The gestation period for the “Modern Trumpet,” or the time from the invention and use of a valve for brass instruments to the popularity explosion of the French-style Bb trumpet, is approximately 1815 to 1910. Although there is much debate about which modern trumpet is the best, it seems to me that the modern Bb piston valve trumpet is used almost everywhere in the world. It has many variations and is made by both large and small makers. While trumpet players often focus on the variety among the many options, the modern trumpet is remarkably generic compared with other brass instruments, such as tubas.
Although the subtitle might not seem right at first, it is a result of a thought that struck my mind: The modern French-style Bb trumpet was created, more or less (I think more), to replace the use of cornets in performing trumpet parts in symphonic orchestras. Although cornet parts are indeed included in symphonic scores in French Romantic music especially, the trumpet was still the preferred soprano brass even before cornets were available.
Hector Berlioz was a composer at a time in which trumpets and cornets were quite different instruments. Nevertheless, he often used cornets in his scores. He wrote in 1855 his treatise about instrumentation: “A phrase that appears tolerable when performed by violins, or the woodwind becomes flat and intolerably vulgar if cornet’s incisive and brash sound emphasizes it.”
Ebenezer Prout, a professor of music at the University of Dublin, made a more critical, though similar, comparison to the orchestral trumpet in “The Orchestra Volume 1” later in the century. The technique of the Instruments, published in London 1897: “The trumpet’s tone is the most powerful and brightest of all instruments in the orchestra…Its noble quality is much to regret that the more vulgar cornet so often replaces it in modern orchestras.” The cornet’s tone is devoid of the noblest qualities of the trumpet and can quickly become vulgar if a skilled musician does not play it. The cornet is much easier to play than the trumpet. This is why parts written for the trumpet are often played on the cornet. This may be necessary in some cases, mainly when it is challenging to find trumpet players, but it does not diminish the music. We support the mandate M. (Francois Auguste) Gevaert’s, which states that “No conductor worthy of being called an artist should allow the cornetto replace the trumpet in a classic work.” The illustrated trumpets are described in G and lower pitch, with or without valves. He does not allow for trumpets in Bb and C, even though these were becoming more common. These words are pretty strong and may have been held by some in the world of Symphonic Music at the time. However, they are resistant to changes that are already underway.
The F and G long trumpets were slowly disappearing and used mainly in older, more conservative organizations. For example, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section had two cornet players and two trumpeters founded in 1891. However, they were all called trumpets by the end of the decade. Although I don’t know what kind of trumpets they used, I guess they used F trumpets in the beginning and Bb and C trumpets a decade later. In 1902, a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote about the performance of Bach’s D Minor Mass. He stated that Theodore Thomas had “solved the perplexing problem with the trumpets” by covering (three) trumpet sections with six trumpets and six clarinets. These examples may indicate the limitations of both performers and instruments of their time and show a cultural divide between cornets and trumpets, even when performed by the same musicians.
The demand for professional symphony orchestra performances has increased dramatically in the last quarter-century. There had been very few orchestras in America before, and most Americans were only able to access classical music from brass bands or friends. Europe has long had classical musical associations, but a growing middle class was hungry for culture.
While some cornet players have taken up the trumpet, orchestras in smaller cities struggle to find musicians or suitable instruments. Theodore Thomas hired Jules Levy, a world-famous cornet player, to perform in his summer orchestra concerts in 1869. Thomas didn’t see the cornet as a replacement for the trumpet, but he did not complain about the increased ticket sales. Levy was hired to be a solo cornetist and not the trumpet section. Levy was a member of orchestras at the Royal Opera House and Crystal Palace Promenade concerts in London. I have not discovered if he played the trumpet in these situations.
While it is well-known that the Bb trumpet was famous in Germany, Austria, and Prussia long before the rest, I was surprised at how early tiny trumpets were manufactured and included in early price lists. Two double piston valve trumpets with piston valves, made in Munich by Andreas Barth and included in the Utley Collection. This is one of the best examples that survived from around 1837. Two other examples of the same design were made earlier. In the Stadtmuseum Nordlingen, Bavaria (Bavaria) is inscribed with 1828. The other is in the Beyerisches Natalmuseum by J.G. Roth, which could have been made in the 1820s. Another page of this site features an exciting Bb trumpet with two valves probably made later.
A few trumpets are listed in the price lists of Joseph Saurle and Leopold Uhlmann in high C or even D. These trumpets were available before 1850. Ferdinand Stegmaier, a Bavarian manufacturer, lists high Eb or F trumpets in the late 1850s. Each has one crook to add a pitch. These very early tiny trumpets (pre-1860) had three to four crooks, which makes me believe they were meant for orchestras rather than military bands. Contrary to this, many very early Bb or C trumpets do not appear to have been supplied by crooks. Several factors could explain this apparent contradiction. Most likely, the most significant demand was from military and civic bands. They weren’t likely to need to play in all keys. A maker may list two Bb trumpets with crooks. The other Bb might have sold 100 copies of the former for each one of the former. The survival rate of rare items is not a reliable indicator of original numbers, but it can indicate the possibilities. Another explanation is that instruments are often modified for many reasons. It is often done to repair or replace damaged parts and modify the pitch or fit a mouthpiece. Many F trumpets were reduced to make Bb trumpets or cornets.