Wind Instruments – Keren; Shopshar; Khatsotsrah

THESE are the names of the three important Hebrew trumpets. The first, at any rate in its primitive form, was constructed from the natural horn of an animal. Keren and shophar are some-times used synonymously, notably so in the account of the capture of Jericho (Josh. vi.) But in this same account there is affixed to keren the word jobel, making the whole a ” jobel-horn.” Although this is translated ” ram’s horn ” in our version, and although it has been suggested that jobel in Arabic, if not in Hebrew, might signify a ram, yet on the whole it seems probable that jobel is the source of our word jubilee, and that the expression simply points to the fact that the instrument was used on great solemnities, and was a jubilee-trumpet. The actual horns of animals were in very early times imitated in metal or ivory. In the latter case a tusk was hollowed out and often elaborately carved. They were called in the Middle Ages oliphants, or elephant-trumpets, from their material. The Ashantees to this day use tusks for this purpose, only, strangely enough, the instrument is blown through a hole in the side and not at the small end. In i Chron. xxv., after giving a list of those set aside by David to play upon the keren, the historian says, at v. 5, ” All these were the sons of Heman, the king’s seer in the words of God, to lift up the horn.” Again, translated in our version by ” cornet ” (though in the Septuagint by the word occurs in Dan. iii. 5, &c. Only in these passages (and Lev. xxiii. 24) is the keren named as a musical instrument, although the word often occurs with other meanings, and is frequently used as figurative of ” strength.” In Fig. 73 are shown forms of the keren; the straight trumpet is the khatsotsrah (p. 157).

The shophar, judging from its very frequent mention, extending in the pages of the Bible from the Book of Exodus to that of Zechariah, must have been more commonly used than the keren. It was the voice of a shophar, exceeding loud, issuing from the thick cloud on Sinai, when, too, thunders and lightnings rolled around the holy mount, which made all in the camp tremble. When Ehud’s personal daring had rid Israel of a tyrant, he blew a shophar and gathered the people together to seize the fords of Jordan towards Moab. Gideon used the instrument, and Saul also (1 Sam. xiii. 3), and many other of Israel’s warriors, to rouse and call up the people against their enemies. But it was not confined to military use, for ” David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the shophar ” (2 Sam. vi. 15). It is mentioned three times in the Psalms : God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet (shophar)” (Ps. xlvii. 5) ; ” Blow up the shophar in the new moon ” (Ps. lxxxi. 3) ; Praise him with the sound of the shophar ” (Ps. cl. 3).

The shophar is especially interesting to us as being the only Hebrew instrument whose use on certain solemn occasions seems to be retained to this day. Engel, with his usual trustworthy research, has traced out and examined some of these in modern synagogues. That shown in Fig. 74 (p. 155) is from the synagogue of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Bevis Marks, and is, he says, one foot in length. Fig. 75 shows one used in the Great Synagogue, St. James’s Place, Aldgate, twenty-one inches in length. Both are made of . horn. Figs. 76 and 77 Engel gives in his valuable Music of the most Ancient Nations, from Saalchütz. The first is a ram’s horn, the second that of a cow. On these instruments signals or flourishes are on certain occasions played, the music of which it is unnecessary to give, as they are well known as the simplest progressions which such tubes are capable of producing. All such tube-instruments can only give a series of sounds called natural harmonics or over-tones, which are produced by forcing. (gradually increasing the pressure of air from the lips) the column of air they contain—in the first instance—into two vibrating parts ; then three, four, five, six, and so on.

The notes marked are not in tune with the sounds thus ordinarily represented, and are not therefore used, except among barbarous nations, although sometimes they can be heard in a Ranz des vaches or Kuhreihen among the Alps.

The relation of the intervals of this series remains unaltered for all open tubes, only the pitch can vary ; thus a trumpet in D would give D, D, A, D, F, &c. The orchestral trumpeters of the 17th and 18th centuries were able by careful ” lipping ” to correct the false intonation of the 11th harmonic.

The series of sounds given above (varying in pitch, not in relation) was therefore the actual scale of the keren, shophar, and khatsotsrah.

