Day 114: Ahh, the Reason for A

HaydnCD114I’m going to have to do some research on the baryton.

I’d like to know why 95% of Haydn’s baryton trios to which I’ve listened so far were written in the key of A.

Is that just an easy key in which to play? Was the baryton made for the key of A?

I’ve seen a couple of keys of D.

But mostly A.

That strikes me as odd.

So there must be a reason, right?

There is.

And I missed it the last time I perused this entry on Wikipedia:

John Hsu estimates that the Prince [Esterhazy] was probably not a virtuoso on his instrument, judging from the difficulty of Haydn’s writing. The composer used only the top five of the seven bowed strings, and seldom required the player to pluck and bow simultaneously. The keys chosen are also the simplest to play in: D major and the neighboring keys of G major and A major.

And there you have it.

The keys in which Haydn composed were the “easy” ones for Prince Esterhazy to play on his own instrument.

While this may have pleased the Prince no end (and kept Haynd gainfully employed), it Continue reading

Day 113: More Trios in the Key of A

HaydnCD113As I noted in yesterday’s post, I used to think baryton was the name of a place, perhaps a city like Berlin or London. Or Narnia, for that matter.

Now I know baryton is the name of a type of instrument that resembles a viola.

But with more strings.

And with a raspier, deeper sound. Not smooth like a violin. The sound of a baryton, to me, is like the harpsichord version of a piano. A bit wilder, rougher around the edges.

For more information about the baryton, as well as what prompted Haydn to compose these Baryton Trios, please visit what I wrote yesterday. I won’t bore you with repeating myself today.

However, I will remind you (or tell you for the first time if you’re just popping in) that Prince Esterhazy commanded Haydn to Continue reading

Day 112: Baryton is Not a Place

HaydnCD112I remember seeing the phrase “Baryton Trios” many times over the course of my life.

Until this morning, I thought Baryton was a place, a city perhaps. Like Berlin. Or Vienna. Or London.

Now I know baryton is the name of an instrument that looks somewhat like a viola or cello. (Photo below from this source.)

270px-BarytonSo a Baryton trio is an ensemble of three musicians named for the lead instrument – the baryton.

Hey, look. I told you I wasn’t a musicologist. That’s why I take on these types of projects. I love music and I love to learn.

Here are some excerpts about the baryton from this article on Wikipedia:

The baryton is a bowed string instrument which shares some characteristics with instruments of the viol family, distinguished by an extra set of plucked strings. It was in regular use in Europe up until the end of the 18th century.

The baryton can be viewed as a sort of augmented bass viol. It is similar in size to the latter instrument and likewise has six or seven strings of gut, arranged over a fretted fingerboard and played with a bow. The instrument is held vertically and is supported by the player’s legs (rather than with an endpin as in the modern cello).

The baryton differs from the bass viol in having an additional set of wire strings. These perform two functions: they vibrate sympathetically with the bowed strings, enriching the tone, and they can also be plucked by the left thumb of the performer, creating a contrasting tonal quality.

The baryton was “completely neglected” (Hsu) in the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth, with the rise of the authentic performance movement in classical music, new barytons were built and played.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name of the instrument is a loan word from French baryton or Italian baritono, and ultimately derives from Greek bary- + tonos ‘deep-pitched’. Alternate spellings include: bariton, barydon, paradon, paridon, pariton, viola paradon, viola di bordoni, [Italian] viola di bardone, [German] viola di bordone.

Here are some excerpts about Haydn’s Baryton Trios from Continue reading