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Author Topic: alto or tenor: Leonore #3  (Read 6024 times)
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Bcschipper
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« Reply #120 on: May 18, 2017, 01:51AM »

I think Will Kimball has attempted to do such a thing:

http://kimballtrombone.com/alto-trombone/extant-altos/

Thanks for drawing my attention to the list. Very interesting. Here are some numbers:

"Of the 122 extant pre-19th century trombones with positively identified voice (alto, tenor, bass, etc.), Herbert lists the following:

64 tenors (53%)

30 altos (25%)

22 basses (18%)

4 sopranos (3%)

1 contrabass (less than 1%)

1 “quartbass” (less than 1%)"

Now, 25% sounds a lot to me. My subjective prior would have been less than 5%.

Anyway, it doesn't mean though that 25% of all pre-19th century trombones must have been altos. Let's assume that throughout history altos have been played less than tenor trombones. Then they also have experienced less wear. Moreover, simply by the fact that they are smaller than tenors, they are more easily stored than tenor trombones and should be less likely damaged within any fixed period of time. So altos should have a higher "survival" probability than tenors. Thus, it is probably save to say that the actual pre-19th century share of altos was strictly less than 25%. 

To get closer to the truth we would need more assumptions, which is more transparently captured with the help of a little model.

Let p be the probability of being damaged beyond repair within one year ("yearly loss probability"). Then 1-p is the probability of having survived one year. Assuming that survival is independent across years (an assumption clearly violated in periods of war) and that the yearly survival probability is stationary (which again may be violated because of properties of aging of brass), we have that (1 - p)^n is the probability that an instrument survived n years (survival probability after n years). We can also interpret it as the fraction of instruments surviving n years. Then given q number of instruments today, the number of instruments x some n years ago must be x = q / ((1 - p)^n).

Let's plug in some numbers to get some idea about what could be plausible values for p and x. The median age of the pre-19th century instruments in the list seems to be 300 years (i.e., n = 300). Moreover, we got 64 surviving tenors (i.e., q = 64). Hence,

Yearly loss probability   Prob of survival 300 years  Number of tenors 300 years ago
0.5%                                      22.23%                      288
1.0%                                       4.90%                    1,305
1.5%                                       1.07%                    5,961
2.0%                                       0.23%                   27,438
2.5%                                       0.05%                  127,290
3.0%                                       0.01%                  595,196

What is a plausible number of the number tenors produced 1600 - 1800? Let's pick 27,438 from the list, which corresponds to an average yearly loss probability of 2%.

Now suppose because of less use and wear and smaller size, the average yearly loss probability of altos is half of that of tenors, i.e. 1%. Then we can use the same model with q = 30 (number of surviving pre-19th century altos) to get an estimate of 612 altos produced between 1600 - 1800. Rather small compared to the number of tenors but not negligible.

So based on this quick-and-dirty calculation, one may agree with Howard Weiner that the use of altos is much less than the use of tenors even though we got 30 surviving altos today and 64 surviving tenors. But I would also claim that altos must had their role in that period because the estimated number produced is not negligible. Now, it is clear that this conclusion is based on the assumptions about yearly loss probability, known surviving instruments etc. that are debatable. But the nice thing is that the model makes it transparent how these assumptions are used to derive the conclusion. So rather than alto trombone scholars attacking each other on a personal level, there could be now a scholarly discussion about the assumptions that went into the conclusions and hopefully we could come up with a much better model and thus more well-founded conclusions.
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« Reply #121 on: May 18, 2017, 04:25AM »

The bass is in G according to Graham Nicholson, a minor third below the tenor, which might explain, if your hypothetical scenario is true (or partially true), why the "alto" was cut down to such a weird pitch as Db (it's supposedly somewhere between Db and C). If we assume it was cut down by someone who doesn't know much about trombones, and they only wanted to approximate the same visual proportions between the tenor and "alto" as between the tenor and bass, that's pretty much the result they should have gotten.

Now it doesn't address the question of why the bass is in G. Howard, do you know of any source of that time that refers to a bass in G?

From that time, I don't know of any sources. But just a decade later, Nemetz refers to bass trombones in F, A-flat, and G that "primarily find use in the military."

