Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer's Guide to Trumpet History and Literature

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Unlike the violin, which has flourished largely unchanged for close to four centuries, the trumpet has endured numerous changes in design and social status from the battlefield to the bandstand and ultimately to the concert hall. This colorful past is reflected in the arsenal of instruments a classical trumpeter employs during a performance, sometimes using no fewer than five in different keys and configurations to accurately reproduce music from the past. With the rise in historically inspired performances comes the necessity for trumpeters to know more about their instrument's heritage, its repertoire, and different performance practices for old music on new and period-specific instruments. More than just a history of the trumpet, this essential reference book is a comprehensive guide for musicians who bring that musical history to life.

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1. Fanfares and Finesse: An Introduction

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1  Fanfares and Finesse: An Introduction

Few instruments have endured the lengthy evolution of the trumpet. The violin has remained essentially the same since the seventeenth century, as has the piano since the middle of the nineteenth. Even the flute and the clarinet have enjoyed a relatively stable existence for the past two hundred years. However, the trumpet, in its current form, was not standardized until the middle of the twentieth century. Before that time, composers scored their music for a colorful menagerie of different trumpets of all sizes—with or without valves—as well as trumpetlike instruments (the keyed bugle, the cornet, the flugelhorn) and downright imposters (the cornett, or cornetto) (figure 1.1).

In other words, when trumpeters perform any music written before 1930, they need to realize that the composer possibly had an instrument in mind that was radically different from our familiar valved trumpet in B-flat or C. Thus, trumpeters today are forced to transpose, translate, and otherwise decode the music they perform, and this book is designed to help. This is not a history of the trumpet but rather a guidebook for those who have to put that history into practice. It is also intended to introduce techniques and issues related to playing period instruments for those who may be interested in trying them out. Playing the natural trumpet is a revelatory experience that changes the way modern trumpeters approach their instrument as well as the music composed for it.

 

2. The Natural Trumpet

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2  The Natural Trumpet

The foundation of trumpet performance technique is the harmonic overtone series. Trumpeters are exposed to this concept the first time they are required to play what are commonly known as “lip slurs,” or passages that involve changing pitches without the use of valves. This is the purest form of trumpet technique; however, the term is misleading. Lip slurs primarily involve variations in air velocity and the shape of the oral cavity to change pitch while the strength of the embouchure (lip vibration) remains more or less constant.1 The technique is similar to the movement of the tongue inside the mouth while whistling rather than any rapid changes in lip pressure or embouchure formation.

On a twenty-first-century trumpet with valves pitched in B-flat (subsequently referred to as the “modern” B-flat trumpet; figure 2.1), the overtone series is commonly experienced as the “open notes,” or those pitches produced without the aid of valves. The available pitches are rather limited (example 2.1), and even higher notes are obtainable, based on individual ability.

 

3. The Modern Baroque Trumpet with Vent Holes

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3  The Modern Baroque Trumpet with Vent Holes

Around 1960 Otto Steinkopf devised a system of three vent holes for a natural trumpet built by the German maker Helmut Finke that rendered the fickle eleventh and thirteenth partials in tune by the standards of equal temperament. The Steinkopf-Finke trumpet was a coiled trumpet patterned after the Jägertrompete held by Bach’s trumpeter, Gottfried Reiche, in the famous portrait painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann. It was not the first trumpet to employ vent holes, however. As mentioned previously, the earliest known trumpet with vent holes was made by the British craftsman William Shaw in 1787.1

Later, the British trumpeter Michael Laird devised a four-hole system that increased the stability of many pitches and offered additional solutions to intonation problems. Although vent holes made the natural trumpet safer to play, they altered the sound slightly. The resulting compromise instruments would certainly not have been used by trumpeters four hundred years ago and could hardly be called “natural.” In an attempt to clarify terms for these instruments, I refer to trumpets without holes as genuine natural trumpets, and vented instruments are called Baroque trumpets.