When a tube-instrument is required on which a chromatic series of sounds can be played, pistons must be used as in our modern cornets, or slides as in our trombones. Tubes with slides are more ancient than is often supposed. Fig. 78 shows Chinese instruments of this class.

The khatsotsrah is generally thought to have been a straight trumpet with a bell, or ” pavillon,” as it is termed. Moses received specific directions as to making them : ” Make thee two trumpets of silver ; of a whole piece shalt thou make them : that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps ” (Num. x. 2). In Ps. xcviii. 6 the khatsotsrah and shophar are brought into juxtaposition : ” With khatsotsrah and sound of shophar make a joyful noise before the Lord the King ” ; or, as it incorrectly stands in the Prayer-book version, ” With trumpets also and shawms,” &c. In trumpets, and the sound of horn-trumpets.” So too, the Vulgate : ” In tubis ductilibus et voce tubae corne e.” The word mikshah, which is applied to the description of the khatsotsrah in Num. x. 2, and means ” rounded ” or “turned,” may apply either to a complete twist in the tube of the instrument, or, what is more probable, to the rounded outline of the bell. But if the former be the real interpretation of the epithet, it would make it more like the large circular horns found at Pompeii—the Roman bucina, and similar in form to that depicted on the column of Trajan and many classical monuments. Yet on the other hand the account given by Josephus points out the latter as characteristic of its shape. He says, ” Moses invented a kind of trumpet of silver ; in length it was less than a cubit, and it was somewhat thicker than a pipe ; its opening was enlarged, to admit blowing on it with the mouth ; at the lower end it had the form of a bell, like a horn.” It seems chiefly to have been brought into use in the Hebrew ritual, but was also frequently a battle-call, and blown on other warlike occasions. It was the sound of the khatsotsrah which made the guilty Athaliah tremble for her safety and rend her clothes, crying, ” Treason ! treason!” Silver trumpets have always been associated with dignity and grandeur, whether blown before a Pope in the ritual of the great church of St. Peter at Rome, or carried, as in this country, by royal trumpeters, and by a few favoured regimental bands. In Figs. 79 and 8o two coins are shown, on which, surrounded by a motto, ” the deliverance of Jerusalem,” trumpets are delineated. These instruments have been described as specimens of the khatsotsrah, with much probability of truth.

The shape which these sacred trumpets took, at any rate in the Herodian Temple, is well shown on the arch of Titus, where they are placed with the Table of Shewbread and Golden Candlestick amongst the victor’s spoils. (See Plate X.)

The Assyrians appear to have used trumpets, as Fig. 81 plainly shows ; but there are at present no records of their having trumpets with a distinct bell. Figs. 82 and 83 (p. 162) prove, however, that such terminations to tubes were not unknown to the Egyptians. The Romans had at least three varieties of trumpet, the most powerful of which was called tuba. It was used as a war-trumpet. Fig. 84, from a bas-relief in the Capitol, exhibits a Roman blowing a trumpet at the triumph of Marcus Aurelius. Ancient trumpets, which were usually formed of one piece only, could not possibly be adjusted to any variety of pitch, and therefore must with difficulty have been associated with other instruments. This difficulty is overcome in modern tube-instruments not having slides or pistons (as, for instance, the simple French horn or trumpet) by changing the crook and so lengthening the tube, or shortening it, as to adjust it to a required pitch.

The verse of the Psalm before quoted (xcviii. 6) is the only one in which mention of the khatsotsrah is made by the Psalmist. The first allusion to this instrument in Holy Scripture is where Moses is commanded to make two of silver (Num. x. 2) ; the last in Hos. v. 8, where it is used in connection with the shophar, and, with it, is to be blown as a warning to wicked Israel of the approaching visitation of God.


(1.) It is quite true that the Chinese oboes and trumpets shown in Fig. 78 are made in collapsible sections which will slip into one another, but I am assured by the Rev. A. C. Moule (who from long residence in China and intimate knowledge of the language and people is well qualified to state the fact) that ” the sliding tubes of these instruments are not meant to change their notes, but to reduce their length when they are not in use. (Cf. his work on ” Chinese Musical Instruments ” in the Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xxxix.) The tube, too, of the long trumpet (lapa), for instance, is conical, and unless the inner tube is drawn out to its fullest extent the joint is not air-tight. The sliding tubes of the trombone, on the other hand, are cylindrical, and therefore they retain the air throughout their entire length.

