Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2005 23:05:53 EDT
Subject: Re: [TPIN] Orchestra Cornet Questions

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 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 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 cornet.

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 composer.

Well, back to my "lurking."