 

4. The Cornetto

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4  The Cornetto

Before the trumpet ascended to artistic prominence in the late seventeenth century, the cornett (in proper English) or cornetto (in Italian) was the dominant solo wind instrument played with a brass embouchure and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. Few instruments suffer from the identity crisis that plagues the cornett, and its name doesn’t help. The English term for the instrument was originally “cornet,” but the organologist Francis William Galpin suggested the current spelling with two ts in the early twentieth century to avoid confusion with the valved cornet in print. But what may be clear in print is indistinguishable in spoken language. Discussing musicians who play the two instruments further compounds the problem (“cornettist” versus “cornetist”). Scholarship on the instrument in the English language favors Galpin’s spelling, but the Italian term, cornetto, is often used interchangeably. For the sake of clarity, I identify those who play the cornett as “cornetto players” and those who play the nineteenth-century band instrument as “cornetists” throughout this book. I favor the Italian term (always italicized) but use the English spelling in most of this chapter because the context is unmistakable.

 

5. The Slide Trumpet

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5  The Slide Trumpet

Unlike the natural trumpet, the modern Baroque trumpet with vent holes, and the cornetto, the slide trumpet has not enjoyed a similar level of attention in the period instrument revival. The reason may be that the term “slide trumpet” describes three or more different instruments depending on the historical time period, musical style, and geographical location under consideration. The instrument’s repertoire is also partially to blame, some of which remains a source of conjecture, especially several cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. The primary focus of this chapter is the tromba da tirarsi and its predecessors, along with the flat (or flatt) trumpet and the English slide trumpet, as well as related instruments such as the corno da tirarsi and the soprano, or piccolo, trombone, which makes occasional cameo appearances in jazz performances under the name “slide trumpet.”

Before going any further, it is necessary to acknowledge that the trombone evolved from the slide trumpet in the Renaissance and that for some time these two cylindrical brass instruments and their slide mechanisms were not standardized. Also, details of instrumental construction and nomenclature were rather fluid in the sixteenth century. Differences between the horn, the trumpet, and the trombone became more distinct in the seventeenth century.1

 

6. The Quest for Chromaticism: Hand-Stopping, Keys, and Valves

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6  The Quest for Chromaticism: Hand-Stopping, Keys, and Valves

Attempts to expand the chromatic capabilities of the natural trumpet began with various slide mechanisms as early as the fifteenth century. As shown in chapter 5, slide trumpets allowed the instrument to retain its characteristic noble sound in related keys but did not enable virtuosic figuration or chromatic agility at fast tempi. Numerous technological experiments in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries strove to accomplish just that.

Two methods dominated this quest for facile chromaticism: cutting holes in tubing regulated by keys to enable nodal venting (similar to the modern Baroque trumpet with vent holes described in chapter 3) and adding tubing to the length of the instrument through appended smaller slides (like crooks) accessed by various valve mechanisms. Both methods functioned by accessing notes outside the harmonic series of a single length of tubing (like the natural trumpet or bugle) by tapping overtones produced by either shortening the main tubing (by holes regulated by keys, like in the woodwinds) or by lengthening it through appended tubing rather than a slide mechanism. The primary challenges for both systems involved tone quality, intonation, and fingering.

 

7. Bugles, Flügels, and Horns

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7  Bugles, Flügels, and Horns

Although musicians today affectionately refer to any high brass instrument as a “horn,” the term originally referred to instruments made from organic materials. The shofar, usually crafted from the horn of a ram or a goat, is perhaps the best-known example of this original meaning still in use (figure 7.1). The ancestor of the cornetto may well have been a cow horn with finger holes. Even a conch shell has been used as a signal instrument in nonwestern cultures.1

Most of these instruments, like the fictional “Horn of Gondor” depicted in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, carried religious or cultural significance and were crafted from animal horns. In fact, the term “bugle” descends from the Latin buculus, which means “bullock,” or a young bull, the source of the horn. The medieval oliphant—just as its name implies—was made from the tusk of an elephant. Bronze bugle-horns were later designed to imitate the shape and function of these animal horns, such as the twelfth-century moot horn (ca. 1180) that resides in Britain’s Winchester City Museum.2

 

8. The Cornet

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8  The Cornet

If the trumpet was the instrument of royalty, the cornet was the instrument of the masses. Fueled by the Industrial Revolution, mass-production techniques, and the growth of wind bands in the nineteenth century, the influence of the cornet on musical culture and brass virtuosity in general cannot be overstated. Many of the classic method books that trumpeters use today were written by cornet soloists: Arban, Clarke, Saint-Jacome, and Irons, just to name a few. The modern B-flat trumpet evolved directly from modifications to cornet design, and even famed trumpet maker Vincent Bach started out as a cornet soloist. Louis Armstrong’s first instrument was the cornet as well.

