Pianos, guitars and violins get most of the attention when it comes to popularity and being used in orchestral productions. They are also the top 3 most popular instruments used all over the world. Yet there are many other musical instruments out there that don’t get much attention. These 8 instruments which are rarely used in orchestra or classical music are hardly even known to most of us. However, certain composers do use them from time to time in order to change things and add new horizons to their works.
In most standard performances by orchestras, we always get to see the main four sections. They are woodwind, brass, percussion and of course, strings. For the most part, at least 4 of each of these instruments are used per section. That does not include percussion, of course. Nonetheless, when some composers want to broaden and push the boundaries, they turn to some of these rarely used musical devices. Next time you hear or see one of these musical instruments in a classical music composition, perhaps you may appreciate it more.
Although the harp is one of the most common instruments in the history of music, it is not always used in most classical compositions. The harp is considered awkward when it comes to being used for chamber music. While it is still one of the instruments capable of creating some of the most beautiful music, it does not get used too often in orchestral settings.
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Glass Armonica –
While you may not have seen one or even known it existed, there is an instrument called the glass armonica or harmonica. Invented by the famous Benjamin Franklin, the strange looking instrument looks like something out of a space movie. Still, although rarely used in most common orchestral settings, you will see or hear it used once in awhile. Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote works for the glass armonica, among others famous composers.
The saxophone is quite popular and widely used in several music genres; particularly jazz. However, very rarely will you hear it or see it used for a classical composition. It wasn’t until recently that some composers began to add the sax in some of their works.
Wagner Tuba –
Not to be confused by the Tuba, the Wagner Tuba is a totally different instrument. The instrument was created at the behest of the famous German composer Richard Wagner. The Wagner tuba combines both the trombone and French horn tonal elements. Although called a tuba, it is considered sort of a horn by many. Even though you may not hear it or see used too often, it still used as an alternate doubling instrument.
Alto Flute –
From the woodwind family, the alto flute is a type of Western concert flute. It gives out a mellow, distinct and deeper tone like the Piccolo. One way to think of the alto flute is that it’s much longer than the traditional flute. Throughout history, there have been many famous composers who used the alto flute in some of their works.
The sarrusophone has not been around as long as some of the other instruments on this list. It was first patented and sold back in 1856. The sarrusophone was supposed to serve as a replacement to the bassoon and oboe in wind bands. Back then, they both lacked the carrying power needed for band music which played outdoors. In the early 1900’s the sarrusophone rose in popularity, but then faded a few years later.
When most people hear the name ‘Theremin’ they don’t often associate it with an instrument. However, the theremin is in fact an electronic instrument which was invented in the early 1920’s. The high-pitched and spooky droning sound it provides can be heard in several sci-fi movie soundtracks. Composer Joseph Schillinger included the theremin in one of his orchestral works.
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Even though the organ is one of the oldest wind instruments in the world, it is not used too often in classical orchestral works. The modern day pipe organs are much more complicated than the original which may help to explain why they are left out of most concerts. Still, when it is used, the organ provides really impressive and beautiful music.