Howard
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« Reply #122 on: May 18, 2017, 04:27AM »

Weiner, you make me laugh! Let me issue this challenge: Try to make points without resorting to ad hominem. It will help them be more credible. Engaging fellow-scholars in a respectful way is an important skill!

Not at all ad hominem. Just an assessment of your "research."
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« Reply #123 on: May 18, 2017, 08:28AM »

Thanks for drawing my attention to the list. Very interesting. Here are some numbers:

"Of the 122 extant pre-19th century trombones with positively identified voice (alto, tenor, bass, etc.), Herbert lists the following:

64 tenors (53%)

30 altos (25%)

22 basses (18%)

4 sopranos (3%)

1 contrabass (less than 1%)

1 “quartbass” (less than 1%)"

Now, 25% sounds a lot to me. My subjective prior would have been less than 5%.

Anyway, it doesn't mean though that 25% of all pre-19th century trombones must have been altos. Let's assume that throughout history altos have been played less than tenor trombones. Then they also have experienced less wear. Moreover, simply by the fact that they are smaller than tenors, they are more easily stored than tenor trombones and should be less likely damaged within any fixed period of time. So altos should have a higher "survival" probability than tenors. Thus, it is probably save to say that the actual pre-19th century share of altos was strictly less than 25%. 

To get closer to the truth we would need more assumptions, which is more transparently captured with the help of a little model.

Let p be the probability of being damaged beyond repair within one year ("yearly loss probability"). Then 1-p is the probability of having survived one year. Assuming that survival is independent across years (an assumption clearly violated in periods of war) and that the yearly survival probability is stationary (which again may be violated because of properties of aging of brass), we have that (1 - p)^n is the probability that an instrument survived n years (survival probability after n years). We can also interpret it as the fraction of instruments surviving n years. Then given q number of instruments today, the number of instruments x some n years ago must be x = q / ((1 - p)^n).

Let's plug in some numbers to get some idea about what could be plausible values for p and x. The median age of the pre-19th century instruments in the list seems to be 300 years (i.e., n = 300). Moreover, we got 64 surviving tenors (i.e., q = 64). Hence,

Yearly loss probability   Prob of survival 300 years  Number of tenors 300 years ago
0.5%                                      22.23%                      288
1.0%                                       4.90%                    1,305
1.5%                                       1.07%                    5,961
2.0%                                       0.23%                   27,438
2.5%                                       0.05%                  127,290
3.0%                                       0.01%                  595,196

What is a plausible number of the number tenors produced 1600 - 1800? Let's pick 27,438 from the list, which corresponds to an average yearly loss probability of 2%.

Now suppose because of less use and wear and smaller size, the average yearly loss probability of altos is half of that of tenors, i.e. 1%. Then we can use the same model with q = 30 (number of surviving pre-19th century altos) to get an estimate of 612 altos produced between 1600 - 1800. Rather small compared to the number of tenors but not negligible.

So based on this quick-and-dirty calculation, one may agree with Howard Weiner that the use of altos is much less than the use of tenors even though we got 30 surviving altos today and 64 surviving tenors. But I would also claim that altos must had their role in that period because the estimated number produced is not negligible. Now, it is clear that this conclusion is based on the assumptions about yearly loss probability, known surviving instruments etc. that are debatable. But the nice thing is that the model makes it transparent how these assumptions are used to derive the conclusion. So rather than alto trombone scholars attacking each other on a personal level, there could be now a scholarly discussion about the assumptions that went into the conclusions and hopefully we could come up with a much better model and thus more well-founded conclusions.

I applaud this approach. It has the advantages of objectivity and a significant number of data points. Bravo! It may not be perfect, but it lays bare the data and assumptions and provides a reasonable starting point for overall probabilities. This approach would not work with historically earlier examples like the slide trumpet and Stewart Carter's theoretical shortened Renaissance trombone, since there are few (or no) existing examples of those instruments. However, in the case of alto trombone, there is plenty of data to utilize. More objectivity is absolutely welcome! As you stipulate, not all the data points may be perfect, but we can have a discussion about those individual cases.

