The evolution of trumpet

The trumpet that we are familiar with today has taken on many forms throughout its long history.

The natural trumpet (XVth to XIXth Century)

What we call the natural trumpet came to be during the Renaissance (XVth and XVIth Centuries), which was the first time that composers wrote specifically for the trumpet.

The natural or baroque trumpet had its peak during the Baroque period (XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries), when the art of the clarino player developed (to play in the upper register) and acquired a soloist role and the trumpet was considered an equal to the violin and the flute.

The greatest composers of the period, such as Bach, wrote abundant literature for the trumpet. In the Trumpetland School you can learn to play the natural trumpet from your home.

Without a doubt, during the Classical period (the end of the XVIIIth Century) the clarino style of trumpet playing fell out of favor and the trumpet was relegated to a secondary role in the orchestra as a mere supporter of the harmony along with the tympani.

The actual physical natural trumpet was used until the beginnings of the Romantic period (XIXth Century), when the first attempts to convert it into a chromatic instrument, better adapted to the times, appeared.
So, first we have the birth of the keyed trumpet (invented by Anton Weidinger around 1793, which never really caught on) and then shortly thereafter, with the invention of the valve, we have the modern trumpet.

Parts of the natural trumpet

The natural trumpet consists of two lengths of tubing, known as yards, the bell and two bows, which are the bends between these segments. These parts weren't soldered; rather they were fit one inside of the other and held together with resin or bees wax.

The first yard was separated from the bell by a wooden block which was wound with string made of wool to strengthen it.

It also had five ferrules used to strengthen it where it came together.

The bell section was the same length of the other two yards and ended in a flared bell, reinforced at the open end with a decorative garland due to the thinness of the hammered metal. It was usually here that the maker would engrave his name and sometimes the name of the player was also included along with the city and year of construction.

In the middle of the bell section a ball, also known as a pommel or knob, can be found. Its function was purely ornamental.

The arch next to the bell and the crown are held together by a small wire.

Finally there are two metal rings soldered to the inner arches where a lanyard (banderole) was strung to hang over the players shoulder.

The harmonic series of the natural trumpet

Through small adjustments of the tension in the lips, a trumpet player can play a series of set notes on the natural trumpet called the harmonic series.

The lowest note of the harmonic series (the fundamental) is produced by using the least amount of tension of the lips, this is a C. The next sound (harmonic) is an octave higher; it's also a C. These two notes are the only notes that can be produced in the first octave of the harmonic series. Within what would be the second octave of the harmonic series the third harmonic is produced: G. This is the fundamental principal of the construction of the harmonic series: Each new octave contains the same notes as the previous but with additional new notes.

If we apply this principal to the next octave of the harmonic series, first let's transpose the notes from the second octave, (C,G and C), and then let's add the new ones, which in this case would be E and B flat (the latter is represented by a black note accompanied by an arrow pointing down, indicating that, in its natural state, is out of tune — in other words, it is an impure harmonic , specifically its tuning is flat).

As we ascend in this manner, we can see that the intervals between the harmonics are getting smaller.

Baroque trumpet players corrected the imperfections of the impure harmonics with their lips (tensing or relaxing them depending on the situation). The musician and treatise writer of the time Michael Praetorius wrote in 1619: "The trumpet is a magnificent instrument when it is played by a fine master that can control it and exercise artistic control over it".

The harmonic series can continue until infinity. However, there are very few examples of the extreme high harmonics due to the difficulty in playing them. In fact, the 24th harmonic has only been present, that we know about, in two concertos for trumpet composed by Michael Haydn and Georg von Reutter, which were probably written during 1750 or 1760 for the Austrian virtuoso of his time, J.B. Resenberger — "a magnificent trumpet player that was quite famous, particularly in the high register" according to Leopold Mozart and Johann Heinisch.
The trumpet parts written by Johan Sebastian Bach, though not the most difficult, often required the 16th and 18th harmonic. Only once, in the final chorus of Cantata 31 Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, is the 20th harmonic required.

Trumpets are named after the fundamental of their harmonic series. A natural trumpet in C plays the C harmonic series, as previously indicated. A natural trumpet in D (whose length is shorter) plays the same series, but one tone higher. This continues successively upwards.

The keyed trumpet (XIXth Century)

During the classical period (the end of the XVIIIth Century), the trumpet lost its protagonist role which it had enjoyed during the Baroque period. The clarino style (playing in the high register) became unfashionable and due to the physical limitations of the natural trumpet, it couldn't be played in the middle register.

There were then several attempts to add chromaticism to the trumpet, to return its previous importance. One of these attempts was performed by Anton Weidinger of Vienna (Austria), who began to build the first keyed trumpet around 1793. It was debuted in public in 1798.

In spite of its success, the invention of Weidinger's keyed trumpet failed to gain popularity and rapidly fell into disuse. In fact its repertoire is quite limited:

  1. Concerto per il clarino (Franz Joseph Haydn) composed in 1796 wasn't premiered until 1800 due to its difficulty. Weidinger tried the instrument out prior to performing Haydn's Concerto on two pieces by the composers Kozeluch and Weigl.
  2. Sinfonia concertante (Leopold Kozeluch) in 1798.
  3. Opus symphonicum (Joseph Weigl) in 1799.
  4. Unnamed aria for female voice and keyed trumpet (Franz Xaver Sussmayr) in 1800.
  5. Sextet (Ferdinand Kauer) in 1800.
  6. Trio (Johann Nepomuk Hummel) in 1802.
  7. Concerto a tromba principale (Johann Nepomuk Hummel) in 1803, premiered January 1st, 1804.
  8. Polonaise (Antonio Casimir Cartellieri) around 1807.
  9. Requiem (Sigismund Neukomm) in 1815.

After this, it seems that Weidinger collaborated with the Viennese instrument maker Joseph Riedl in the invention of the rotary valve.

Parts of the keyed trumpet

The keyed trumpet is comprised of a cylindrical tube that becomes conical in the bell section.

The keys are arranged so that they can be played by the left hand and have leather pads which cover the holes throughout the length of the tubing.

Harmonic principle of the keyed trumpet

The principle of the keyed trumpet is similar to that of the modern flute and saxophone.

It has various holes bored at specific points of the tubing where nodes occur in the sound waves produced by playing.

When the key is lifted, uncovering the hole, the air escapes through this hole, cutting the air column inside the tube and raising the tone of the resulting note.

Each hole allows for a specific harmonic series, and combining them, all the notes of the harmonic scale can be produced.

Needless to say, the holes are not completely capable of providing a uniform sound through all registers and for certain notes a more precise adjustment by the lips is required (the well known technique of lip correction used frequently by Baroque trumpeters).

The modern trumpet (XIXth Century until today)

The modern trumpet has a valve mechanism that converts it into a chromatic instrument.

The valve was invented in the beginning of the XIXth Century, two types of trumpets are currently in use, defined by their corresponding valve mechanism.

One type is the rotary valve, patented in 1835 by Josef Kail (Czech trumpet player and inventor) and Joseph Riedl (Viennese instrument maker). These trumpets, known as rotary trumpets, are very common in Germany, Austria and other eastern European countries (they are also known as German trumpets).

The technique employed to play them is a little bit different from that of the piston trumpet. In the Trumpetland School there are various videolessons to help you learn how to play the rotary trumpet.

The other type of valve is the piston valve. It was patented in 1839 by the Parisian François Perinet. This valve system is by far the most popular.