The sackbut or trombone appears to have been evolved during the 13th and 14th centuries in Italy or Southern France. The first step was the folding into three parallel lengths of the long straight tube of the buzine (a form of trumpet introduced into Europe from the East during the Crusades). This has given us the now well-known trumpet shape. The second step was the application of a slide to this folded and more portable instrument ; at first the slide seems to have been made on one section only of the tube ; but very soon two sections were included, and the trombone or great trumpet, strengthened with stays, had by the 16th century assumed its present-day form. The name ” sackbut ” came into use in England when the instrument was introduced late in the 15th century—probably from Spain,—for in that country ” sacabuche ” is the name of a kind of pump, and no doubt the action of the trombone-player when shortening and lengthening his slide suggested the nickname. In Germany the old name Buzaun (now Posaune) was retained, and in Italy it was at one time known as the tromba spezzata or ” broken trumpet.”(See Plate XI., 4.)

The phrase tuba ductilis (” drawn trumpet “), which occurs in some passages of the Vulgate or Latin version of the Scriptures made in the 4th century, has been thought by some to refer to the trombone ; but on reference to the original it will be seen that ductilis means the drawing-out of the metal by hammering (our English ” beaten work “) instead of casting it. We are told, for instance, that the Cherubim were made ex auro ductili (” beaten gold “), and there is no reason to suppose that they were collapsible. There is hardly any need to point out that the so-called “sackbut of the 9th century,” figured by Engel and others from a MS. in the Public Library at Boulogne-sur-Mer, is in reality an attempt, frequently made at that time, to represent the sambuca or small harp already described in Chapter iii. The marvellous Pompeian “trombones,” one of which was said to have been presented to King George III., are evidently only the large circular trumpets now gracing the walls of the National Museum at Naples.

(2.) Another very popular method of obtaining the chromatic scale from the simple tube was formerly found in piercing holes in it like those of the flute. This produced the old English cornett, the instrument chosen by the translators of the Bible to represent the word keren in Daniel iii. It was made of wood and covered with leather, six holes being provided for the fingers and one at the back for the thumb ; sometimes the instruments were curved in shape (It., Cornetto curvo), sometimes straight (Cornetto diritto) ; and when the mouthpiece was in one piece with the tube it was known as the mute cornett, from its soft tone. In any case the mouthpiece was very small, but similar in principle to that of the modern cornet. Dr. Stainer’s description is appended here because it was placed by him under the heading of pipes, through a mistaken idea, once common, that the instrument was played with a double reed :

” The cornetto curvo seems to have been used in all European countries under different names. Two very beautiful instruments of this kind and shape were discovered in the Cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford, when the muniment-room was being cleared for the purposes of restoration. They were probably in use in the 16th or beginning of the 17th century. Like most cornetti curvi, they are made of wood, covered with black leather, but so admirable is the workmanship that a casual glance would lead any one to believe them to be of black wood. They have the usual number of holes, six above and one below, and are elegantly mounted in silver, on which are engraved the arms of the College. They doubtless were the chief support of the treble part, at funerals or any ceremonies where it was necessary to have a musical procession. In Germany (says Engel) they were still employed in the beginning of the 18th century (under the name Zinken), when the town bands played chorales, on certain occasions, from the tower of their parish church.”

The true bass of the cornett was the serpent, which figured so largely in the regimental bands and the church orchestras of the 18th and early 19th centuries. There is no proof that this side-hole principle was in use on the horns and trumpets of the Hebrews.

On Plate XI. are represented three cornetts and a sackbut in my own collection. No. 1 is the cornettino curvo or high treble cornett : it is dated 1518. No. 2 the cornetto curvo or treble cornett. No. 3 the cornetto muto or mute cornett. No. 4 is a sackbut, the work of Jorg Neuschel of Nuremberg, maker to King Henry VIII. of England : it is dated 1557.