The Trumpet


In the first major book devoted to the trumpet in more than two decades, John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan trace the surprising evolution and colorful performance history of one of the world's oldest instruments. They chart the introduction of the trumpet and its family into art music, and its rise to prominence as a solo instrument, from the Baroque "golden age," through the advent of valved brass instruments in the nineteenth century, and the trumpet's renaissance in the jazz age. The authors offer abundant ...

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In the first major book devoted to the trumpet in more than two decades, John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan trace the surprising evolution and colorful performance history of one of the world's oldest instruments. They chart the introduction of the trumpet and its family into art music, and its rise to prominence as a solo instrument, from the Baroque "golden age," through the advent of valved brass instruments in the nineteenth century, and the trumpet's renaissance in the jazz age. The authors offer abundant insights into the trumpet's repertoire, with detailed analyses of works by Haydn, Handel, and Bach, and fresh material on the importance of jazz and influential jazz trumpeters for the reemergence of the trumpet as a solo instrument in classical music today.

Wallace and McGrattan draw on deep research, lifetimes of experience in performing and teaching the trumpet in its various forms, and numerous interviews to illuminate the trumpet's history, music, and players. Copiously illustrated with photographs, facsimiles, and music examples throughout, The Trumpet will enlighten and fascinate all performers and enthusiasts.

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Editorial Reviews


“Well cited, solidly illustrated, and easy to read.”—Choice 
“Well cited, solidly illustrated, and easy to read.”—Choice 
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300112306
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2012
  • Series: Yale Musical Instrument Series
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Trumpeter John Wallace is principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow. Alexander McGrattan is a freelance trumpeter who teaches natural trumpet and music history at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

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Read an Excerpt

The Trumpet

By John Wallace Alexander McGrattan

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2011 John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11230-6

Chapter One

The trumpet in the ancient and non-Western world

The trumpet is a remarkably universal instrument. Evidence from social anthropology and ethnomusicology points to religious and sacred use of trumpets by primitive social organisations stretching back enduringly into prehistory. Human beings fashioned trumpets from any suitable local elements from the earliest times. Extant primitive societies indicate what human ingenuity can achieve with materials like wood and bark, bamboo, gourds, crustacean shells, and mammal horns. The horns of wild or domesticated animals can be crafted into simple trumpets by hollowing out the core with a heated stick. Conch shells can be dried and bored with a blow-hole. Tree-branches can be hollowed out with fire or termites. Bark can be stretched around a wooden skeleton to form a cone-like trumpet or a massive horn. Even human remains have been hollowed out and lip-blown. Before the advent of written law, the celebration of ritual through music and dance served to render societies unified and coherent.

Despite its eponymous appearance in most societies throughout world history, the trumpet has filled largely the same, select number of roles – perhaps a reason for its global prevalence. The many ways a lip-blown instrument can be primitively manufactured means that the trumpet often pre-dates the earliest collective memories of a society, developing into a marker of identity and of cultural pride. Even among the earliest references to trumpets, the instrument seems to hold an aura of antiquity, as a tool bequeathed to man from an ancient, unrecorded source. The Greeks, for instance, never formed a creation myth for the salpinx or conch trumpet as they had for the lyre and aulos. Other instruments required an explanation to come into being, where the trumpet had simply always existed. The instrument is an example of an early man-made object that acts universally as a cultural transmitter, communicating more than a simple message between living people.

Because it is so commonly found within early societies, the little information we have for examining the origins of the trumpet stems mostly from the accumulated knowledge of ethnomusicologists, archaeologists and paleoanthropologists. It appears that in the three major stages of post-Ice Age man – sedentary agrarian societies, nomad pastoralist fringe-groups, and the development of organized military campaigning – contexts were created throughout the world in which the trumpet filled a logical niche. For farmer and nomad alike, the trumpet was an efficient hunting tool, startling prey and driving it towards prepared ground. It was an effective signalling device (so effective that it is still in – albeit ceremonial – use in mountainous regions of central Europe and the Himalayas). Between signalling and hunting, the trumpet developed an idiom that allowed it to be pushed towards an altogether more hostile role.

