shank or is it proprietary?
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« Reply #4 on: Mar 14, 2017, 02:17PM »

I haven't played the Wessex alto, but the tenor and bass really sound or feel nothing like the authentic item. You just can't get the same level of lightness. It might be softer than a modern alto trombone just because of the size of the bell, but the construction of the instrument doesn't lend itself to the extremely light playing you can do on a real instrument. I really like the Ewald Meinl alto which is significantly smaller than the Egger and has a TINY 3.75" bell, you can play unbelievably light on it and the sound is extremely clear. I totally think it's worth the investment. Be aware though that the alto sackbut wasn't used anywhere near as much as the tenor and you don't get to use it all that often!
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« Reply #5 on: Mar 14, 2017, 03:02PM »

Thanks! I read almost everything you put on the forum about baroque trombones, Barry, and respect what you are putting out there on the forum -- not just here. I would love a Meinl. Definitely not in my cards at the moment.

Do the Wessex sackbuts, despite not being true to their name, make a pleasant sound though? For example, the Jinbao stock alto I got ten years ago sounded terrible before the leadpipe change. It was not an ideal alto, but it still sounded good after I worked on fixing what I could. Do the Wessex baroque models sound ok? No really crazy partial adjustments that make it unplayable? I'm not talking like "that sounds bad because it definitely is not authentic", but instead "that strange looking thing sounds kind of subdued and nice".

I realize that most music is written for tenor, but I'd figure out a way to arrange some stuff. I was thinking it'd be fun to take pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries and arrange for Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Sackbut/Alto Trombone, French Horn. By no means historical or anything, but it would be fun. Being able to play and blend comfortably without blowing away the woodwinds (not comfortable on the Alessi tenor) is the main goal.
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« Reply #6 on: Mar 14, 2017, 03:25PM »

The Wessex mouthpiece receiver is a standard small shank trombone size. It will be softer sounding than your Alto Trbn. There is no leadpipe. While it is not exactly an authentic museum copy, it is a reasonable compromise. IMHO, I think the Wessex tenor sackbut is a better player than the alto.
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« Reply #7 on: Mar 14, 2017, 03:36PM »

I think Harrison has a viola fetish :-P Evil

Actually, to cover cello lines I'd need a tenor with F-attachment.  New York Pro Musica had one (a "hackbut").
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« Reply #8 on: Mar 14, 2017, 03:58PM »

You would be much better off just playing your 36H for your purpose. You can play those rep just fine. Listen to people more specialized players than Lindberg to get the idea of style and go from there.

But again, you are much better off playing 36H. Half of the rep you describe (solo motet with trombone countermelody by 18th century Viennese composers) are not really sackbut rep anyways. They are mostly more recent, and classical trombones would be more appropriate.

Yes.

See, the 36H is very loud, still, compared to historically informed and equipped brass players I've heard. In a band or orchestra, it is fine, but not as the only brass in a group of woodwinds. People say the alto is soft and dainty, and it is more so than tenor, but not nearly so much as the baroque trombones I've heard.

I have been using my 36H already for this purpose, and it usually overpowers the group. It's probably just me.


But a Wessex alto is not going to make you a "historically informed and equipped brass player." It's not even going to get you closer - no more than my buying a cheap keyboard from Walmart is going to get me closer to being a piano soloist with the NY Phil.

In a blind test with many small bore trombones and a Wessex (or Nartiss), assuming the same modern mouthpiece used for all, I would be surprised if an average brass player could tell much of a difference if any. An average audience member would almost definitely have no idea. Really that extra little bit of flare doesn't change much, so a hackbut with a modern mouthpiece will sound like a modern trombone. A completely "proper" setup will sound weird because it isn't meant to work with modern instruments.

If I were you, if you're playing with modern woodwinds, I'd use a modern trombone. If you're overpowering, work to play more sensitively/quietly. There's no reason that any modern trombone itself should automatically overpower other modern instruments and there are modern (enough) pieces that use brass/woodwind instrumentation that should prove that. Stravinsky Octet comes immediately to mind. The power is in the player's hands.

