Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2005 23:05:53 EDT
Subject: Re: [TPIN] Orchestra Cornet
I must come out of my lurking to respond to this topic. My analysis
suggests focusing on two factors:
1. Instruments and muscians available to the composer, and
2. The intent of the composer.
1. Most of the music under
discussion seems to be from the mid nineteenth century to the early
twentieth century. At this time I believe that it was the standard for
all "good" cornets to be able to be played in both Bb and A. My 1916
Conn New Wonder Cornet is at the end of this era, and not only was it
able to be played in both Bb and A, but it also had BOTH "high pitch"
and "low pitch" slides (I believe it was the Treaty of Versailles in
1920 that established A=440 as an international tuning standard as a
result of the inability of the American, British, and French bands to
play together in tune - a topic for another time). Most of the "good"
earlier (shepherd's crook) instruments I have seen had both Bb and A
mouthpipes available. It should be noted that Arban in his method of
1858 provided solos for both Bb and A cornet. Thus, I believe Bb/A
cornets were the "norm".
The Conn New Wonder was a masterpiece of design. The "tuning slide" was
the "U" shaped tubing in the crook of the bell...which had a "thumb
screw" that was able to be used to tune the instrument while playing
(RE: Arban's description of a "good" instrument had the requirement of
being able to tune while playing). What many believe to be the "tuning
slide" is in fact a "quick kick" slide from Bb to A. Attached to this
slide are "bars" connected to the slides of each valve that
automatically went to "A" position when the quick kick slide was pulled
out. I have two other Bb/A cornets in my collection. One is a 1932 F.
E. Olds Super Cornet...it has a slide "stop" for adjustment between the
two keys, but no adjustment for the individual valve slides. My 1948
King Master Model Cornet (sterling silver bell) also has a "quick kick"
device. This looks like a "long" decorative screw on the tuning slide.
After the player tunes the instrument to Bb the screw is brought out to
meet the tuning slide. When the tuning slide is then pulled "out", it
will stop at "A". The King cornets also had a line engraved on each of
the valve slides marking where they should be placed for proper
tuning...it usually takes me less than 10-15 seconds to make this
adjustment - even quicker going from A to Bb. The King instruments also
had a bar on the inside of the tuning slide that was able to be moved
by the thumb while playing for tuning adjustments.
As was previously discussed, these instruments MUST be played with the
appropriate cornet mouthpiece. If one uses a Bach 7C ("C" bowl)
mouthpiece on these instruments they will sound more like a trumpet. I
believe that this is where many players who believe that there is not
much of a difference in the sound of a trumpet and a cornet base their
observation. The appropirate cornet mouthpiece has a "V" cup/bowl. This
is where dark, mellow, velvety cornet sound is based (the conical
tubing vs. the cylindrical tubing of the trumpet is also a major
factor). In playing these instruments with the appropriate mouthpiece I
have found that the A side of the instrument has a much "darker" sound
than the Bb side. Also, it is my experience that playing the same
passages on the trumpet and cornet that the trumpet sound is more
piercing (like a rifle bullet) and that the sound of the cornet
"spreads" (like buckshot from a shotgun).
As for players, obviously the French had Arban, and his students, using
both Bb and A cornets. I have noticed that alot of the music referred
to in previous postings is from the "Russian school"...Tschiakowsky,
etc. It should be noted that in the 1870s, Jules Levy was brought to
Russia and eventually was offered the post of "chief bandmaster of the
Russian Army and Imperial cornetist." I would refer you to the article
on Levy in Bridges' "Pioneers in Brass". Here it is also stated that
Levy was "always a welcome guest at the Royal Palace, supping with the
Czarevitch, who was an amateur cornet player." Thus, I believe that
Tschiakowsky and friends had an establised "school of cornet playing"
with which to work with and compose for. And, it is my contention that
the players of this "school" were well versed in playing both Bb and A
2. In my previous playing of
Tschiakowsky, etc., "cornet" parts I have noted that there has been a
"pattern" in the orchestration...i.e., cornets are paired with the
horns, and the trumpets are paired with the trombones. In other words,
the composers have set up "little choirs" of conical vs. cylindrical
instruments. It should also be noted that the origin of the name
"cornet" means "little horn." With respect to my previous statement
about the difference in tone quality between the Bb and the A side of
the cornet, I believe that Tschiakowsky, et al, INTENDED to have a
darker quality present in the conical choir and they did not intend
their switching between Bb and A as an exercise in transposition. As to
the comments that the cornet does not "cut" through the orchestra, it
has been my contention that too many orchestra (and jazz) trumpet
players play too #%$@ loud and are trying to be soloists rather than
"ensemble" players. Also, there was a comment about conductors not
asking for cornets to be played. I asked one of my previous conductors
about this and was told that "I have work with what is available." It
is my contention that if a reasonably astute conductor (oxymoron?) were
asked by the "trumpet" section about using the "true" cornet sound,
he/she would be glad to have the orchestral shadings intended by the
Well, back to my "lurking."