The first literary reference that has been interpreted as denoting a trumpet or horn stems from the world's first surviving epic, The Battle of Gilgamesh, detailing the adventures of a quasi-mythical king (c.2500 BCE) of the Sumerians. Gilgamesh's magical pukku and mikka, objects of kingship fashioned from a magical tree on the banks of the Euphrates, were interpreted by Galpin and Bate as denoting, respectively, the tube and bell of a trumpet. More recently, these problematic objects have been interpreted as possibly referring to a drum and drumstick. The Sumerians, under Sargon of Agade, were a prototype of the aggressive steppe descendents who would transform the face and fate of Eurasia. With their superior battle tactics, the Sumerians accumulated so much land throughout the Fertile Crescent that they formed the world's first empire, gathering together cultures, tools and techniques that had been developing for thousands of years in relative isolation. Sargon realised that drilling, intelligence, organization and communication were more important for an armed force than brute strength, providing an opportunity for the lip-blown instruments of the region to be incorporated into martial life. From the fields, the trumpet became an instrument of the battlefield. Gilgamesh's pukku and mikka, if they are the bell and tube of a trumpet, represent his ultimate symbols of power. The last tablet of the epic is devoted to their loss in the underworld and his attempts to retrieve them: he laments their loss as he would the loss of his greatest imperial symbol.

Whether or not the writers of the Epic of Gilgamesh referred to the trumpet, as an instrument of war it became so powerful and prevalent in ancient Middle-Eastern societies – from which is derived much common cultural heritage – that its legacy lives on, and not simply by the permanent presence of trumpeters in Eurasian armies. The Israelite shofar, a ram's horn, has survived to the present day and is played across the world in an uninterrupted tradition of almost five thousand years. The calls that a rabbi makes on the shofar to this day, in synagogues throughout the world, give us a greater indication of the idiom of early trumpets and horns in the ancient Eurasian world than perhaps all other ancient sources combined. A number of medieval manuscripts, the earliest dating from the thirteenth century, contain early notation linking the shofar calls heard today (shown in Ex. 1.1) to those described in biblical times. Trumpets made from natural materials rarely conform to mathematically exact harmonic series. Because of the irregular cavity inside a ram's horn, the acoustic behaviour of the instrument is strange, with much individual variation between instruments. The intervals sounded do not always accord with those shown here. The calls also vary, depending on the extent to which the player alters the notes by 'lipping'.

The most famous use of the shofar was at Jericho, where, according to the biblical account (Joshua 6:20), its supernatural powers were invoked with devastating effect. On returning from forty years in the wilderness (scholarly opinion is divided as to whether this occurred c.1550 or c.1400 BCE), the Israelites besieged the city of Jericho. For six days, they marched round the outer perimeter once a day and on the seventh day circumvented the city seven times. On the seventh circuit, the priests blasted their shofarot, the people shouted, and the walls fell down. This account of the destruction of the walls of Jericho is one of numerous passages in the Old Testament that relate the sound of the shofar to the actions of God.

The Old Testament is our main source of information on the trumpets of the Israelites, the shofar and the silver hassrah. In the Book of Numbers 10:1–10 God commands Moses to make two silver trumpets, to be used for assembling the congregation and signalling the resumption of their journey out of the wilderness of Sinai: 'Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them.' The instructions also stipulate that in future the silver trumpets are to be blown by priests on solemn occasions and at times of war.