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« Reply #9 on: Mar 14, 2017, 04:37PM »

It could be that the woodwind players just need to step their game up....   Evil

Thanks Erik. I also have read almost every post you've made on the forum here. I'm hoping to not cause any tension with this subject -- going into it I already know my playing wouldn't be historically informed or sound like a baroque trombone unless I hit you or Barry up for lessons and got appropriate gear. I guess going through with the concept I am talking about in my posts, I would hope it would lead me towards that in the end. So, yes, I completely realize that from where you are standing, my idea is mostly nonsense.

Erik, you don't believe that the alto sackbut with a modern rim mouthpiece, despite sounding more like a modern trombone, would cut a little less? If I could achieve a warm but subdued tone, with some of the flexibility offered by such a small bore, that'd be great to me, and I'd probably want to get deeper into real rep and ancient music ensembles.

Also, thanks Chip.
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« Reply #10 on: Mar 14, 2017, 04:46PM »

Harrison, I have some experience you may find interesting.  I have a "hackbut" that is a Holton Collegiate with the bell flare removed.  I played a high school show where the kids were horribly miked (i.e. not).  Using the Fakebut I was able to play my part but be less strident.  More able to keep my sound under the kids singing.

I think the Nartiss or the Wessex sackbut would serve your purpose fine.  Not historically informed, but that's not what you are looking for.
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« Reply #11 on: Mar 14, 2017, 05:14PM »

Thanks Bruce! I like that story. Mics and kids ... no bueno!

Erik and Barry, how DID you guys get into "for reals" baroque trombone performane???
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« Reply #12 on: Mar 14, 2017, 08:49PM »

It could be that the woodwind players just need to step their game up....   Evil

Thanks Erik. I also have read almost every post you've made on the forum here.


Oof. Sorry.... I doubt I sound very nice usually. It seems to ALWAYS be an uphill battle for us though. We get the problems of trombone players ( I just spent a couple days fighting for slide room in a pit...even though everyone else was perfectly comfortable except for the three trombones) AND the problems of period instruments (sackbut- isn't that just a "primitive" trombone that sounds bad?).

Erik, you don't believe that the alto sackbut with a modern rim mouthpiece, despite sounding more like a modern trombone, would cut a little less? If I could achieve a warm but subdued tone, with some of the flexibility offered by such a small bore, that'd be great to me, and I'd probably want to get deeper into real rep and ancient music ensembles.

I find that the bell flare only really comes into play at the highest volumes. I do actually have a King 606 hackbut though (my father decided to kill my old marching trombone), and I find that I can do just as much at low volumes with a modern trombone no matter what it is (2b to dual bore Edwards). It only changes significantly at higher volumes. It's been awhile since I've tried this though. If some crazy person asked me to play in a modern chamber situation with modern winds tomorrow, I'd never consider using an instrument older than the 1920s (and then only because I have an old 24h and an old NY Bach 6 that I might consider).

Maybe I'm a little confused by the goal. If you want to play 17th century music with period instruments, that's a different thing. If you want to play arrangements from various periods with modern woodwinds, I'd still go with a modern (or modern-ish) trombone.

Erik and Barry, how DID you guys get into "for reals" baroque trombone performane???

That's sort of a long story and I'd feel silly relating it here unless people really want to know. If you do though, feel free to email. I think mine's in my profile.
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« Reply #13 on: Mar 14, 2017, 09:35PM »

I have a Jurgen Voigt historical alto sackbut. The sound is quite interesting. I'll admit, I can't make it work with the period-correct mouthpiece. I'm sure in time, I could learn, but I just don't have the time to devote to learning to maneuver that equipment. I've played the Leopold Mozart on the instrument using a modern mouthpiece with great effect. The performance, for me, was really something special. The downside with no water key was having to remove the outerslide and shake out the condensation between movements!

It sounds like what you're after is not a historically accurate representation, but just the lighter and more subdued sound of the instrument?
I've heard good things about the Wessex line in general.
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« Reply #14 on: Mar 14, 2017, 10:09PM »

I agree--the choice of a good mouthpiece is just as important on a sackbut as it is on a modern trombone.  Our college has two Horst Voigts (an Eb alto and an F/Eb bass), along with a Nartiss tenor and a pair of Finke tenors with F attachments (not historically accurate, of course).  Using a modern trombone mouthpiece seems like a good way to "ease" into a sackbut, but honestly, it made things much more difficult for me--modern mouthpieces have much more resistance on a sackbut, and you'll tire easily.

