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The MHS Review 375 Vol. 10, No. 15 • 1986

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David M. Greene


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Sibyl Marcuse, in her exhaustive A Sur­vey of Musical Instruments (New York 1975), classifies trumpets as "lip-vibrated aerophones." (I am deeply indebted to Ms. Marcuse for much of what follows.) The trumpet is of great antiquity, sculptured representations of such instruments going back, in the Middle East, over 4000 years. The ancestor of the trumpet was nothing more than a straight tube--a cane or a stalk of bamboo--probably used in magical ceremonies as a sort of voice-disguising megaphone. Who the genius was who dis­covered it could be turned to musical account by vibrating his lips and produc­ing a Bronx cheer at the upper orifice we shall never know. For several millenia, however, the trumpet was, at best, limited musically to the overtone series, and was

primarily used for signaling in the military.

The Romans called their trumpet (swiped from the Etruscans) a tuba, to the subsequent confusion of millions of schoolchildren, who envisioned Caesar riding into Gaul with squadrons of sous­aphones. The medieval crusaders swiped their trumpets from the Saracens and dubbed them buisines (a name that the Germans borrowed as Posaune for their trombones.)

Up to the 17th century, trumpets were regarded as loud and vulgar and were, with the horses, hounds, and oboes, rele­gated to the stables and to outdoor activ­ities. Everyone agrees that the sounds they made, however inspiring of courage, were pretty awful, and writers regularly likened them to the braying of an ass or the trumpeting of an elephant.

As I have noted above, the "natural" trumpet is, practically speaking, limited to the overtone series. A chromatic scale on it is, therefore, virtually impossible, and real melodies can be played only at the upper extreme of the range, the general use being limited to fanfares and such calls as "Taps" (so called because it was orig­inally sounded by drummers). Some types of lip-vibrated aerophones got around this difficulty with fingerholes in the tube (e.g. the cornett or zink), but the problems of intonation were fierce. From the 16th century there was some experimenting with slides (like those of trombones), but the modern valved trumpet did not appear until 1816.

So for perhaps most of its brief history, mankind has striven to turn a rude bam­boo tube into the sophisticated, sensitive, and flexible musical instrument it has be­come. But there are always those affected by the Golden Age Syndrome, which maintains that the world has been degen­erating since the Creation and that there­fore older is better. For them we offer Bengt Eklund's Baroque Ensemble, made up of 24-count'em-24 young natural trumpeters, four sackbutters, organ, drums, and bass, and led by one of the great trumpet players of any kind, Edward H. Tarr. Tarr (who is silent here) has become a leading authority on and prac­titioner of the natural trumpet, which he introduced into Sweden as recently as 1970.

The players are crackerjack, the sound gorgeous, the repertoire unfamiliar. You may take it on faith that this is the first record to represent so many natural trumpeters doing simultaneously what comes naturally to them. My chief reservation is that most of the pieces are essentially extended fanfares, of which I, for one, can take only so much.

Review of Courtly Trumpet Ensemble Music pg 66

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