1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trumpet

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TRUMPET (Fr. trompette, clairon; Ger. Trompete, Klarino, Trummet; Ital. tromba, trombetta, clarino), in music, a brass wind instrument with cup-shaped mouthpiece and a very characteristic tone. It consists of a brass or silver tube with a narrow cylindrical bore except for the bell joint, forming from ⅓ to ¼ of the whole length, which is conical and terminates in a bell of moderate diameter. The tube of the trumpet is doubled round upon itself to form a long irregular rectangle with rounded corners. A tuning slide consisting of two U-shaped cylindrical tubes fitting into each other is interpolated between the bell joint and the long cylindrical joint to which the mouthpiece is attached. The mouthpiece consists of a hemispherical cup with a rim across which the lips stretch. The shape of the cup, and more especially of the bottom, in which is pierced a hole communicating with the main bore, is of the greatest importance on account of its influence on the tone quality and on the production of the higher harmonics (see Mouthpiece). The shallower and smaller the cup the more easily are the higher harmonics produced; the sharper the angle at the bottom of the cup the more brilliant and incisive is the timbre, given, of course, the correct style of blowing. The diameter of the cup varies according to the pitch and to the lip-power of the player who chooses one to suit him. See Horn for the laws governing the acoustic properties of brass tubes and the production of sound by means of the lips stretched like a vibrating membrane across the mouthpiece.

Britannica Trumpet Military Trumpet in F.png

Fig. 1. — Military Trumpet in F


There are three principal kinds of trumpets: (1) the natural trumpet, mainly used in cavalry regiments, in which the length of the tube and pitch are varied by means of crooks; (2) the slide and double-slide trumpets, in which a chromatic compass is obtained, as in the trombone, by double tubes sliding upon one another without loss of air; (3) the valve trumpet, similar in its working to all other valve instruments. The first and second of these alone give the true trumpet timbre; the tone of the valve trumpet approximates to that of the cornet, nevertheless, it is now almost universally used.

In the trumpet the notes of the harmonic series from the 3rd to the 10th or 16th upper partials are produced by the varied tension of the lips and pressure of breath called overblowing. The fundamental and the second harmonic are rarely obtainable, and are therefore left out of consideration; the next octave from the 4th to the 8th harmonics contains only the 3rd, 5th and minor 7th, and is therefore mainly suitable for fanfare figures based on the common chord. The diatonic octave is the highest and its upper notes are only reached by very good players on trumpets of medium pitch. Examination of the scoring for the trumpet before any satisfactory means of bridging over the gaps in the compass had been found, shows how little the composers, and especially Bach, allowed themselves to be daunted by the limited resources at their disposal. A curious phenomenon has been observed[1] in connexion with the harmonic series of the trumpet, when the instrument is played by means of a special clarino mouthpiece (a shallow one enabling the performer to reach the higher harmonics), in which the passage at the bottom of the cup inaugurated by the sharp angle (known as the grain in French) is prolonged in cylindrical instead of conical bore for a distance of about 10 cm. (4 in.) right into the main tube. This peculiar construction of the mouthpiece, which might be considered insignificant, so upsets the acoustic properties of the tube that extra notes can be interpolated between the legitimate notes of the harmonic series thus: —

Britannica Trumpet Scale with Clarino Mouthpiece.png&c.

The black notes represent the extra notes, which in the next octave transform the diatonic into a chromatic scale.

This phenomenon may perhaps furnish an explanation of some peculiarities in the scoring of Bach and other composers of his day, and also in accounts of certain performances on the trumpet which have read[2] as fairy tales. It is probable that the clarino mouthpiece was one of the secrets of the gilds which has remained undiscovered till now. D. J. Blaikley writes[3]: “I had an opportunity yesterday of trying the trumpet mouthpiece as described by Mahillon with the 'grain' or 'throat,' as we would call it, extended for about 10 cm. and terminating abruptly. With such a mouthpiece, used by itself without any trumpet, I could easily get notes from Britannica Trumpet Range with Extended Throat.png that is to say, that a continuous glide ranging over that compass can be made, the pitch at any moment being determined by the lip-pressure, rather than by the small air-column. When such a distorted mouthpiece is fitted to a

trumpet, we have a resonator whose proper tones are disturbed and all the notes sounded are capable of being much modified in pitch by the lips. For instance, we may regard the 'd' as either No. 4 sharpened or No. 5 flattened, merely by lip-action, and other notes in the same way."

The compass of the three kinds of trumpets in real sounds is as follows: —

For the natural trumpet with crooks —

Britannica Trumpet Natural Trumpet Range.png

For the slide or double-slide trumpet with all chromatic semitones —

Britannica Trumpet Slide Trumpet Range.png

This instrument is a non-transposing one, the music being sounded as written.

