Instruments of the Viennese Classical Period

Under the rule of Maria Theresia and Joseph II in the 18th century, the musical scene in Vienna thrived. The triumvirate of the Viennese Classical Period - Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven - also established the types of instruments that are still used to this day. Especially the construction of the fortepiano changed drastically in the years around 1770, which inevitably also influenced the piano compositions of Viennese Classicism. A prominent figure in this development was Johann Andreas Stein, who had his workshop in Augsburg since 1751. The crucial advantage of his instruments consists in the Prellmechanik with escapement, which is believed to be his invention. Contrary to the English double action, the hammer lies on the lever. Immediately after the key is released, the hammer falls back to its resting position. Together with the more robust construction, this results in a different sound that is brighter, more penetrating and more present. In the museum’s collection there is a cherry tree veneered fortepiano by Stein from 1775.

The clarinet also gained more and more importance in the orchestra and as a solo instrument. Invented only at the beginning of the 18th century and thereby much younger than the oboe, the instrument has a predominantly cylindrical bore and is played with a single reed. A special type of the clarinet is the basset horn. It was supposedly developed by the circle of clarinettist around Anton Stadler, a friend of Mozart’s. The instrument resembles an alto clarinet with a slightly rougher, but nevertheless full timbre. The different timbre is caused by a narrower bore and thinner body in comparison to the standard clarinet. However, In the 19th century, the basset horn was forgotten.

Another instrument that did not survive the Viennese Classical Period is the baryton: a stringed instrument with six to seven strings and additional sympathetic strings which lay under the bridge and were attached to a diagonal cross bar. The sympathetic strings were accessible from underneath and could be plucked by the left hand. Nine sympathetic strings were common, but there could be twenty-seven and more. The sound of the baryton is described as charming, soft and lovely. Haydn wrote more than 120 baryton trios for his patron Prince Esterházy between 1766 and 1774.