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Trumpet in C - History 1 – early to baroque

The Middle Ages – from the straight trumpet to the coiled form

The beginnings of the modern trumpet in Europe can be traced back to the 11th century. It was then that the forerunner of all modern brass instruments first emerged: the busine (from the Roman bucina). The busine first appeared in southern Italy, in two different forms: one had a conical, curved tube, the other a straight, cylindrical one. The former instrument led to the development of horns, the latter to that of trumpets.

From 1400 onward the straight tube began to change, first to an S-shape and then to the double coiled form which is still found today. This development took place over a matter of decades and was achieved by the use of semi-circular pieces of tubing. The detachable bell was originally nothing more than a slightly conical funnel. In the late Middle Ages the trumpet still only had a range of four notes, namely the naturals 1–4 in the low register.

Fanfare trumpet

Slide trumpet, Geert Jan van der Heide, Netherlands; copy in 15th century style (Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

In the 15th century a slide trumpet was also already in use: its tube length could be increased by extending the mouthpipe, which made it possible to pay several notes outside the natural harmonic series.

When from 1250 onward the trombone began to establish itself as the member of the trumpet family best suited for tenor and bass parts, the trumpet’s range increased and rose in pitch. This was achieved by overblowing to higher and higher naturals (partials).

Renaissance and Baroque – the golden age of clarino playing

Pretzel-shaped trumpet in D

Pretzel-shaped trumpet in D, John Webb, London 1989. Reproduction of a trumpet by A. Schnitzer (Nuremberg 1581) of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

As the Middle Ages drew to a close the trumpet, which had hitherto served as a signaling instrument in battle, began to gain importance as a symbol of authority as well. In Renaissance and Baroque times decrees were passed to govern the use of trumpeters – in fact, the employment of trumpeters remained the privilege of princes and favorites of the emperor right up until the 18th century! The Court and Field Trumpeters’ guild, which enjoyed great privileges, was a jealous guardian of the secret art of trumpet-playing and passed it on only to carefully selected young men of high honor and unimpeachable reputation.

The trainee court and field trumpeters had to serve an apprenticeship of several years before they were able to take an examination which was a most exacting test of their musical prowess. If they passed this test and were taken on at court they received the title of court trumpeter. If they had been into battle, they could call themselves field or military trumpeter.

At the imperial court in Vienna in around 1550 six trumpeters (and a drummer) were in the emperor’s employ. By 1721 these numbers had doubled to sixteen trumpeters and two drummers, a development that was mirrored at other courts too. Although a field trumpeter enjoyed many privileges – his status was equal to that of an officer – he was also subject to a number of obligations and restrictions: the trumpet was only to be played in the field and at official secular ceremonies. Later, however, it was also permitted at certain church ceremonies, but only at religious solemnities and not at joyful occasions such as weddings and baptisms.

In the 16th century the trumpet’s range increased up to the 13th natural. This now quite considerable range led trumpeters to specialize in a particular register within the instrument’s compass. The highest register from the 8th partial upward was called clarino. Trumpets which were used solely for playing the clarino register – the clarino trumpets – were fitted with a special clarino mouthpiece, a narrow-bore cup-shaped mouthpiece with a sharp-angled rim.

Since the Middle Ages a wide variety of names had been used in Europe for the trumpet, such as tuba, tromba or trombetta, trummet, tarantara, clarino or clareta etc. The modern word “trumpet” is derived from trombetta.

At the same time that trumpeters were splitting into the two groups of “high and “low” players, a division between court and field trumpeters was also taking place. During the 17th century the performance of the lowest register was increasingly associated with the field trumpeters, while the softer style of clarino playing became the province of soloists at court.

Slide trumpet

Trumpet in D, Webb, London (reproduction; Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

At the beginning of the 17th century the trumpet became an established part of art music – half a century earlier than the horn. One reason for this was undoubtedly the fact that the trumpet with its cylindrical tubes was relatively easy to make compared to the conical and coiled horn. From 1610 court composers began integrating trumpet parts into vocal compositions, mainly masses (messe con trombe). From 1620 the trumpet gained increasing popularity as an orchestral instrument (in 1675 it appeared in an opera orchestra for the first time in Legrenzi’s opera Eteocle e Polinice. But up until the 19th century the role of the trumpet in opera was still confined mainly to the evocation of majestic and solemn moods). The use of the trumpet in art music led to a fundamental change in the players’ performance practice. They now had to familiarize themselves with the rules of art music and, above all, they had to learn to read music.

In the 17th century many trumpeters were not yet familiar with written musical notation. As a rule there were several trumpet parts, played by between five and seven trumpeters, two of whom could read music. The others played their parts by ear. But this does not mean that trumpeters of that time were less proficient – on the contrary, the demands made on them were extremely high, because a trumpeter was expected to be able to embrace the latest style and include the most popular pieces of the time in his repertoire.

The first printed trumpet method (Modo per imperare a sonare di tromba...) was written by G. Fantini, probably the most famous trumpeter of his time, and appeared in 1638.

Bach trumpet

Bach trumpet in F, Mainz, Germany, brothers Alexander, perhaps 1952. Specially developed in 1934 for performances of J.S. Bach’s music (Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

In the 17th and 18th centuries clarino playing evolved into a technique of exceptional virtuosity. Clarino players reached higher and higher clarino pitches, leading composers to call for ever higher notes in the natural harmonic series. The best known composers of baroque clarino parts for trumpet are Bach and Handel.

Vienna was regarded as the home of baroque trumpet playing; there, and in other major centers such as Leipzig, Dresden, Kromeriz, Bologna and London countless concertos for clarino trumpeters were written. The most famous baroque trumpeter of all was probably Johann Heinisch, who was engaged at the court in Vienna from 1727 to 1750. Especially for him and the bevy of trumpeters that flocked around him concertos were written that required the 24th (!) natural as the highest note.

The highest note ever written in a trumpet concerto is a concert A6 in the 1st trumpet concerto in D major by Michael Haydn, Joseph Haydn’s younger brother; on the baroque D trumpet this was the 24th natural. Michael Haydn’s 2nd trumpet concerto in C major is regarded as the most difficult trumpet piece ever written: it goes up to the 20th natural.

In comparison, the compass of the modern trumpet goes as far as the 8th natural. This, in fact, sounds at the same pitch as the baroque natural trumpet’s 16th natural, because the shorter tube length of today’s instrument means it is pitched an octave higher.

The high standing enjoyed by the clarino trumpet was due principally to the fact that baroque musicians were very strongly influenced by the human voice. The way that sound is produced on wind instruments resembles the singing voice far more strongly than sound production on stringed instruments, and for this reason the former were more popular than the latter.

Beside pieces for the clarino register, countless orchestral works were also written during the Baroque period which only required the naturals 2 to 12 (written C3–G5). For baroque music, trumpets pitched in low Bb, C and D were most often required. For the Bb and D tunings the corresponding natural trumpets in Bb and D were used, while the C tuning was achieved by lowering the pitch of the natural trumpet in D by means of a crook. In addition, trumpets in low F and low G were made in the second half of the 18th century. These could be lowered to E, Eb, D, C and Bb by using crooks.