I was listening to some performances from Netherland's "All of Bach" group that performs Bach works on Baroque instruments. I quite liked the sound of the strings, and I thought that it would be interesting to hear more "Romantic" repertoire on such instruments (sometimes I feel that in modern performances of "Romantic" repertoire the strings are a bit too oppressive, and the lighter/brighter sound I heard in the Bach performances might make for interesting comparison). According to this thread https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=782, strings in the late 19th/early 20th centuries were still mostly gut (except for some metal on the G string I guess?), which is the time period that Rachmaninoff and Mahler wrote their symphonies in.

My question is this: would it sound appropriate/good to play these "Romantic" symphonies on say Baroque string instruments (or instruments closer to Baroque sounding than modern ones)? Has this (i.e. performing on more antique instruments) been done, with the repertoire I've mentioned?

  • Can you share the source of the performances? Thanks! – SNR Jul 6 at 10:57
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    The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment have played Mahler on period instruments (note: not "baroque instruments"). There are some videos about performing Mahler 2 on their website: oae.co.uk/people/mahler that touch on your question. They also have a CD that includes Totenfeier: oae.co.uk/product/mahler-totenfeier – Semiprime Jul 6 at 13:36

Mixed set of gut and steel (what most soloists now try to emulate with synthetic and a steel E). Gut strings only doesn’t have tone color and power enough to project into a large hall, the common venue where a late romantic symphony was played, specially when you’re dealing with winds and brass a 3 or even a 4, and percussion. After Paganini and Ernst era, this was the common string mixture until the 1970s, when synthetic core was invented. Famous virtuosi, like Heifetz and Milstein, used frequently plain gut on G, plain steel (sometimes gold coated) on E and mixtures on D and A.

Also, Baroque instruments cannot perform this repertoire the way it was conceived (for example, try play a Chopin etude in a harpsichord and try to emulate the dynamics and effects intended to a piano) and most baroque instruments cannot tune A higher than 430 Hz approximately. But, in a studio, I think there’s plenty options to try this repertoire into a baroque sounds and other experiments of different orchestrations.

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    "most baroque instruments cannot tune A higher than 430 Hz approximately": some baroque repertoire (particularly Venetian) is performed on baroque instruments tuned to A=465 or A=466. The instruments seem to manage just fine, though I suppose the woodwinds will have been built for that pitch. I wouldn't know whether the string players typically use different strings or just increase the tension. – phoog Jul 6 at 20:19
  • Not true for strings. No one original baroque bowed string instrument (the vast majority is from Italian/Neapolitan origin) can tune properly higher than 430Hz, specially viols - most cannot even reach 430 (there's a Versailles famous tuning for viol consort, A = 391 Hz). Violin family can if made some changes by a luthier, which permits higher string tension and volume (that's now what we call modern violin). Winds can if made in such fashion by design. Harpsichord (and keys family) and harp can either but not really recommended with gut strings. Timpani I don't know for sure. – Rodrigo B. Furman Jul 8 at 0:38

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