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« Reply #124 on: May 18, 2017, 12:17PM »


Now, 25% sounds a lot to me. My subjective prior would have been less than 5%.
I'm curious as to why that would have been your gut feeling before seeing the data. Nowadays, we regularly perform music from earlier periods, which includes periods where alto trombone was not written for at all. There are almost no dedicated alto trombone players now, because a dedicated alto player would have trouble finding regular work. Alto trombone positions in orchestras do not exist. You would have to freelance or be a soloist. Therefore I would expect a smaller number of alto trombones to exist today, since almost every alto player also plays tenor. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, I don't see any reason to believe there weren't dedicated alto trombone players who made their living playing alto trombone. So I would expect a higher proportion of altos than what we have today.
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Anyway, it doesn't mean though that 25% of all pre-19th century trombones must have been altos. Let's assume that throughout history altos have been played less than tenor trombones. Then they also have experienced less wear.
I wouldn't make that assumption, based on my reasoning above.
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Moreover, simply by the fact that they are smaller than tenors, they are more easily stored than tenor trombones and should be less likely damaged within any fixed period of time. So altos should have a higher "survival" probability than tenors. Thus, it is probably save to say that the actual pre-19th century share of altos was strictly less than 25%. 
Perhaps larger instruments are more easily damaged, but players don't throw away their instrument when it is damaged; they usually have it repaired.
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« Reply #125 on: May 18, 2017, 12:37PM »

Remember, while outdoor concerts may not have used alto trombone, there were some applications where they remained in use.  Moravian Trombone Choirs, and Catholic Churches often used alto trombones.  Plus, there was probably a historical custom of using the alto trombone to reinforce alto voices in choral works.  Probably nobody made a living as an "alto trombone player" -- in fact, many musicians of the period probably played several instruments (especially doubling on an orchestral string).
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« Reply #126 on: May 18, 2017, 04:06PM »

I'm curious as to why that would have been your gut feeling before seeing the data. Nowadays, we regularly perform music from earlier periods, which includes periods where alto trombone was not written for at all. There are almost no dedicated alto trombone players now, because a dedicated alto player would have trouble finding regular work. Alto trombone positions in orchestras do not exist. You would have to freelance or be a soloist. Therefore I would expect a smaller number of alto trombones to exist today, since almost every alto player also plays tenor. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, I don't see any reason to believe there weren't dedicated alto trombone players who made their living playing alto trombone. So I would expect a higher proportion of altos than what we have today.

I wouldn't make that assumption, based on my reasoning above.

Perhaps larger instruments are more easily damaged, but players don't throw away their instrument when it is damaged; they usually have it repaired.


My impression was that in general trombone players were not primarily trombone players. For instance, one of the most famous trombonists in the 19th century, Karl Traugott Queisser, for whom the David concertino was written, played primarily viola (together with David). I would expect this to be much different pre-19th century.

Yes, players don't necessarily throw away instruments when damaged. But the higher the probability of damage, the higher also the probability irreparable damage or damage that is not worth to repair anymore. Important for my argument is not so much how often instruments get repaired but whether tenors and altos differ in their survival probability.

Anyway, to calibrate these assumptions, I would be interest to hear from experts like Howard Weiner, Will Kimball, Trevor Herbert etc. I think it is important to discuss various views of the assumptions and also check how changes in the assumptions affect the conclusions.
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« Reply #127 on: May 18, 2017, 06:16PM »

Remember, while outdoor concerts may not have used alto trombone, there were some applications where they remained in use.  Moravian Trombone Choirs, and Catholic Churches often used alto trombones.  Plus, there was probably a historical custom of using the alto trombone to reinforce alto voices in choral works.  Probably nobody made a living as an "alto trombone player" -- in fact, many musicians of the period probably played several instruments (especially doubling on an orchestral string).

What I was getting at, Bruce, was that today, the alto trombone could be considered as a "double" for the tenor trombone, and only used for certain periods of music, and even then not by all tenor trombone players, so I wouldn't be surprised if the total number of modern alto trombones were only 5% of the total number of trombones in existence. However, I see no evidence to justify making such an assumption about the 17th and 18th centuries. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that the standard compliment of a trombone section was considered to be alto, tenor, bass. If you guys have some evidence that alto was just an "occasional use" instrument, I'd like to see it. But I wouldn't just assume it.
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« Reply #128 on: May 18, 2017, 06:34PM »

As I said earlier, Brad, is that none of us were there.  We don't know first hand exactly what was being played in the pit orchestra for "The Magic Flute".