For the valve trumpet —

Britannica Trumpet Valve Trumpet Range.png

The material of which the tube is made has nothing to do with the production of that brilliant quality of tone by which the trumpet is so easily distinguished from every other mouthpiece instrument; the difference is partly due to the distinct form given to the basin of the mouthpiece, as stated above, but principally to the proportions of the column of air determined by the bore. The difference in timbre between trumpet and trombone is accounted for by the wider bore and differently shaped mouthpiece of the latter instrument.

Tonguing, both double and triple, is used with great effect on the trumpet: this device consists in the articulation with the tongue of the syllables te-ke or ti-ke repeated in rapid succession for groups of two or four notes and of te-ke-ti for triplets.

We have no precise information as to the form which the lituus, one of the ancestors of the modern trumpet, assumed during the middle ages, and it is practically unrepresented in the miniatures and other antiquities, though there is a miniature in the Bible, presented in 850 to Charles the Bald, which places the lituus in the hands of one of the companions of King David. We are not, however, warranted in concluding from this that the Etruscan instrument was in use in the 9th century. The lituus or cavalry trumpet of the Romans seems to have vanished with the fall of the Roman Empire, for although the name occasionally finds a place in Latin vocabularies, the instrument and name are both unrepresented in the development of musical instruments of western Europe: its successor, the cavalry trumpet of the 15th and succeeding centuries, was evolved from the straight busine, an instrument traced, by means of its name no less than by the delicate proportions of its tube and the shape of the bell, to the Roman buccina (q.v.). The straight busines, if we may judge from the presentments made by various artists, were not all made with bores of the same calibre, some having the wider bore of the trombone, others that of the trumpet. They abound in the illuminated MSS. of the 11th to the 14th centuries. The uses to which they are put, as the instruments of angels, of heralds, of trumpeters on horseback and on foot, at court banquets and functions of state, form additional proof of their identity. Fra Angelico (d. 1455) painted angels with trumpets having either straight or zigzag tubes, the shortest being about 5 ft. long.[4] The perfect representation of the details, the exactness of the proportions, the natural pose of the angel players, suggest that the artist painted the instrument from real models.

The credit of having bent the tube of the trumpet in three parallel branches, thus creating its modern form, has usually been claimed for a Frenchman named Maurin (1498-1515). But the transformation was really made much earlier, probably in the Low Countries or north Italy; in any case it had already been accomplished in the bas-reliefs of Luca della Robbia intended to ornament the organ chamber of the cathedral of Florence where a trumpet having the tube bent back as just described is very distinctly figured. From the beginning of the 16th century we have numerous sources of information. Virdung[5] cites three kinds of mouthpiece instruments — the Felttrumet, the Clareta, and the Thurner Horn; unfortunately he does not mention their distinctive characters, and it is impossible to make them out by examination of his engravings. Probably the Felttrumet and the Clareta closely resembled each other; but the compass of the former, destined for military signals, hardly went beyond the eighth proper tone, while the latter, reserved for high parts, was like the clarino (see below). The Thurner Horn was probably a kind of clarino or clarion used by watchmen on the towers. The Trummet and the Jäger Trommet are the only two mouthpiece instruments of the trumpet kind cited by Praetorius.[6] The first was tuned in D at the chamber pitch or “Cammerton,” but with the help of a shank it could be put in C, the equivalent of the “chorton” D, the two differing about a tone. Sometimes the Trummet was lowered to B and even B♭. The Jäger Trommet, or “trompette de chasse,” was composed of a tube bent several times in circles, like the posthorn, to make use of a comparison employed by Praetorius himself. His drawing does not make it clear whether the column of air was like that of the trumpet; there is therefore some doubt as to the true character of the instrument. The same author further cites a wooden trumpet (hölzern Trommet}, which is no other than the Swiss Alpenhorn or the Norwegian luur. The shape of the trumpet, as seen in the bas-reliefs of Luca della Robbia, was retained for more than three hundred years: the first alterations destined to revolutionize the whole technique of the instrument were made about the middle of the 18th century. Notwithstanding the imperfections of the trumpet during this long period, the performers upon it acquired an astonishing dexterity.

The usual scale of the typical trumpet, that in D, is

Britannica Trumpet Baroque Scale.png

Praetorius exceeds the limits of this compass in the higher range, for he says a good trumpeter could produce the subjoined notes.

Britannica Trumpet Baroque Scale Subjoined Notes.png

This opinion is shared by Bach, who, in a trumpet solo which ends the cantata “Der Himmel lacht,” wrote up to the twentieth harmonic. So considerable a compass could not be reached by one instrumentalist: the trumpet part had therefore to be divided, and each division was designated by a special name.[7] The part that was called principal went from the fifth to the tenth of these tones. The higher region, which had received the name of “clarino,” was again divided into two parts: the first began at the eighth proper tone and mounted up towards the extreme high limit of the compass, according to the skill of the executant; the second, beginning at the sixth proper tone, rarely went beyond the twelfth. Each of these parts was confided to a special trumpeter, who executed it by using a larger or a smaller mouthpiece. Some of the members of the harmonic series also received special names; the fundamental or first proper note was called Flatter grob, the second Grobstimme, the third Faulstimme, the fourth Mittelstimme.

