The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century is one of the leading Classical-era "period" orchestras, known for its lively and attractive playing in what appears to be the authentic style of the period of the music.
Frans Brueggen, one of the world's leading recorder players, decided to switch his emphasis to conducting during the 1970s. This was a period when new researches in early music were presenting a new picture of how music before roughly 1825 was performed. At that time, specialists were founding so-called "original instruments" orchestras, especially in London, Amsterdam, and Vienna, leading centers of the movement. Brueggen formed the Orchestra of the 18th Century in 1981. Unlike most of the other ensembles using period instruments, the Orchestra was intended to represent a full-scale orchestra such as might be found in the leading music centers of Vienna, Paris, and London. Brueggen gathered specialists in playing early instruments from 22 countries, many of them members of some of the smaller early instrument ensembles. There were 60 members in all. Rather than creating a full-time orchestra, Brueggen planned that the orchestra would meet in Amsterdam three or four times a year to rehearse programs then go on tour. All its members play instruments either built during the Baroque or Classical eras, or on modern-built instruments that are replicas of authentic period instruments. In the cases of woodwinds, all the instruments, including the flutes, are made of wood, and do not use the modern Boehm system of keys. Instead, they tend to have air holes that are covered directly by the fingers, or simpler keying systems. Their sounds are harder-edged and more assertive than their modern equivalents, except for the flutes, which are more liquid in tone. The brasses are all valveless "natural" instruments. Except for the trombones (not often used in that period but already possessing its characteristic slide), these brasses can only play a few "natural" overtone notes of the selected key. The horns could reach adjacent notes, but only by sticking the fist up the instrument's bell, drastically altering the characteristics of the sound. These brass instruments are brighter and edgier than their modern equivalents. "Period" strings are any strings that are set up in the 18th century manner, with flatter bridges, gut-only strings, no chin rests, and a convex rather than modern concave bow. They are generally played without vibrato and had a softer, feathery sound, which some people think is a whiny sound, but this is more a function of some players' understanding of the style of playing than inherent in the instruments. The resulting sound gives the winds more prominence. This and the opinion that the music of the period was played faster than later became common results in performances that can be strikingly vigorous and exciting.
The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century rapidly became popular and gained a recording contract with the giant Philips label, moving later to the Glossa label. It has recorded large-orchestra works by Purcell, Bach, and Rameau of the Baroque era. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven of the Classical era, and the music of Schubert (who straddles the Classical and early Romantic) and Mendelssohn of the early Romantic. Many of these recordings have earned major record awards. Frans Brueggen frequently conducted it on records and during its extensive tours. After his death in 2014, the orchestra worked with several guest conductors and even conductorless at times. Its first recording without Brueggen, Mozart: The Oboe Concerto, was released in late 2016.