It's worth the investment to get a good mouthpiece--we bought a set of Geert Van Der Heide mouthpieces, and they really improved the timbre, intonation, and ease of playing all of the sackbuts.  I haven't tried a Wessex, but our Nartiss is a good sackbut for the price--it has good intonation, it slots well, and the slide positions are easy for a modern trombonist to understand.

One last thing about sackbuts--if you're so concerned about being too loud with a group on a modern trombone, that's good--because you can't "push" a sackbut--it gets really blatty if you try to play something like Wagner's "Ride" on it. They blend well with voices if you play them the right way.  It takes time--watch YouTube videos and you'll get the idea.
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« Reply #15 on: Mar 14, 2017, 11:43PM »

Have you checked out Adam Woolf's Sackbut book[http://www.adamwoolf.com/sackbutsolutions.html]? It's a really wonderful book that I found  to be incredibly helpful for finding ways to apply and develop a lot of those playing concepts on modern tenor (in addition to very much home sackbut use).
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« Reply #16 on: Mar 15, 2017, 02:42AM »

The single greatest thing that helped me was learning to play the recorder at a high level.  All of the articulations, phrasing nuances, embellishments...everything that stylistically defines 17th-century music, come into play in the flute music of the time.  From there, just pick up a trombone (Baroque or otherwise) and translate those stylistic actions to a brass instrument.  The only functional difference between sackbut articulation and recorder articulation is the amount of force necessary to initiate the articulation. 

Recorders are also significantly cheaper...
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« Reply #17 on: Mar 15, 2017, 06:15AM »

My unwanted and unasked for $.02

I used to have a Böhm & Meinl bass sackbut that sounded like crap and was a bear to play. The response on that thing was so rough, that I could not play lightly on it at all, not to mention the horrid slide.  That fact that I was using a Slokar Sackbut mouthpiece didn't even hurt it.

I remember trying to work my way though the various Frescobaldi Basso & BC pieces on my old Bach 50GB and frankly it wasn't much better, but that was a huge blow anyway. After 19 years and 3 years away from playing, I sold that Bach (to the local trombone professor who loves it and sound s IMO as crappy on it as I did then) and bought my Yamaha 822G. I was playing through about 18 different Canto, Basso & BC pieces yesterday and was able to achieve a light pristine sound on that instrument that I hadn't been able to achieve with either the Bach or the Böhm & Meinl. Also a lightness of articulation, and believe I could even balance with a gamba or recorder if they'd stay in the same room with me, let alone modern woodwinds. If you can produce a light but air-less sound on your modern trombone, it's less about volume than it is on focus of sound at dynamics under a real-life mf. You'll get more out of studying early music phrasings, use of dynamics and tone intensity over volume on your modern instrument, thab having to deal with a new horn that is conceived as something in between, plus a new mouthpiece... If then you are fascinated enough to make the time and financial investment, go for it. 
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« Reply #18 on: Mar 15, 2017, 08:06AM »

Erik and Barry, how DID you guys get into "for reals" baroque trombone performane???

It started with an absolute obsession with the music. I bought every CD I could find (literally hundreds of them) and listened to them non-stop. Listening to the style is super important. I couldn't afford a sackbut at the time, so I bought one of the plastic cornettos and got some amazing lessons with a player in town who had done extensive studies with the heavyweights in Europe. Being a trombone player, I never got great at that instrument, but I also started getting some nice renaissance recorders and learning to play those to a decent standard. I started getting some gigs -- not with the absolute best players, but not terrible either. From there I met some of the better players in town who started inviting me to at least rehearse with them on occasion. I bought a really crappy sackbut from a domestic maker who was trying to make them, which turned out to be pretty useless. I borrowed some slightly better instruments. Eventually, I went on vacation to Europe and visited both Ewald Meinl and Egger and I went ahead and put in an order for a good instrument. I did lessons and clinics and workshops wherever I could. I practiced a ton. I got better. I got invited to play some amazing gigs where I learned even more. I'm still not a top-tier player and I shouldn't be teaching anyone else, but I keep working on it a lot and I can definitely hang! It's a process, and I continuously learn more about the music and the instrument.
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« Reply #19 on: Mar 15, 2017, 08:34AM »

I think it would be great if there were more amateur ancient music groups around, but that's not really a thing, at least around here.