Playing the clarino differed essentially from playing the military trumpet, which corresponded in compass to that called principal. Compelled to employ very small mouthpieces to facilitate the emission of very high sounds, clarino players could not fail to alter the timbre of the instrument, and instead of getting the brilliant and energetic quality of tone of the mean register they were only able to produce more or less sonorous notes without power and splendour. Apart from this inconvenience, the clarino presented numerous deviations from just intonation. Hence the players of that time failed to obviate the bad effects inevitably resulting from the natural imperfection of the harmonic scale of the trumpet in that extreme part of its compass; in the execution, for instance, of the works of Bach, where the trumpet should give sometimes Britannica Trumpet F.png, and sometimes Britannica Trumpet F sharp.png, the instrumentalist could only command the eleventh proper tone, which is neither the one nor the other of these. Further, the thirteenth proper tone, for which Britannica Trumpet A.png is written, is really too flat, and but little can be done to remedy this defect, since it entirely depends upon the laws of resonance affecting columns of air.

Since the abandonment of the clarino (about the middle of the 18th century) our orchestras have been enriched with trumpets that permit the execution of the old clarino parts, not only with perfect justness of intonation, but with a quality of tone that is not deficient in character when compared with the mean register of the old principal instrument. The introduction of the clarinet or the so-called little clarino, although it is a wood wind instrument played with a reed, is one of the causes which led to the abandonment of the older instrument and may explain the preference given by the composers of that epoch to the mean register of the trumpet. The clarino having disappeared before Mozart's day, he had to change the trumpet parts of Handel and Bach to allow of their execution by the performers of his own time. It was now that crooks began to be frequently used. Trumpets were made in F instead of in D, furnished with a series of shanks of increasing length for the tonalities of E, E♭, D, D♭, C, B, B♭, and sometimes even A.

Britannica Trumpet Modern Slide Trumpet.png

Fig. 2. — Modern Slide Trumpet F to C (Besson).

The first attempts to extend the limited resources of the instrument in its new employment arose out of Hampel's Inventions-Horn, in which, instead of fixing the shanks between the mouthpiece and the upper extremity, they were adapted to the body of the instrument itself by a double slide, upon the two branches of which tubes were inserted bent in the form of a circle and gradually lengthened as required. This system was applied to the trumpet by Michael Woegel (born at Rastatt in 1748), whose “invention trumpet” had a great success, notwithstanding the unavoidable imperfection of a too great disparity in quality of tone between the open and closed sounds. It is a curious fact that the sackbut or early trombone was merely a trumpet with a slide, or a draw trumpet, and that it was known as such in England, Scotland, Spain, Holland and Italy. Yet as soon as the powerful family of tenor and bass trombones had been created, the slide trumpet seems to have lost its identity and to have become merged in the alto trombone from which it differed mainly in the form of the bent tube. The slide trumpet appears to have been re-invented in the 18th century according to Johann Ernst Altenburg, or as some writers put it, “the slide was adapted to it from the trombone.” It was mentioned in 1700 by Kuhnau.[8] Any one wishing to be convinced of this re-incarnation may compare the modern slide-trumpet with the original slide-trumpet or alto sackbut in the Grimiani Breviary,[9] a MS. of the 15th century, and with E. van der Straeten's reproduction[10] of an old engraving by Galle and Stradan from the Encomium Musices in which the forms are identical except that in the modern slide-trumpet the bell reaches the level of the U-shaped bottom of the slide.

Britannica Trumpet Encomium Musices Slide Trumpet.png

(From the Encomium Musices.)

Fig. 3. — Slide Trumpet 16th century.

The slide trumpet is still used in England in a somewhat modified form. The slide is a short one allowing of four positions. In 1889 a trumpet was constructed by Mr W. Wyatt with a double slide which gave the trumpet a complete chromatic compass. This instrument, which has the true brilliant trumpet tone, requires delicate manipulation, for the shifts are necessarily very short. About 1760 Kölbel, a Bohemian musician,[11] applied a key to the bugle, and soon afterwards the trumpet received a similar addition. By opening this key, which is placed near the bell, the instrument was raised a diatonic semitone, and by correcting errors of intonation by the tension of the lips in the mouthpiece the following diatonic succession was obtained.

