Favorite American Cornet
Arbuckle (1828 - 1883)
was born in Lochside, near Glasgow, Scotland
1828, into a very musical family. His father was an excellent
violinist, his mother a fine vocalist. At the age of 13 he
persuaded his father to let him enter the English Army as a
musician. He joined the band of the 26th Cameriorians, serving
with them during the "Opium War" with China and the "Sikh War" in
India. When he came back to England he started studying music, devoping
his skills. He studied cornet in
London with Herman Koenig*1). Even if
Arbuckle soon was one
of the best cornet players in the Army, he realised that this was not
the best place for a soloist. He took what is called a "French leave" -
in other words he deserted the Army. (This is also why he never came
back to England on tour).
In 1853 he came to Canada. He was a bagpiper and drum major with the Royal
Scottish Regiment of Canada, as well as cornet soloist. In 1857 he became a member
of the Troy Brass Band in New York. A warm summers day in 1857 in New
York, Isaac Fiske*2) saw and heard
Arbuckle play with the Troy Band and was very impressed. He persuaded
Arbuckle to join Fiske's Cornet Band of Worcester (which used Fiske
instruments only). When Fiske went back to Worcester the next
day, Matthew Arbuckle accompanied him. Arbuckle remained in Worcester
for three years marching at the head of Fiske's band in the finest
uniform Isaac Fiske could buy.
The famous Gilmore Band visited Worcester in 1860 and Arbuckle put on
such a show that Patrick Gilmore felt he had to have him for his band.
In spite of a lawsuit by Fiske, Matthew Arbuckle joined Gilmore's Band.
Arbuckle played solo cornet at the National Peace Jubilee*3)
of 1869 and
the World Peace Jubilee of 1872, both held in Boston and organized by Patrick S. Gilmore.
At the National Peace Jubilee in 1869, Arbuckle played the trumpet
obbligato, accompanying Madame Parepa Rosa
in the famous aria from
Samson by G. F. Handel, "Let the Bright Seraphim". At the World Peace
Jubilee of 1872, Arbuckle conducted the opening fanfare of fifty
trumpeters and played the same trumpet obbligato part with Madame
In 1880, he
became the musical director and bandmaster for the Ninth Regiment in
New York. He held this position until his death.
died suddenly in New York, 23 May 1883, at the age of 55.
and Arbuckle rivalry
Jules Levy and Arbuckle were
cornet solist in Patrick Gilmore's band. They developed an immediate
rivalry which Gilmore exploited. In 1879 he billed them both soloist
during a series of concerts at Madison Square Garden. A student of
Arbuckle, Hi Henry*4) , wrote about
It was an exceptional privilege to hear
these two great masters, Levy and Arbuckle, night after night in the
same program, each great and so different, the former exciting wonder
and admiration by his wonderful cadenzas, his spirited staccato and
rapid chromatic runs, his wonderful intervals and extreme high and low
notes; the latter with his beautiful, passionate tone, his heart
winning sympathy, his artistic breadth, his deliberate lights and
shades; the former stirring his listeners to highest enthusiasm, the
latter hushing them to the stillness of the sleeping chamber; the
former retiring amid clapping of hands, the latter drawing tears and
retiring only for his hearers to find themselves spell-bound by his
A just comparison of these two great
artists is no disparagement to either. They were not at all comparable.
Levy may be said to play that which no other living man can as
brilliantly repeat. Arbuckle, while playing nothing others could not
render, delivered it in such finished style that none could simulate
it. (ITG Journal, May 1990, page 32)
T. H. Rollinson:
"Probably no musician in Boston has ever
been closer to the hearts of the people and his fellow musicians, than
Matthew Arbuckle. All of the older musicians expressed great admiration
for him, both as a great cornetist and a fine gentlemen.