We have scholarly work by Will Kimball stating that alto trombones existed in the period.  We have other scholarly research by Howard Weiner that the usual compliment of instruments in the early 19th century orchestra was three Bb trombones of different bore sizes called "alto", "tenor", and "bass".  Who is right?  You can see how much fireworks there has been here.

And we have the "re-enactors" trying to figure out what it sounded like by playing copies of whatever seems to have survived the period.  Again, they weren't there; they are making a best guess.  I hope they are right.

Another factor in survivability has to be the fact that the Hundred Years' War occurred in the latter 17th and early 18th Centuries and instruments were very likely used to feed the armaments industry.  So there may not have been many older trombones (or any other brass instrument) surviving.
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« Reply #129 on: May 18, 2017, 09:47PM »

As I said earlier, Brad, is that none of us were there.  We don't know first hand exactly what was being played in the pit orchestra for "The Magic Flute".

We have scholarly work by Will Kimball stating that alto trombones existed in the period.  We have other scholarly research by Howard Weiner that the usual compliment of instruments in the early 19th century orchestra was three Bb trombones of different bore sizes called "alto", "tenor", and "bass".  Who is right?  You can see how much fireworks there has been here.

And we have the "re-enactors" trying to figure out what it sounded like by playing copies of whatever seems to have survived the period.  Again, they weren't there; they are making a best guess.  I hope they are right.

Another factor in survivability has to be the fact that the Hundred Years' War occurred in the latter 17th and early 18th Centuries and instruments were very likely used to feed the armaments industry.  So there may not have been many older trombones (or any other brass instrument) surviving.

Well, no. I believe it is Howard's contention that Bb instruments were used to play alto parts in VIENNA in the 18th and early 19th centuries, not all over the world, for all time. So, your comments about survivability not withstanding, I still await your evidence that the alto trombones that have survived from the 17th and 18th centuries were for some reason played less than the surviving tenors. Maybe they were; I just don't feel you guys have made the case for that yet.
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« Reply #130 on: May 18, 2017, 10:08PM »

As I said earlier, Brad, is that none of us were there.  We don't know first hand exactly what was being played in the pit orchestra for "The Magic Flute".

We have scholarly work by Will Kimball stating that alto trombones existed in the period.  We have other scholarly research by Howard Weiner that the usual compliment of instruments in the early 19th century orchestra was three Bb trombones of different bore sizes called "alto", "tenor", and "bass".  Who is right?  You can see how much fireworks there has been here.

And we have the "re-enactors" trying to figure out what it sounded like by playing copies of whatever seems to have survived the period.  Again, they weren't there; they are making a best guess.  I hope they are right.



My "best guesses" are based on research and investigation. And also musical taste and "what works". And lastly what instruments I can afford to own and earn a little money using.
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« Reply #131 on: May 18, 2017, 10:37PM »

Well, no. I believe it is Howard's contention that Bb instruments were used to play alto parts in VIENNA in the 18th and early 19th centuries, not all over the world, for all time. So, your comments about survivability not withstanding, I still await your evidence that the alto trombones that have survived from the 17th and 18th centuries were for some reason played less than the surviving tenors. Maybe they were; I just don't feel you guys have made the case for that yet.

That is Howard's contention indeed, and he list few other places where he believes the alto was usurped. I've been researching Leipzig lately. Trombonists were used at the Gewandhaus of course from the early 19th century, since the Beethoven symphonies and various otrher classical pieces with trombones (like Mozart requiem and Magic Flute Overture) were performed there, BUT the first permanent trombone section was appointed as late as 1842. They were designated as Alto, Tenor and Bass trombonist, and their names were Burck, Mai and Kogel. It's very possible that the alto trombonist Carl Gottlieb Burck specialized only on the alto, but we can't be certain. What IS likely is that he didn't only play trombone. If he was brought up in the standard Stadtpfeiffer (Town band) tradition, as were the virtuosi Belcke and Queisser, Burck would have been capable of playing all sorts of instruments. Don't forget his famous colleague Queisser who also was an extraordinarily talented multi instrumentalist. Principal viola of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Concertmaster of the Euterpe orchestra, virtuoso soloist on the bass trombone (in B flat...), and was reputedly able to play all other wind and string instruments well. And his brother was a much admired (esp. by Wagner) trumpeter in Dresden. I don't believe Queisser played the trombone in the orchestra, by the way... they only had four violas... Before 1842 the trombonists would have been brought in from the remnants of the Town Band or were maybe military musician or were simply journeyman musicians travelling about getting work wherever they could. In fact the bass trombonist between 1842 to 1876, Gottfried Kogel, had already been playing in the orchestra from 1833 as an extra player. 43 years!

