What is Piccolo? | PDF library




Fr., petite flûte; It., flauto piccolo, ottavino; Ger., kleine Flote
In each of the four families of woodwind, there is one instrument that is regarded as the standard or normal instrument of the type. These four are flute, oboe, B clarinet, and bassoon. They represent in each case the size and proportions found to give the most nearly characteristic tone color, as well as other features, answering to a more or less universal, albeit transitory, conception of how these instruments should sound. The other instruments in each group are auxiliary instruments, adjuncts to the normal types.
The auxiliary instruments have as their first raison d'être the extension of the pitch range of the families to which they belong. The piccolo extends the range of the flute family up to another octave C, the last note on the pianoforte keyboard. However, the top B  and C are quite difficult of production.
An auxiliary instrument, made for the purpose of playing higher notes than the normal instrument, is of smaller size, favoring the upper part of its range. The lower notes tend to be of less good quality. This is illustrated by the piccolo, whose low tones are decidedly inferior to those of the flute. Furthermore, the foot joint is lacking altogether, so that the lowest note of the piccolo is D.
Another principle of auxiliary instruments is exemplified in the piccolo, the principle of transposing instruments. The mechanism of the flute being reproduced in miniature (except for the missing foot joint), a flutist plays the piccolo with the same fingering to which he is accustomed. Since the instrument is but half the size of the flute (12% inches), the notes sound an octave higher. The piccolo part in the score must be read as sounding an octave higher than written.
The interest of composers in the auxiliary instruments has given them positions of importance nearly equal to that of the standard types in each family. This development has been strengthened by advances, to the point of specialization, in the technique of playing these instruments, and still more by the realization that what were once considered defects are really qualities, to be studied for their advantages, and to be recognized as additions to the coloristic resources of the various families of woodwind. The peculiar hollow sound of low tones of the piccolo can be very effective in the right surroundings.
The upper tones of the piccolo are bright and piercing, easily heard above the maximum sonority of the full orchestra. The instrument is here unsurpassed in penetrating power. Its highest octave should therefore be used sparingly. In high-pitched chords, the three upper notes may be given to two flutes with the piccolo on top. The piccolo adds highlights to the orchestral tutti, strengthening the upper partials of the harmony.
The piccolo will be found most useful in its medium range. Here it combines more flexibly with other instruments, and contributes less edginess to the sonority. It is often better, when doubling the flute with piccolo, to write the latter an octave below, so that the two will sound in unison, especially when the flute is in its upper octave. Solo parts for the piccolo in this register are numerous.
Common errors in writing for the piccolo are the too consistent placing of the part in the highest octave, and the misconception that it is an instrument for loud music only. The piccolo is effective in inverse proportion to the amount of its use. It is capable of delicacy, and it can contribute much with a few notes skillfully placed.
Sometimes two piccolos are employed for the duration of a movement, or for a special passage. On these occasions, one of the piccolos is played by the second or third flutist.

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