While its influence was vast, the cornet’s road to respectability included several detours for reasons that were partially social and largely cultural. After all, the cornet was not a trumpet, and some did not take kindly to its appearance in the orchestra, but the cornet represented a seminal force in the wind band and a formative one for the brass band. This chapter outlines the bewildering variety in cornet manufacture and discusses ways in which contemporary trumpeters might approach the instrument.

 

9. Changing of the Guard: Trumpets in Transition

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9  Changing of the Guard: Trumpets in Transition

One of the supreme ironies of music history is the extraordinary length of time it took for the modern valved trumpet to become established as the dominant high brass instrument. Cultural factors and conservative attitudes trumped technological innovation, for the most part, but that is only part of the story. Public contests between different instruments and their champions took place. Critics and composers waged war in print, and enterprising soloists raised the level of virtuosity ever higher while instrument makers strove for continuous innovation. This chapter highlights significant episodes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that bore witness to these changes in order to provide a more realistic perspective on the sometime fitful progress of trumpet history.

Healthy competition is an engine for innovation and a crucible for excellence as well as a source of entertainment. From the contests in the Baroque era between the castrato Farinelli and natural trumpet soloists (primarily to test lung power through sustained trills) to the ubiquitous talent shows on television today, musical competition has never gone out of style. In the nineteenth century there were major competitions at international expositions between instrument manufacturers—often a genuine “battle of the bands”—at which honors were bestowed, and more important, lucrative military supply contracts were awarded. In the twentieth century, instrumental solo competitions appeared that were designed to further the art and launch the recording careers of the winners.

 

10. Smaller Trumpets

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10  Smaller Trumpets

From the eighteenth-century natural trumpet to the twenty-first-century B-flat trumpet with valves, some would argue that the trumpet has continually evolved, like a sports car, into a smaller, more efficient instrument. From the E-flat cornet of nineteenth-century brass bands to the popularity of the modern piccolo trumpet in the late twentieth century, the higher trumpets are like the coloratura sopranos in the comic opera of brass playing. This chapter concerns the twentieth-century development of higher trumpets such as those pitched in D, E-flat, F, and G, as well as the piccolo trumpet pitched in A and B-flat, along with some suggestions for how they can be employed most effectively for a variety of repertoire and performance situations.

As discussed previously, trumpeters in the nineteenth century grappled with a variety of options for performing the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments. The slide trumpet enjoyed its own unique tradition for performing the works of Handel in England (see chapter 5), and trumpeters in Europe developed a number of solutions for performing the difficult repertoire of the late Baroque era.

 

11. Pitch, Temperament, and Transposition

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11  Pitch, Temperament, and Transposition

Because the trumpet’s family tree is populated by numerous instruments of differing size and design, the music written for them over the past five hundred years reflects this diversity. The most obvious concern that affects musicians today is the key of older instruments: trumpets in D, E-flat, and A, for example, which require modern trumpeters to transpose at sight when performing music on a trumpet pitched in a different key (usually B-flat or C). But other factors are not so obvious; historic pitch levels and temperament (the tuning of intervals within a scale), as well as which instruments and repertoire are most affected, require a bit of explanation.

When performing on period instruments, it is vitally important to clarify issues of pitch and temperament. It’s a terrible thing to show up to the first rehearsal with an instrument in the wrong key or pitch level.1 There are several historic pitch levels. The most common standards are known as Baroque pitch (A4 = 415 Hertz), Classical pitch (A4 = 430 Hz), high pitch or Chorton (A4 = 466 Hz), often used for ensembles of cornettos and sackbuts, and high pitch or Old Philharmonic pitch (A4 = 452.5 Hz) for nineteenth-century wind bands. It should be emphasized that singers (especially sopranos) and string players are far more affected by historic pitch standards than wind and brass players.