Britannica Trumpet Kölbel Succession.png

This invention was improved in 1801 by Weidinger,[12] trumpeter to the imperial court at Vienna, who increased the number of keys and thus made the trumpet chromatic throughout its scale.[13] The instrument shown in fig. 4 is in G; the keys are five in number, and as they open one after another or in combination it is possible to connect the second proper tone with the third by chromatic steps, and thus produce the following succession: —

Britannica Trumpet Keyed Scale.png
Britannia Trumpet Keyed Trumpet.png
Fig. 4. — Keyed Trumpet.

The number of keys was applied to fill up the gaps between the extreme sounds of the interval of a fifth; and a like result was arrived at more easily for the intervals of the fourth, the major third, &c., furnished by the proper tones of 3, 4, 5, &c. But, though the keyed trumpet was a notable improvement on the invention trumpet, the sounds obtained by means of the lateral openings of the tube did not possess the qualities which distinguish sounds caused by the resonance of the air-column vibrating in its entirety. But in 1815 Stölzel made a genuine chromatic trumpet by the invention of the Ventile or piston.[14] The natural-trumpet is now no longer employed except in cavalry regiments.[15] It is usually in E♭. The bass trumpet in E♭, which is an octave lower, is sometimes, but rarely, used. Trumpets with pistons are generally constructed in F, with crooks in E and E♭. In Germany trumpets in the high B♭ with a crook in A are very often used in the orchestra. They are easier for cornet à piston players than the trumpet in F. A quick change trumpet in Bb with combined tuning and transposing slides, for changing into the key of A, known as the “Proteano” trumpet, has been patented by Messrs Besson & Co. The transposing slide always remains at the correct length, and change of the tuning slide does not necessitate readjustment of the former. This combination slide is fitted to the ordinary valve trumpet as well as to the trumpet with “enharmonic” valves. Mahillon constructed for the concerts of the Conservatoire at Brussels trumpets in the high D, an octave above the old trumpet in the same key. They permit the execution of the high trumpet parts of Handel and J. S. Bach. The bass trumpet with pistons used for Wagner's tetralogy is in E♭, in unison with the ordinary trumpet with crooks of D and C; but, when constructed so as to allow of the production of the second proper tone as written by this master, this instrument belongs rather to the trombones than to the trumpets.

Britannica Trumpet Proteano Trumpet.png

Transposing Slide        Tuning Slide

Fig. 5. — Proteano Trumpet in B♭ and A (Besson).

  1. See V. Mahillon, La Trompette, son histoire, sa théorie, sa construction (Brussels and London, 1907, pp. 29-30).
  2. See Fetis, Biographie universelle des musiciens, “Fantini.”
  3. Letter to the present writer, 6th of February 1909.
  4. In the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris, reproduced in facsimile by Count Auguste de Bastard (Paris, 1883).
  5. Musica getutscht und auszgezogen (Basel, 1511).
  6. Organographia (Wolfenbüttel, 1619).
  7. Musicus αὐτοδίδακτος oder der sich selbst informirende Musicus (Eisel, Erfurt, 1738).
  8. Der musikalische Quacksalber, p. 83.
  9. Brit. Mus. Facsimile, 61, pl. 9.
  10. La Musique aux Pays-Bas, vi. 252.
  11. Versuch einer Anleitung zur heroisch-musikalischen Trompeter- und Pauker-Kunst, p. 12 (Halle, 1795).
  12. 5 See Allg. musikal. Ztg. (November 1802), p. 158; (January 1803) p. 245; and E. Hanslicks, Gesch. des Concertwesens in Wien (1869), p. 119.
  13. Robert Eitner made a curious confusion between the keyed and valve trumpets (Klappen- und Ventil-Trompete). In an article entitled Wer hat die Ventil-Trompete erfunden? (Monatshefte für Musikwissenschaft, p. 41, Berlin, 1881) he deprives Stölzel of the credit of the invention of the valve in favour of Weidinger, ridiculing the notion that the keyed and the valve trumpets were not one and the same thing. Following up the idea in his Tonkünstler Lexikon, he leaves out Stölzel's name and ascribes to Weidinger the invention of the valve, with a reference to his article.
  14. For this ingenious mechanism, see Valve; also Gottfried Weber, Über Ventilhorn und Trompete mit 3 Ventilen, Caecilia xvii. 73-104 (Mainz, 1835); and Allg. musikal. Ztg. xxiii. 411 (Leipzig, 1821); also A. Ung, “Verbesserung der Trompete und ähnlicher Instrumente,” ibid. (1815), xviii. 633.
  15. For accounts of the early use of the trumpet as a signalling and cavalry instrument in the British army, see Sir Roger Williams, A Brief Discourse of War, p. 9, &c. (London, 1590); Grose, Military Antiquities, ii. 41; Sir S. D. Scott, The British Army, ii. 389-400 (London, 1868); and H. G. Farmer, Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band (London, 1904).