I wish I had the freedom to do something like you described, Barry. It's a great story!
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« Reply #20 on: Mar 16, 2017, 01:39AM »

A sackbut will not help if you find it hard to play quietly... use a small tenor and work at your end of the dynamic range. You should have no problem blending with modern woodwind who can often be pretty beefy. Equipment is not always an answer.

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« Reply #21 on: Mar 27, 2017, 08:08PM »

Some good advice higher in this thread already. My (okay, more than) two cents :

-If you want to listen to CD's to get familiar with earlier styles, I'd stay away from Lindberg, or other modern soloists for that matter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they don't sound good. I absolutely love Trudel's Trombone Concerti CD, and Jorgen's sackbut CD was the very reason I started playing sackbut. They are amazing musicians who can make any kind of trombone sound good and there's many reasons to listen to those CDs, but I'd argue that learning the style isn't one of them. There are people that spend a lifetime learning early music, reading treatise, reflecting on historical and musicological issues, refining the world's knowledge and comprehension of historical styles...It's a good idea to look there instead, for stylistic inspiration. Couple suggestions : Fede e Amor by Ensemble La Fontaine with Catherine Motuz and Simen van Mechelen on sackbuts and the amazing countertenor Alex Potter (www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWse2wgIlTk); the numerous CDs by Caecilia Consort with Adam Woolf on sackbut;  also Adam's solo album Songs Without Words (www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXdrJxftG-U); and if you dig a bit, you'll find more or less historical recordings of the ''classical'' concertos with period ensembles. Ensemble-wise, plenty to find, if only on YouTube. Oltremontano, Concerto Palatino, His Majesty's.......a great album by ¡Sacabuche!...and many others


-Regarding your instrument question... With the type of ensemble you're talking about, you're basically inventing something anyway, so it doesn't really matter what horn you play, whether it's your modern alto or a small bore tenor or a hackbut or a real sackbut... Just play what you feel like playing and what will allow you to express yourself best. And if you'd like to try to play on a sackbut for that, whether it's a good authentic one or a vaguely sackbut-ish horn like the Wessex, by all means go for it. You wouldn't be the first nor the last to use a sackbut in a non-early music or non-historical band.

-The advantage of buying something more ''serious'' than a Wessex is that the day you choose to try going deeper into earlier styles, you're already equipped. But I understand price is a big issue if you don't intend to do that or know for sure. However I'll just mention that your price estimate is inflated. I mean, the best alto sackbut out there is arguably by Egger and the standard model is about 3800 US (quite expensive, but not ''a lot more than four thousand'' - and the two I've played are both among the very best trombones (of any kind) I've ever had in my hands). Noah Gladstone sells the Leuchter alto $2550. I haven't tried the alto, but I tried a few of the tenors, and I agree with the oft-repeated assessment - it's about 70% of the sound for 70% of the price. Personally if I was going to spend that kind of money I'd put in the extra cash and get that 30% more, but that's me. Graham Nicholson here in The Hague is an outstanding early brass instrument makers - he's regarded by many as the best natural trumpet maker out there. I'm pretty sure his price for a trombone would be closer to Leuchter than to Egger - but he's got a fairly long waiting list.

-I can't vouch for the Wessex, haven't tried them. I've tried quite a few very bad sackbuts made by far more reputable ''sackbut'' makers, so I'd be cautious....but in the end with the price of the Wessex, it's not that huge a risk.


-If you do go for a Wessex (or if you somehow find a good used sackbut somewhere for a reasonable price - it's rare but it does happens!), I encourage you to at least try a real sackbut mouthpiece and see how it feels and sounds - it is strange and not super comfortable at first but if you stick to it, you get used to it faster than you'd think and it's extremely rewarding musically. It really allows you to do things with your instrument that your would never be able to do on a modern mouthpiece.
I probably will end up trying to use a very wide rim (which I know is a cardinal sin)
By the way, what do you mean by that? Sackbut mouthpieces typically have very wide rims, by modern standards.


-Been said before, but I'll repeat nonetheless - Get a copy of Adam Woolf's Sackbut Solutions. Every trombone player should own a copy of that book even if they don't plan on playing historical instruments or music. No kidding.