 

12. Early Repertoire and Performance Practice

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12  Early Repertoire and Performance Practice

The development of brass chamber music in the twentieth century along with the concurrent early music revival made accessible to brass players the repertoire of the Renaissance and early Baroque era that had previously languished, unplayed and underappreciated, in libraries and archives. Thanks to the publishing efforts of Robert King in the United States, Musica Rara in England, and many others, the works of composers like Johann Pezel, Tylman Susato, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Giovanni Gabrieli have been transcribed for twentieth-century brass instruments.

The repertoire under consideration in this chapter covers a lot of ground. From early trumpet ensembles through the golden age of the cornetto to the dawn of the Baroque, most of the music discussed is performed only by period instrument specialists. But a good deal of it appears in modern transcriptions, especially for brass chamber ensembles. Because this repertoire requires attention to several details regarding performance practice, information concerning historic articulation, ornamentation, and early musical notation is also introduced here.

 

13. Baroque Repertoire

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13  Baroque Repertoire

This chapter concerns the music for both modern and period instruments that is most seriously affected by issues regarding instrument selection. Some of the greatest music for the trumpet comes from the Baroque era, especially the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Professional trumpeters may spend a sizable portion of their career performing this literature. This chapter also covers the music of Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann, as well as trumpet parts in Italian and French opera of the period.

Trumpet parts for Baroque ensemble literature are more accessible than those for any other genre. The complete trumpet repertoire of Handel and Bach, especially, is available in a variety of sources. Unlike the excerpt books for standard orchestral literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a wealth of Baroque music for trumpet is published in complete parts rather than in short snippets presented out of context. Musica Rara published the entire Bach repertoire for trumpet in 1971 in three volumes edited by Ludwig Güttler. New editions appeared after 2002, published by Carus Verlag and edited by Edward Tarr and Uwe Wolf. Musica Rara published both the complete trumpet repertoire of Purcell in 1971 in one volume edited by John King and Handel’s complete repertoire for trumpet in 1974 in four volumes edited by Robert Minter. A collection of Telemann’s complete trumpet repertoire has not yet been published.

 

14. Classical Repertoire

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14  Classical Repertoire

Despite the novelty of Anton Weidinger and his keyed trumpet, the trumpet was not viewed as a solo instrument during the Classical era. Aside from the last gasps of clarino playing that flourished in imperial Vienna in the 1760s and later experiments with hand-stopping and key mechanisms, trumpet playing in the late eighteenth century was restricted to the second octave of the overtone series and the subordinate role of emphasizing simple tonic and dominant key centers in orchestral compositions. Societal changes also had an impact on the role of the trumpet in civic ceremonies. As monarchies and empires were replaced by democratic governments and political revolutionaries, the status of the formerly royal instrument was subsequently demoted.

As shown in earlier chapters, experiments with early keyed brasses and valve mechanisms were slow to be accepted into the mainstream for cultural as well as social reasons. Imperfections in intonation and inconsistences in tone quality were other factors. Although the nineteenth century would later be considered “the brass century” thanks to the popularity of the cornet and other valved brasses, the Age of Enlightenment was ironically the lowest point in the trumpet’s history from an artistic standpoint. This chapter explores the few highlights of the era, including orchestral writing, the concerti of Haydn and Hummel, and the changes in music education that were to bear fruit in the Romantic era.

 

15. Signals, Calls, and Fanfares

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15  Signals, Calls, and Fanfares

Mention a trumpet or a bugle, and the majority of the population will think of a fanfare. As is shown in chapter 7, signal horns of all types have a long history of guiding military maneuvers, traffic, and commerce. This chapter outlines the major points regarding high brass signals and, more important, demonstrates how examples of their unique repertoire surfaced in orchestral music. Specific pieces discussed include Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade” (K. 320), Mahler’s Third Symphony, and Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony (No. 3).

