Music Study – The Brass – Horn, Trumpet, Cornet And Trombone

All the brass instruments, with the exception of the cornet, present themselves under two types : the simple type that emits merely a few tones, though of great beauty ; and the chromatic type, which can sound all the notes contained in its compass, but with a less pure and less characteristic quality of tone.

One might think that the chromatic instruments, being perfect instruments, capable of playing every note of the scale, of modulating, and executing more rapid and varied passages than the others, in a word, being able to do everything that simple instruments do and many other things besides, one might think, we say, that it would be better to study these alone.

However logical this reasoning may seem, it is exactly true only for those who are merely seeking to acquire a very relative talent. Others who want to be able to fill the part of a capable artist under all circumstances ought to possess a knowledge of both kinds of instruments and be able, according to circumstances, to make use of either, which is never a matter of indifference. The chromatic instrument should never be employed except when it is rigorously in-dispensable, that is to say when the work to be interpreted has been written with its special qualities in view; in all other music, and particularly that writ-ten before the invention of the valve, the simple instruments are always far superior.

In fact, the addition of the mechanism of the valve, the real advantage of which it is not for us to discuss, has the lamentable effect of depriving every instrument of its individuality, and of giving the various instruments of the brass group too pronounced a family resemblance. It sometimes happens that the listener cannot tell if the tone comes from a horn or a trombone, and as it is the variety of timbres that makes the richness of the orchestration, the latter loses a great deal. Therefore we cross the composer’s will and intentions if, as is too often done through laziness or an indifference unworthy of an intelligent interpreter, we substitute for the timbre that he requires another that is too nearly related to the neighbouring timbres. This is a breach of fidelity and an error of taste that a conscientious conductor should never tolerate.

Another consideration arises from the same fact. Whenever we use chromatic instruments, whether rightly or wrongly, we must try, by dexterity of execution, to minimize their faults of construction, think of the type of the instrument and try to get as close as possible to its quality of tone. In this way we shall give them their charm and succeed in getting the most out of them.

Of all instruments, the brasses are those that suffer the least from a study undertaken at a late date. A robust frame is far more necessary for them than for any others, because of their considerable weight ; and they are also the ones that demand the greatest efforts from the muscles of the chest, and a vigorous and sustained breath ; and it would seem very inappropriate to place such cumbersome and fatiguing tools in the hands of children. However, everybody has not always thought thus : the celebrated maker Adolphe Sax, to whom we are indebted for the invention of the Saxophones, Saxhorns, -Sax-tubas, Sax-trombas and other sonorous machines, held the contrary opinion ; he contended that the constant practice of the biggest brass instruments constituted an excellent gymnastic exercise for the lungs. To support his theory, and to demonstrate the effect of this exercise upon the development of the chest, he recruited an orchestra of women who had superb ones, as any one could see. I know not if it was really to this that they owed them ; but it is certain that it did not appear to do them any harm.

We make only a note here of those instruments which find their employment solely in military bands, as well as the Bugle and the Clarion. Only one of them, the Saxophone, occasionally appears in the symphonic orchestra or theatre, to which it lends the charm of a mysterious, strange and penetrating timbre. A clarinettist can learn the mechanism of it very quickly, its embouchure being very nearly the same, and its reed simple, more flexible and less delicate. As for the Saxhorns and Tubas, they are very quickly learned by those who have already studied another brass instrument. We will not speak of them any more ; but with regard to the study of the horn and that of the trumpet, we shall have to return in greater detail to the question already outlined, ands to which too much importance cannot be attached, the chromatic instruments and their judicious employment.