A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Sackbut

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SACKBUT (Fr. Saguebute, Sambuque; Span. Sacabuche; Ital. Trombone; Ger. Posaune). An old name for the Trombone or Bass-trumpet. There is good evidence that, besides the Tuba and Lituus, the Romans had instruments of the trumpet family, provided with a slide for altering their pitch. Indeed a fine specimen, discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum, and presented to George III. is now in possession of Her Majesty the Queen. Some such instrument was known to Shakespeare, who has the passage:

The trumpets, sackbuts, psalteries, and fifes
Make the sun dance.—Coriolanus.

It is also named by Burton in his 'Anatomy of Melancholy': 'As he that plaies upon a Sagbut by pulling it up and down alters his tones and tunes.' The word translated Sackbut in the English Bible is sabeca, which was probably a stringed instrument, and which some identify with the σαμβύκη of the Greeks.

It is a singular fact that the sackbut or trombone, though known in Germany, a century ago had in this country fallen into disuse. This is clearly proved by the following extract from Dr. Burney's 'Account of the musical performances in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon on May 26, 27, 29, and June 3 and 5, 1784':

In order to render the band as powerful and complete as possible it was determined to employ every species of instrument that was capable of producing grand effects in a great orchestra and spacious building. Among these the Sacbut or Double Trumpet was sought: but so many years had elapsed since it had been used in this kingdom, that neither the instrument nor a performer upon it could easily be found. It was however discovered … that in his Majesty's private military band there were six musicians who played the three several species of sacbut, tenor, bass, and double bass.[1]

On referring to the band-list the following entry is found:

Tromboni or Sacbuts.
Mr. Karst. Mr. Moeller Mr. Pick
{{{1}}} Kneller. {{{1}}} Neibour. {{{1}}} Zink.

These performers played on other instruments when the Sacbuts were not wanted.

For musical details, see Trombone.

[ W. H. S. ]

  1. The most common Sacbut, which the Italians call Trombone, and the Germans Posaune, is an octave below the common trumpet; its length eight feet when folded, and sixteen straight. There is a manual by which a note can be acquired a fourth lower than the usual lowest sound on the trumpet, and all the tones and semitones of the common scale.' (Footnote in the original.)