-You mentioned lessons. I don't know if he still stops by Colorado sometimes, but if he does or if you're ever in the Bay Area, you should get in touch with Greg Ingles. He's pretty much the top American sackbut player, as far as I know. Also, Linda Pearse is a great Canadian bass sackbut player and teacher - she teaches at IU in Bloomington.
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« Reply #22 on: Mar 28, 2017, 06:18PM »

Noah Gladstone sells the Leuchter alto $2550. I haven't tried the alto, but I tried a few of the tenors, and I agree with the oft-repeated assessment - it's about 70% of the sound for 70% of the price. Personally if I was going to spend that kind of money I'd put in the extra cash and get that 30% more, but that's me.

I've played all three Leuchters and I own a bass (in addition to a Meinl). I'd say that the alto was the least successful of the three. It seemed really heavily built compared to an Egger or Meinl (but not nearly what a hackbut/Wessex would be) and for me was hard to modulate in a sensitive way, though I admit I spent very little time with it. I find the tenor to work alright with "better" instruments as long as it's toward the lower end of the group. I actually like the bass a lot. Noah sent it to me when I was really in a bind and I figured I'd end up selling it when I got a "real" one. I haven't, and I don't intend to!

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-You mentioned lessons. I don't know if he still stops by Colorado sometimes, but if he does or if you're ever in the Bay Area, you should get in touch with Greg Ingles. He's pretty much the top American sackbut player, as far as I know.

Since he's not on here, I guess I'll address this. Greg no longer has a house in CO, but we do occasionally get there or near for concerts (we did Boulder and Denver in December, but nothing for next season afaik). He also does Skype lessons if that's of interest.
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« Reply #23 on: Mar 29, 2017, 06:00AM »

Good to know. Once I get one I'll seek out a teacher.

And le Tromboniste hit the nail on the head -- what I was thinking of using the instrument for is pretty much just made up. My 36H is probably a better choice.

It's too bad that the Lindberg recordings are deemed inappropriate. I wish I could sound exactly like that in a woodwind group! The Baroque Trombobe disc is addicting and I also really like the Tbone and Voice disc as well.

Naxos doesn't have much else for Sackbut music....
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« Reply #24 on: Mar 29, 2017, 12:41PM »

You can find quite a few very good sackbut CDs on Naxos Music Online, if you have access to that (amazing) resource. Some of the CDs I mentionned earlier are on there. There are also dozens of CDs featuring major early brass ensembles.

It's not that Lindberg's CDs are inappropriate. It's just that upon listening to them, anybody who's ever looked at any of the major treatises instantly knows that he certainly hasn't (the same is applicable for some of the other modern soloists who have recorded on sackbut). And in certain cases he clearly hasn't looked at even the original editions of the works he's playing, as there are quite a few wrong notes that correspond to misprints in modern editions. And that's fine, all performances don't have to be deeply historically informed (or historically informed at all, for that matter), and anybody can play and record what they want. I just don't really see the point in going through the trouble of playing earlier music on a historical instrument if you're gonna play it with a modern mouthpiece, a modern approach to phrasing and articulation, and without demonstrating any curiosity for the actual history. The impression it leaves me when people do that is that they see the sackbut as a token, something they can show off with; ''Hey look/listen, I'm playing this primitive version of my instrument, isn't it cool!?'', without actually having the will or interest on learning how to really make it sound well - and I cant help but see in that attitude a certain lack of respect towards the instrument, let alone the people who have dedicated their lives studying it, reviving it and doing the research...

In any case, he would have sounded much better had he recorded those CDs on his modern instruments, and he wouldn't be given a false impression of what a sackbut and the music written for it sound like. As I said, these recordings still have their qualities and they are enjoyable to listen to; and in the absolute, they are not musically uninteresting - they are just not at all what sackbut playing is about.
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Maximilien Brisson
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« Reply #25 on: Mar 29, 2017, 05:03PM »

I just don't really see the point in going through the trouble of playing earlier music on a historical instrument if you're gonna play it with a modern mouthpiece, a modern approach to phrasing and articulation, and without demonstrating any curiosity for the actual history. The impression it leaves me when people do that is that they see the sackbut as a token, something they can show off with; ''Hey look/listen, I'm playing this primitive version of my instrument, isn't it cool!?'', without actually having the will or interest on learning how to really make it sound well - and I cant help but see in that attitude a certain lack of respect towards the instrument, let alone the people who have dedicated their lives studying it, reviving it and doing the research...

Nicely put.
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