Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cool Old Instrument

Interesting article via the BBC feed today about reconstructing a Roman-era trumpet that was used in European music through the early 1700s. Apparently, one piece of music by Bach, a motet (BWV 118 based on the title given in the BBC story and what I found on Wiki) was scored for this instrument; a new recording of that piece of music can be heard via a link in the BBC story.

The instrument was reconstructed by using a computer model for trumpet-like instruments to design something that had the tonal range and other properties described in old descriptions of its use. That is one heck of an application of the numerical solution of partial differential equations!

The rapid response team that exists on Wikipedia answered my question before it could even be asked. I had wondered (based on the picture in the article) if the Lituus was in any way related to the curved war trumpets used by Roman armies in Hollywood movies, or the straight ones (looks like it was called a tuba because it was basically a tube) you see used to herald the arrival of Caesar or to coordinate troops in battle. The answer seems to be "yes".

The music produced by mixing voice with this instrument is really haunting. Not exactly as upbeat as one would expect from a modern song with a title like "Jesus, the Light of my Life", but beautiful in its own way. I wonder how it would sound with the additional presence resulting from being played in a church with stone walls.

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