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The natural trumpet and the baroque trumpet

The baroque trumpet

The trumpet has played a significant part in musical history and was often used for state and church occasions. Tony Cross looks at its importance in baroque music

FOR ANYONE who wishes to play music on the instruments for which it was composed, the right trumpet is of paramount importance. Indeed, some conductors, such as Sir Charles Mackerras, when conducting 18th-century music, will insist on classical (period instrument) trumpets for the sound they make.

The trumpet played a major part in grand ceremonies in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some kings had bands of trumpet-players for such use. One of the biggest centres for trumpets and players was Nuremberg in Germany. Sometimes trumpet-players formed themselves into guilds, which would protect their privileges as players and frequently made playing the trumpet for public occasions a hereditary right: son succeeded father. Trumpets were used in churches as well as in courts.

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You can blow baroque instruments really quite forcefully and yet they don’t have the same startling effect as modern instruments have

Tony Cross

The modern violin concerto is in part descended from Italian trumpet concertos, particularly in Bologna and Venice (compare the similar figuration Vivaldi uses for his two-trumpet concerto with his violin concertos). Bach composed his Brandenburg Concertos, and some cantatas, with the court trumpet-player of Anhalt-Cöthen in mind. He also married the trumpet-player’s daughter, Anna Magdalena, after his first wife died.

The importance of the trumpet in Bach’s life can be gauged by the triumphant opening of the Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio) or the Sanctus of the B minor mass. For special occasions the trumpet would be used in the theatre; Handel introduced trumpets for particular effect in his oratorio Judas Maccabaeus and as an obbligato instrument in Messiah ('The Trumpet Shall Sound'). Purcell used the so-called 'flat trumpets' in the funeral music he composed for Queen Mary in 1694, which a year later was used at his own funeral.

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