Organology

Amongst the many disciplines of musicology, Organology is the one that I found the most appealing. Organology is a discipline that studies musical instruments.[1] Throughout history, instruments have greatly evolved, shaping the music, performance practices, and composition styles differently. Organology focuses on the “design and construction”[2] of instruments, and how those factors influenced and changed musical and social settings.

As a cellist, I want to focus specifically on the changes that occurred in the evolution of the cello. The modern cello we know today is not only used in chamber settings and orchestra, but is widely recognized as a solo instrument. This is due to the fact that the modern cello has a wide range, projects in big halls quite well, and allows for various virtuosic techniques. This was not always the case. During baroque times, the baroque cello’s construction was completely different. The baroque cello had no end pin and had gut strings. Furthermore, the bow was curved[3] and was played with a different technique, the musician’s hand being placed further away from the frog. Due to the nature of the baroque cello, the tuning was set around 422.[4] Today’s modern cellos are tuned to 440-444. During most of the baroque period, the cello was seen as an accompaniment, not a solo instrument. Therefore, this construction allowed for the desired lightness in sound and texture. Since the sound production was small, most performances were held in small, intimate settings.

Approaching the end of the baroque period a change occurred, thus reducing the popularity of these formerly used practices. Performance practices shifted to big halls, orchestras grew larger and the cello became viewed as more of a solo, virtuosic instrument. To my knowledge, due to the society’s and composers’ need for a change, the nature of the cello, as well as other instruments, evolved. However, in Musicology: Organology, Vincent Duckles and Laurence Libin point out a discovery that instrument construction changed first[5], before the move to big halls and the need for greater sound production. Based on the extensive data collected by various musicologists, it was the production of higher quality instruments that gave composers the liberty to write more technically demanding pieces. This shift in instruments also caused a change in dynamics, as instruments could now project in front of an orchestra as a solo instrument. Specifically when looking at a cello, it received an end pin, metal strings and a bow with less flexibility than the baroque bow, resulting in a more powerful and dominant sound. These changes were made by one of the most prominent luthiers up to date, Antonio Stradivari.[6] His revolutionary approach to musical instruments changed the perception and reputation of the cello and allowed for a greater range in musical compositions that could be created for it.

It is hard to fathom the value and magnitude of Organology in shaping a number of factors that go into music today. If the change in the instruments truly changed the attitude towards composing, as well as the approach to the music by both performers and the audience, it is safe to say that luthiers were far ahead of their time. Thanks to them and all of the different possibilities with instruments made possible by their ingenuity, music continued changing and from their time on has never ceased evolving.

Ivana Biliskov

Works cited:

Duckles, Vincent, Jann Pasler, Glenn Stanley, Thomas, H. Christensen, Barbara Haggh, Robert Balchin, Laurence Libin, Tilman Seebass, Janet K. Page, Lydia Goehr, Bojan Bujic, Eric F. Clarke, Susan McClary, Jean Gribenski, Carolyn Gianturco, Pamela M. Potter, David Fallows, Miloš Velimirović, Gary Tomlinson, Gerard Béhague, Masakata Kanazawa, and Peter Platt. “Musicology.” Grove Music Online. (2001). http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000046710 (accessed 29 Jan. 2019).

Neece, Brenda. “The Cello in Britain: A Technical and Social History.” The Galpin Society Journal 56 (2003): 77-115. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/30044410.

Romano, Nel. “Out of the Air: Baroque Instruments.” Early Music 4, no. 4 (1976): 511-13. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/3126190.


[1] Duckles, Vincent, et. al., “Musicology,” Grove Music Online. (2001), http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000046710 (accessed 29 Jan. 2019).

[2] Duckles.

[3] Romano, Nel, “Out of the Air: Baroque Instruments,” Early Music 4, no. 4 (1976): 512, http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/3126190.

[4] Romano, 512.

[5] Duckles.

[6] Brenda Neece “The Cello in Britain: A Technical and Social History,” The Galpin Society Journal 56 (2003): 78, http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/30044410.

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