During the period of the Second Temple (515 BCE–70 CE) the hassrah acquired an elevated status in Temple ritual, being played exclusively by priests, whilst the shofar was played by their assistants. Trumpet calls on the hassrah were sounded three times to announce the opening of the Temple gates each morning and to signal the Sabbath. Nine blasts of the hassrah accompanied the morning and evening sacrifices. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (c.37–c.100 CE) reveals that the trumpet of the Israelites, in common with many short trumpets from the ancient world, was 'a little short of a cubit' in length. The cubit (a measurement in common use from early times, denoting the distance from the fingertips to the elbow) is an optimum length for both ancient and modern man to hold and transport things; by curious coincidence, it is approximately the length of the modern B flat trumpet. The most often cited depiction of the hassrah is that on the Arch of Titus in Rome, in which two trumpets are shown among the items being brought there following the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Several writers have cast doubt on the accuracy of this representation, however, and Smithers notes that the instruments, being almost twice the length of the forearms of the figures depicted, more closely resemble the Roman tuba. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE marks the decline of the hassrah as a sacred instrument in Jewish ritual, leaving the shofar as the sole herald of worship.

Confusion over nomenclature between the shofar and the hassrah, and over their respective roles, originated with the use of the term salpinx to denote both instruments in the Septuagint, the earliest translation of the Old Testament, in Greek, which dates from before the Christian era. In the earliest versions of the New Testament, also written in Greek, salpinx was the sole term used to denote the trumpet. Subsequent layers of translation into Latin and then into German and English in the Martin Luther and James I Authorised Versions of the Bible have confused the differentiation further.

The sacred associations of the shofar and hassrah in their military contexts are elucidated in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of over eight hundred religious documents, discovered in the Qumran caves, eight miles south of Jericho, between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls also provide the most detailed descriptions of the shofar and the hassrah calls. The scrolls date from the inter-Testamental era (150 BCE–70 CE) and references to hassrah and shofar appear in the War Scroll, which has been dated between 27 BCE and the beginning of the first century CE. Although the War Scroll is religious writing, depicting a symbolic battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, scholarly opinion concurs that the writer of this imaginary military manual would have been acquainted with the weapons and the tactics of ancient warfare, and that the details of the war to be fought against the Kittim (here, the Romans) probably corresponds most closely to the art of war as practised by the Roman legions. The following passage from the War Scroll stipulates 'The Rule for the trumpets of Summons and the trumpets of Alarm according to all their duties':

the trumpets of Summons shall sound for disposal in battle formations and to summon the foot-soldiers to advance when the gates of war shall open; and the trumpets of Alarm shall sound for massacre, and for ambush, and for pursuit when the enemy shall be smitten, and for retreat from battle.

The tactics of ancient warfare – harrying, signalling, corralling, with the thirteen different groups of trumpet spread around the battlefield – are listed in a way that brings back an uncanny picture of the techniques learnt on herding animals, from 'trumpets calling the congregation' to 'trumpets of return from battle against the enemy when they journey to the congregation in Jerusalem'. The trumpets, adorned with slogans such as 'The Called of God' to 'Rejoicings of God in the Peaceful Return', are detailed as being used in the same primitive way as when they had been first developed to control herds and signal to hunters:

The priests shall sound a sustained blast on the trumpets for battle array, and the columns shall move to their (battle) array, each man to his place. And when they have taken up their stand in three arrays, the Priests shall sound a second signal, soft and sustained, for them to advance until they are close to the enemy formation. They shall seize their weapons, and the Priests shall then blow a shrill staccato blast on the six trumpets of Massacre to direct the battle, and the Levites and all the blowers of rams' horns shall sound a mighty alarm to terrify the heart of the enemy, and therewith the javelins shall fly out to bring down the slain. Then the sound of the horns shall cease, but the Priests shall continue to blow a shrill staccato blast on the trumpets to direct the battle until they have thrown seven times against the enemy formation. And then they shall sound a soft, a sustained, and a shrill sound on the trumpets of Retreat.

