Bach Manuals – Do You Know Your Brasses? (1925)

Bach Manuals – Do You Know Your Brasses? (1925)

Do You Know Your Brasses?
by Vincent Bach

“Expert describes models and their special uses in modern symphony orchestra and band.”

The work of a modern symphony or opera orchestra trumpet player is highly exacting. In addition to technique, tone, and range he must be prepared to play the various instruments indicated in the scores – brass instrument varying in pitch and bore. This is not for the purpose of avoiding the difficulties of transposition, but to facilitate the execution of technical passages, to overcome problems of intonation, and to produce the particular tonal quality which the type of composition prescribes.

Not all players agree on the type of instrument that should be used for certain compositions. For instance, the D trumpet prescribed in Bach oratorios was originally played on a low D trumpet, which instrument was used with a shallow smaller mouthpiece in the extreme high register. Symphony men of today are not accustomed to playing this type of instrument and could not afford to retrain their embouchure just for the occasional use of these low-pitched instruments. For this reason, most Bach oratorios are today performed on a high D trumpet, and extremely difficult compositions, like the “Christmas Oratorio,” the Bach “B Minor Mass, ” etc., are generally played on the piccolo trumpet in high F, or piccolo trumpet in High G, or the piccolo trumpet in High Bb.

It is a recognized fact that composers do not always write the trumpet part in the proper pitch (favoring the open tones of an instrument as the old masters did to facilitate the execution of the part or to produce the right tone quality); instead they sometimes follow the road of convenience by just writing the trumpet part in the key in which the composition is written, taking it for granted that a trumpet player know show to transpose and will select the right kind of instrument, as he sees fit. Others take it for granted that every player uses a Bb trumpet (which is predominantly used in Germany and Russia), while other composers who lived in France or Austria where C trumpets are mostly used have written most of their parts in C.

The instruments are described as follows, with notations on how they are used by leading symphony artists.

Piccolo Trumpet in High Bb

This instrument is not very much used but is well suited for the performance of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2,” also for the “Christmas Oratorio,” and Bach ‘B Minor Mass.” We build these instruments in two bell sizes – one on the style of the regular trumpet and the other with a comparatively large bell, resembling a flugelhorn bell. This instrument with a large mouthpiece is used by George Mager, first trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in most of Bach’s compositions.

Trumpet in C

Every symphony trumpeter must have a C trumpet available and should use it a good part of the time – if not altogether. In France, C trumpets are used exclusively in symphony orchestras, and to a great extent also in Germany and particular Austria. The trumpet section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is famous for it fine performances on C trumpets. A good many modern compositions are very strenuous to play when written in the high register and a trumpeter can perform these parts with greater ease and more effectively by using a C trumpet rather than forcing the high tones on a Bb trumpet. Our leading trumpet players are using C trumpets more and more. The instrument is particularly effective in Wagner’s “Parsifal Prelude,” Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” “Symphonia Domestica,” Tone Poems and other compositions; Brahms’ symphonies numbers 1,2, and 4; Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and “reformation” symphonies; Dvorak’s “new World;” Debussy’s “festivals;” Stravinsky’s “Fire Bird;” in Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” and all chamber music, because of the light singing tone of the instrument.

Bb Trumpet

Generally built of 50% conical and 50% cylindrical bore tubing. This instrument is used for concert and dance work and because of its sure response in attack and its heroic, martial tone, is best suited for heavy fanfare music, flourishes and other staccato work. It is, therefore, the most practical instrument for all-around orchestral work. (For solo and band work, the cornet should be the preference).

The Bb trumpet is very popular in the United States, England, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the German speaking part of Switzerland. In France, Austria, and the French speaking part of Switzerland, the trumpet players are accustomed to play C trumpets. In the English and French speaking countries, brass players prefer instruments with piston valves (Perinet valves, invented in 1839). In Germany, Russia, Austria, and the German speaking part of Switzerland, the musicians use rotary valves (invented in 1813).

Modern trumpets are built in various bores and the so called “Medium” bore (0.453″) is recommended for dance orchestra and other strenuous work. The “Medium Large” (0.459″) or “Large bore (0.462”) are with some exception give preference by symphony men. The “Bore” generally refers tot eh valve bore alone and does not indicate what tone quality or timbre is to be excepted from the instrument – unless additional information is given regarding the size of the bell and mouth pipe.

High D trumpet

This is another “must” for the symphony trumpeter playing modern works or oratories by Bach, Handel, etc. This instrument has a brilliant tone and is very effective in the high register in Bach’s ” B Minor Mass,” “Christmas Oratorio,” “3rd Suite in D,” and most other Bach compositions; Handel’s “Water Music,” “Messiah;” Mozart and Haydn symphonies are played adventurously on a D trumpet (which blends well with the strings); Beethoven’s “7th” and “9th” symphonies; parts of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” (written for Bb trumpet but fits better within range of D trumpet); Purcell’s’ “Trumpet Voluntary;” Ravel’s “Bolero;” Prokofieff’s “Lieutenant Kije” (written in Bb, but backstage bugle call should be played on the D trumpet); Prokofieff’s “Suite Seythe;” Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps” (for 2nd part of composition), and other modern compositions.

Soprano Trumpet in High Eb

A very important instrument for modern symphony work and which every symphony trumpeter should own and be ready to play on quick notice. The instrument is used for compositions such as William Schuman’s “American festival Overture,” Stravinsky’s “Sacre de Printemps,” (written for D trumpet but the first part is better performed on the Eb trumpet, the second part better on D trumpet), Vincent d’Indy’s ‘Symphony,” Saint- Saerns’ “Jennesse d’ Hercule.”

Soprano Cornet in Eb

While this instrument is rarely prescribed in symphony scores, it is widely used in all European concert bands – in England, France, Italy, Germany, etc. It is a very effective instrument which deserves to be reintroduced in our American concert bands. In most military bands on the European continent where Flugelhorns are used instead of cornets, they also use a High Eb Flugelhorn, which is very effective.

Piccolo Trumpet in High F

The High F trumpet is an important instrument for a symphony musician and is used today or most of the difficult oratorio performances, for some of the very high parts in the Bach “B minor Mass” and for Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” It is the most popular instrument for use on these compositions. (All piccolo instruments should be used with smaller and shallower mouthpieces to do justice to both instruments and player.)

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