Musical instruments with valves (1/2)


The instruments here are all very
complicated mechanical devices to make it easier
for players to play in tune. One of the first of these
was the invention of Adolphe Sax, an instrument with six valves. So the instrument provides
seven different harmonic series and that is sufficient to, in theory, allow the player
to play perfectly in tune. However, there are problems
with valved instruments where valves are used in combination. If you’re pressing
two valves down at the same time then the amount of tubing
each valve adds is not quite enough to put the instrument in tune. When the fourth valve is pressed the wind way
runs through the valve a second time and these loops on the back
are added in giving a better approximation
to the correct tube length. And this is the principle
of many tubas and euphoniums used in bands and orchestras today. I think it’s remarkable
that the trombone which had been around
for the best part of 400 years, a perfectly serviceable instrument,
a virtuoso instrument, and then somebody in the 19th century thought it was a good idea
to put six valves on it. One can’t help feeling that
there was an obsessive curiosity about what would happen
if they tried this and that and even though some of the
inventions were actually centred on a real improvement of making
valve instruments more in tune, there was something there
which was just a little bit nutty. Yes. It’s the kind of following
through this Victorian idea that anything which was made before
could probably be improved by the increasing sophistication
of Victorian mechanical engineering. You put a bit of science,
a bit of technology into it and it’s going to be more modern. The notion of modernity, the notion
of invention for its own sake was incredibly important. Yes, and all the pistons
and compensating valves that were added to relatively simple
brass instruments, you can see they were beginning to
look a little like steam locomotives with all the extra bits of technology
attached to them.