The hassrah may have been similar to the Egyptian snb, whose repertoire of calls and playing style is lost to us. Nevertheless, the trumpet features in many military scenes throughout ancient Egyptian iconography (Ill. 1.1). These instruments perhaps derive from earlier models manufactured in the Sumerian Empire, and its precursor states in Iraq. As the site of the first agrarian revolution and the first sedentary proto-modern civilizations, the Fertile Crescent was also one of the earliest centres of bronze manufacture during the period of technological advance referred to as the Bronze Age, when copper and tin were first mixed to create the hard, durable alloy that is the main building block of the first metal trumpets. Throughout the Mesopotamian city-states, trade, dialogue and diffusion in all areas of human endeavour radiated outwards into surrounding regions. The Israelites and Ancient Egyptians were both separate beneficiaries of Fertile Crescent technology. The inventory of instruments sent as an engagement gift from King Tushratta of Mitanni (a Northern Syrian state descended from part of the Sumerian Empire) to the Pharaoh Amenophis IV c.1400 BCE suggests the kind of craft transfer involved: the gift included forty horns, seventeen of which were described as ox horns, covered with gold, some studded with precious stones. The Israelites gained this technology almost certainly from the same source, though probably not through contact with the Egyptians: the Book of Numbers, which contains the description of trumpet-making from metals, was written largely during the exile of Israel in Babylon (sixth century BCE).

The original technology would have been developed from the techniques used in making weapons, armour and jewellery. Undoubtedly, the simplest way of manufacturing metal trumpets is to roll brass, silver or gold into a sheet – as in the manufacture of body armour (although for trumpets, it needs to be rolled much more thinly, like gold jewellery). A template would then be cut into the metal with the use of shears: the metal would be folded along its length into a tube, and then beaten with a small hammer to thin and shape the metal further. A wooden mandrel was probably used as the internal shaping agent until the meeting edges were brazed together. Cylindrical trumpets were made from a rectangular length of metal, and conical trumpets from an elliptical one. Short trumpets can be made from a single piece of metal by pouring molten metal into an already prepared mould containing a wax-coated mandrel (a metal tool shaped to the inside diameters of the trumpet). The wax coat is shaped to be the desired thickness of the trumpet's tube walls: once shaping is complete, the wax-covered mandrel is covered with clay and left to harden. Then the molten metal is poured into the wax-filled gap between mandrel and clay: the wax melts, and the molten metal takes its place. This is the so-called 'lost-wax' process. The temperatures required to melt gold, silver and bronze are very high, and this technique did not evolve until the advent of charcoal as a high-energy fuel (occurring first around 3000 BCE). This sophisticated method required tooling, pit kilns and an intensive manufacturing process. Whether separate workshops existed for musical instruments at these early times, or whether they were a sideline of other metal artefact manufacturing like armaments or jewellery, is not known. Perhaps the same procedures were followed as in the exiled Dalai Lama's metalwork workshops at Norbalinka, Himachel Pradesh, Northern India, to the present day. The main task of these particular workshops is the manufacture of Buddhist statuary, but as a sideline, when there are sufficient orders, it will fit in a day of trumpet-making, with products displaying their skill in ornamentation.


Excerpted from The Trumpet by John Wallace Alexander McGrattan Copyright © 2011 by John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan. Excerpted by permission of Yale University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations, music examples and tables x

Foreword Sir Peter Maxwell Davies C.B.E. xv

Preface xvii

Acknowledgements xix

Introduction 1

1 The trumpet in the ancient and non-Western world 5

2 The trumpet: definition, manufacture and technique 36

3 The trumpet in Europe and its environs to 1600 64

4 The art of the trumpet player in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 93

5 Italy and the imperial court at Vienna in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 117

6 Germany in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the trumpet writing of Handel, Telemann and Bach 139

7 France and Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 162

8 The Concertos of Haydn and Hummel 177

9 The trumpet and its players in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 194

10 The 'Bach revival', 'Bach' trumpets, and the advent of the piccolo trumpet 225

11 Repertoire, technique and performance idioms since 1900 242

12 Jazz and the image of the trumpet since 1900 266

Appendix: A selective list of twentieth-century solo works 283

Notes 288

Bibliography 314

Index 330

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