A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cornet

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CORNET. (Ital. Cornetto; Fr. Cornet à pistons). The name was formerly given to a rude reed instrument of the oboe family [App. p.599 "Zinke, vol. iv. p.511"], but ia now applied to a brass instrument with cupped mouthpiece, intermediate between the French horn, trumpet, and bugle, of comparatively modern construction, and formerly called also Cornopean. It possesses the usual scale of open or harmonic notes, as follows:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn \relative c' { c4 g' c e g bes c } }

the real fundamental being the octave below the lowest here given, which is never made use of.

It is also possible to produce four notes above the top C, corresponding to those commonly used in the trumpet;
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 6/4 d'''4 e''' f''' g''' }
but for the larger bore and mouthpiece of the cornet they are difficult, and comparatively unused. The French horn, on the other hand, standing an octave lower than the cornet, obtains two harmonic sounds, the B♭ and C, above the G last given.

The chief characteristic of the cornet is the use of valves or pistons for the purpose of increasing its compass and bridging over the gaps between the natural harmonic sounds. The valves are usually three in number. They consist essentially of mechanism, by means of which a bye-way or diversion, somewhat longer than the direct road, is opened to the vibrating column of air. The first valve thus depresses the pitch by a tone, the second by a semitone, the third by three semitones. They can be used singly or together. In this manner the lower limit is removed downward to F♯ in the bass stave, and six semitones are obtained by the use of the pistons singly or in combination:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \clef bass \cadenzaOn fis4^"1, 2, 3" s1 g4^"1, 3" s1 aes4^"2, 3" s1 a4^"1, 2 or 3" s1 bes4^"1" s1 b4^"3" }

By the same method all notes intervening between the open notes of the natural scale can be provided for. In the absence of such a contrivance, the early composers for the trumpet were driven to make use of the superior octave, in which a consecutive scale of open notes can be obtained. This is well seen in Handel's solos for the trumpet. It materially increases the brilliancy and the difficulty of the older instrument.

The cornet was originally made with several 'crooks,' for the keys of A, B♭, A♭, G, C, and even others; but it has been customary of late to dispense with all but the A and B♭ crooks, which correspond to the clarinets of similar name.

The bore of the instrument is intermediate in size between the small cylindrical tube and restricted bell of the trumpet, and the broad conical form of the bugle. The tone stands in corresponding relation to those instruments, lacking the penetration of the former, and the smooth hornlike fulness of the latter.

The cornet has not yet been much employed in the scores of classical music, though occasionally used in orchestras instead of the trumpet. In operas an instance of its use which will be familiar is the air 'When other lips' in Balfe's 'Bohemian Girl.'

[ W. H. S. ]