Interesting topic! Sorry for the OP he's probably wondering what can o'worms he's opened.
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« Reply #132 on: May 19, 2017, 01:36AM »

So then a full time trombone player wasn't really a thing. Thanks for educating me on that, guys. Very interesting stuff.
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« Reply #133 on: May 19, 2017, 02:08AM »

Interesting topic! Sorry for the OP he's probably wondering what can o'worms he's opened.


No, just sitting back munching the popcorn.   :D
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« Reply #134 on: May 19, 2017, 06:26AM »

We have scholarly work by Will Kimball stating that alto trombones existed in the period.  We have other scholarly research by Howard Weiner that the usual compliment of instruments in the early 19th century orchestra was three Bb trombones of different bore sizes called "alto", "tenor", and "bass". 

Bruce, you are oversimplifying here. I have never claimed that alto trombones did not exist in this period. Rather, I have tried to show that alto (and bass trombones) were used in some places and not in others. If you read my article again (I'm assuming that you've already read it) you will notice that I attempted to reconstruct the trombone performance traditions in Paris, London, Leipzig, Salzburg and Vienna on the basis of documentary and musical evidence.

In the appendix, I provided the extended findings of my research in tabular form -- there you can see that I postulated the use of trombone sections made up of alto, tenor, and bass trombones in early 19th-century Berlin and London, and in 18th-century Leipzig and Salzburg (in Leipzig sometimes also with soprano trombone); and the use of trombone sections made up of three B-flat trombones in late 18th- and early 19th-century Italy, Paris, and Vienna.

And as I've mentioned before, in the twelve years since the publication of my article, a number of people have criticized or even taken umbrage at my conclusions, but nobody has come forward with any evidence at all to refute them.

Howard
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« Reply #135 on: May 19, 2017, 06:43AM »


And as I've mentioned before, in the twelve years since the publication of my article, a number of people have criticized or even taken umbrage at my conclusions, but nobody has come forward with any evidence at all to refute them.

Howard

That's a very broad statement. Are you sure you don't want to temper it? Nobody? Any evidence at all? You really should temper that statement.
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« Reply #136 on: May 19, 2017, 08:24AM »

That's a very broad statement. Are you sure you don't want to temper it? Nobody? Any evidence at all? You really should temper that statement.

I see no need to qualify my statement.
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« Reply #137 on: May 19, 2017, 09:01AM »

I see no need to qualify my statement.


I really think you want to qualify that statement. It's a very sweeping statement. I think you need to temper it.
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« Reply #138 on: May 19, 2017, 12:51PM »

And as I've mentioned before, in the twelve years since the publication of my article, a number of people have criticized or even taken umbrage at my conclusions, but nobody has come forward with any evidence at all to refute them.
Howard

You said you see no need, but you are definitely going to want to qualify or temper such a sweeping statement.

What are the assumptions you're making that you should include in your statement to qualify it?

For example, by come forward, do you mean in the journal that you edit? Some other set of journals? This particular forum?

By any evidence at all, do you really mean just conclusive evidence? Just compelling evidence? Documentary evidence? Or do you honestly mean any contravening evidence? (Remember, in reasoning and academics, evidence and proof are two different things.)

You're going to want to qualify that statement to include those sorts of assumptions. This is the type of thing we spend a lot of time on with graduate students: refining the thesis. A thesis that is too broad or vague is often a mess.
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« Reply #139 on: May 19, 2017, 01:01PM »

I came forward as a doctoral student with a critique of one of Howard's articles.  He was a jerk about it, in much the same way he's toying with being one here, and I decided it wasn't worth my time to "fight" someone who wasn't able to concede an alternate side to a point.  I daresay his prickliness repels good-natured criticism.
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