Brass instruments have long been prized for their ability to be heard over long distances. Early in the eleventh century the Chanson de Roland described Charlemagne’s hearing Roland sound his oliphant as a distress signal from thirty leagues away. An experiment performed by the British Royal Marine Artillery in 1854 found that copper bugles could be heard clearly up to a distance of two miles.1 Alphorns exist primarily to send signals across the Alps. To borrow a phrase from North American trumpeter Douglas Hedwig, these calls are “the earliest form of wireless communication.”

 

16. Strike Up the Band

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16  Strike Up the Band

Most trumpeters today encounter their formative musical experiences playing in a band. Whether in a brass band, concert band, marching band, or jazz band, trumpets and cornets often take the lead with artistically significant and technically challenging repertoire. The development of the modern valved trumpet in B-flat went hand in hand with the development of the wind band. Indeed, the evolution of the more trumpetlike cornet design in the 1920s and the adoption of the trumpet by pioneering jazz artists were both influenced by bands. Also, the leaders of famous bands were often cornet players, most notably Patrick Gilmore, Edwin Franko Goldman, and Merle Evans. W. C. Handy, the father of the blues, played the cornet in a band, and even John Philip Sousa played the cornet, although the violin was his primary instrument.

This chapter offers a brief survey of band history to provide a beneficial perspective and fill in some of the gaps in the cultural history of the trumpet family. Unfortunately, many general sources (especially music appreciation texts) fail to cover wind bands for reasons of benign neglect, cultural prejudice, or lack of space. This chapter attempts to rectify that trend by outlining the major categories of band development. Issues regarding the use of trumpets versus cornets in modern performance are left to the discretion of band directors and individual ensembles.

 

17. The Modern Orchestral Trumpet

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17  The Modern Orchestral Trumpet

Of the top fifteen excerpts requested by North American orchestras for trumpet auditions over the past thirty years, all but two of them (by Bach and Beethoven) come from repertoire composed after 1830, when valved trumpets and cornets began to appear (table 17.1).1 While the majority of the issues regarding instrument development and cultural history are covered in previous chapters, this chapter highlights some of the prominent trumpet solos in orchestra literature and offers practical advice for navigating the labyrinth of excerpt books and sheet music, as well as instrument selection, for contemporary orchestras rather than period instrument ensembles.

Excerpt Books, Parts, and Scores

One of the primary challenges in studying orchestral repertoire for the trumpet involves obtaining the sheet music. Excerpt books are notoriously incomplete, and copyright restrictions make it difficult to obtain complete parts for twentieth-century literature. Orchestral trumpet parts for much of the standard repertoire are available from a variety of sources. The Orchestra Musician’s CD-ROM Library publishes twelve volumes of parts for each instrument grouped by composer; parts are in Adobe PDF format for printing. For example, the complete trumpet parts for the symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner are included in the second volume. Individual orchestral trumpet parts may also be purchased from reprint publishing houses like Kalmus and Luck’s Music Library.2 In recent years, a wealth of repertoire has become available online through the Petrucci Music Library of the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).3 Digital copies of orchestral scores and instrumental parts in the public domain are downloadable in PDF format from IMSLP for a sizable percentage of the standard repertoire free of charge (depending on regional copyright restrictions).

 

18. Jazz and the Trumpet

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18  Jazz and the Trumpet

Just as cornet soloists influenced classical trumpet technique in the early twentieth century, jazz trumpeters became icons for a new age and exploded the limits of range and virtuosity. Innovative soloists like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Woody Shaw—just to name a few—redefined jazz styles with their dazzling artistry. If the piano and the violin served as the primary vehicles of virtuosity in the nineteenth century, it could be argued that the trumpet assumed that role in the twentieth, thanks in a large part to the colossal influence of jazz.

The emphasis on improvisation gave trumpeters a new artistic presence coupled with a powerful new sound ideal that could not be ignored. Improvisation had certainly been a force in earlier times, with medieval shawm ensembles playing dance music, early trumpet ensembles elaborating on fanfare formulas, and Renaissance cornetto players with their dazzling divisions and passaggi, but jazz was different. For the first time, trumpeters controlled the music they performed and became known as composers, innovators, and cultural forces of nature.

 

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