Mr. Tom Carter
Arbuckle was a fine singer, a fact many
thought contributed greatly to his fine rendition of songs and operatic
arias, in which he excelled. Many people were moved to tears, after
hearing him play a simple song. His performances were never of the
skyrocket variety, with inartistic stunts displayed, to dazzle
audiences. He was an artist in every sense of the word.
When he came to Boston, very little was
known of triple tonguing, but Arbuckle set about to learn it, through
the coaching of a Mr. Jacobus, who was then cornet soloist at the old
Boston Museum, who also had a fine reputation as a teacher." (From
Glenn Bridges: Pioneers in Brass)
"When I first heard Arbuckle play he was
using an old Bailey cornet, a very peculiarly shaped instrument and the
upper G was infernally sharp, however he soon discarded that model, and
when I next heard him play at the Jubilee in 1872, he was using a
"Fiske" Rotary with action similar to the first piston valve cornet." (From Glenn Bridges: Pioneers in
1875 Courtois Cornet
in Bb, by
Antoine Courtois in Paris, 1875.
This is the
cornet that was given to Matthew Arbuckle by Patrick S. Gilmore.
The owner of the cornet today, Robb Stewart, has several other pictures
of the cornet here
One picture show the
engraving of Gilmore and Arbuckle's name.
J. B. Arban published
his famous and still used method in 1864. Only two years later in
1866, Arbuckle's Complete
was published in Boston, by Oliver Ditson & Company.
In March 1931,
Herbert L. Clarke
an article about Arbukle in Jacobs' Band Monthly. About his method
Clarke said in 1931:
"It is now out
and I doubt if a copy would ever be found."
In spite of what
Clarke said in 1931, David Baldwin found a leather bound version of
Arbuckle’s Cornet Method.
More about the whole method here, including the
whole book in PDF format.
Arbuckle's abilities were so renowned that many composers wrote
pieces for him to perform. Among them were
The Ocean View,
Grand Concert Valse,
West Brighton Polka,
Fantasie on le Desir,
A letter from Arbuckle
Smith*5) wrote a letter to Matthew Arbuckle in 1880 asking
if he could take lessons from Arbuckle. He got e reply from
Arbuckle dated October 8th, 1880. Here is part of what Arbuckle wrote:
I cannot teach
anymore, every moment of my time is taken up with the
The whole letter here!.
band and my concert co. [= company]
I would not advice you to come to N.Y unless you are able to take a
Solo Cornet at once. N.Y. is full of Solo Cornete players, and plenty
of good ones too.
Herman Koenig was a German, living in London. He played cornet in in
the Drury Lane Orchestra in 1840. Koenig was also an
*2) Isaac Fiske from Worcester, Massachusetts, a maker of musical
Gilmore arranged the National Peace Jubilee. It opened on June 15,
1869. It was five days of music featuring over 1000 instrumentalists
and 10,000 vocalists. The concertmaster for the event was the great
Norwegian violinist Ole Bull. Arbuckle was soloist with Hartmann's
*4) Hi Henry was a
student of Matthew Arbuckle. Henry was a cornetist
with Harry Robinson’s Minstrels.
F. Smith (1860 - 1937). Smith played in the Sousa Band from 1892 until
1898 and went back to the Marine Band, retiring in 1921
Glenn Bridges: Pioneers in Brass
* David Baldwin: Arbuckle's Complete Cornet Method (1866) - ITG
Journal, Feb. 1990, page 31 - 37
* Herbert L. Clarke: Famous Cornetist of the Past - ITG Journal, Feb. 1990, page 32
* Robb Stewart - Arbuckle's Courtois Cornet.
* The Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History
Collections - Arbuckle's letter
* Eliason, Robert E: Early American brass makers, The Brass Press
Carole Nowicke for copy ot the Arbuckle letter.
* Sharon Carlson, WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, for permission to use the
* Robb Stewart for permission to use an image of Arbuckle's cornet and
for info about Fiske.
* David Baldwin for scanning the Cornet Method
o.j.2008 - 2009