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History 2 – classical to modern

The trumpet in classical music – restrained use and attempts at chromaticization

In the middle of the 18th century the clarinet was introduced into the orchestra. This instrument initially sounded so much like a trumpet with its hard, powerful sound that it replaced the clarino. That is how the instrument got its name: clarinette, the little clarino. The days of clarino playing were effectively over.

Early classical taste favored less ostentatious virtuosity and more the softer sounds of violins combined with woodwinds. Trumpet concertos went right out of fashion.

The classical style of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven still incorporated pairs of trumpets which worked together with the timpani. In symphonic works their role was limited to that of a ripieno instrument. They were used for the performance of sustained notes and signal notes, and had the special task of intensifying the tonal effect in particular places (e.g. for fanfares or fanfare-like chords).

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“Crescent” trumpet in F, John Webb, London 1989 (reproduction, Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

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Valve trumpet in G, Meinl & Lauber, Geretsried, Germany, 1968. Reproduction of an original built by A. Doke in Linz (Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)

In around 1770, efforts were being made to increase the range of the natural trumpet so that it could be used as a melody instrument particularly in the middle and low registers (the upper naturals were so close together that they formed a kind of scale). To this end, the technique of hand stopping, hitherto used only on the horn, was applied to the trumpet. To make this possible the trumpet was either curved so that the hand could be placed in the bell, or was made crescent-shaped (the French trompette-demilune). Apart from the stop-trumpet, a hand-trumpet with a U-shaped slide crook (the so-called Inventionstrompete) was being used. In England the trumpeter John Hyde developed a slide trumpet which was fitted with a U-shaped slide similar to the trombone’s, with the difference that his trumpet-slide was extended upward. An improved version of the slide trumpet was played in England during the whole of the 19th century. In 1790 the Austrian trumpeter Anton Weidinger made a keyed trumpet, for which Haydn and Hummel wrote their concertos.

The keyed trumpet had three keys which remained closed when the instrument was not in use. Opening the keys raised the pitch by a half note, a whole note and one and a half notes successively. This technique made it possible to bridge the gap between the 2nd and 3rd naturals. Subsequently instruments with four keys (raising pitch by a major third) and more were developed.

Romantic period – the rise of the valve trumpet

When valves were fitted to the trumpet for the first time in 1820 it became possible to play a full chromatic scale on the instrument. The valve trumpet was quickly accepted in military bands and popular music. Orchestral musicians greeted this innovation with great skepticism initially, because the sound of the first valve trumpets was nowhere near as homogeneous and full as that of the natural trumpet. But the instrument’s obvious advantages meant that it soon found acceptance. In the orchestra it also faced competition from the more easily playable cornet, which remained more popular especially in France and the USA until the turn of the 20th century.

From the middle of the 19th century the trend was toward the use of high Bb and high C trumpets only, which are the trumpets most commonly used today. The demands on the players’ technique had become so great that trumpeters switched to these shorter instruments. The new trumpet’s tube was only half as long, which not only raised its fundamental pitch by an octave but also made it considerably easier to play. In addition, the bore became narrower. It goes without saying that these developments also had an effect on the intensity of the instrument’s sound; whereas the long trumpets had a particularly mighty and dominant sound which overshadowed the entire orchestra, the modern valve trumpet is far more unobtrusive and elegant.

The emergence of the valve trumpet brought about a radical change in the instrument’s role in the orchestra. It was increasingly given thematic tasks to perform. Today the most widely used trumpets are those in Bb and C, together with the piccolo trumpet and very seldom the bass trumpet. Between two and four trumpets are usually called for in orchestral works.

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Stoelzel valve trumpet in F (high tuning), Chas Paice, London. Valves with exchangeable tubes for E, Eb, D, and C are presumably original (Musikinstrumentenmuseum Schloss Kremsegg, Austria, Streitwieser collection)