Natural Trumpet vs. Baroque Trumpet


Although the terms "natural trumpet" and "Baroque trumpet" are often used interchangeably when discussing trumpets from the 17th and 18th centuries, both terms can take on a variety of meanings. It's helpful to understand the historical context of these terms in order to appreciate the two major schools of Baroque trumpet performance practice today.

The Natural Trumpet

Technically speaking, the term "natural trumpet" can be applied to any lip-blown instrument of a fixed length—without valves, slides, or vents—that can play only the naturally occurring notes of the harmonic series. In context of early music performance, the term denotes the twice-folded trumpets that emerged at the end of the 14th century in Europe. This basic form remained relatively unchanged for 400 years, covering the Renaissance, Baroque, and classical periods of European music.

The Baroque Trumpet

In the recent past, the term "Baroque trumpet" has been used to refer to any trumpet that plays Baroque period repertoire. Even the modern valved piccolo trumpet has sometimes been referred to as a Baroque trumpet, but its length, bell profile, mouthpiece size, bore size, sound quality, and manner of playing couldn't be more different than a historical trumpet. Since the start of the early music performance practice movement (from the middle of the 20th century), the term "Baroque trumpet" has been increasingly used to describe replicas of historical trumpets with the addition of a vent system for tempering "out of tune" partials. It's important to note that although a few historical instruments have been found with what appears to be some sort of vent system, and the technology of venting was well-understood historically (as in the case of the cornetto from the Renaissance period), experts now generally agree that trumpeters in the Baroque period did not use vents. It is believed that they tempered the "out of tune" notes of the harmonic series through their choice of equipment, manner of playing, and musical approach.

Evolution of the Trumpet

The trumpet went through a period of rapid evolution during the late 18th - early 19th centuries, made possible by new technologies from the Industrial Revolution, and influenced by changing musical requirements and aesthetics of the classic and romantic periods. This resulted in the trumpet taking on many new forms and functions, but the characteristic noble sound of the natural trumpet stood its ground for much of the 19th century.

By the end of the 18th century, the natural trumpet was being wound up in ways that allowed it to play in numerous keys (Trompette d' harmonie), as well as in ways that facilitated hand-stopping (Inventionstrompete) as in the case of the hand horn. The English slide trumpet utilized a mechanism could both "fix" the "out of tune" partials and expand the number of notes that could be played while retaining the characteristic sound of the natural trumpet. At the same time, vents (with keys) were applied to the trumpet and bugle in ways that increased their capacity for melodic playing and chromaticism. Finally, various valve systems were added to trumpets and bugles, resulting in the fully chromatic trumpets and cornets in use today. None of these modern valve trumpets however have been able to replicate the sound of the natural trumpet, which is the reason that the use of natural/Baroque trumpets for the performance of early music is increasingly common across the globe.

Two Schools of Baroque Trumpet Playing

Two schools of playing Baroque period repertoire have emerged as a result of many decades of rigorous examination of original manuscripts, treatises, iconography, and ongoing scholarship, as well as an exhaustive study of actual historical trumpets and mouthpieces. After the start of the Baroque trumpet revival of the mid-20th century, two vent systems were devised to help players with overall security and to manage the "out of tune" partials. These systems (German 3-hole, and the English 4-hole) allow the player to temper the notes of the harmonic series in a way that sounds "in tune" to our modern (equal tempered) ears, and are commonly used in the performance of both Baroque and classical period repertoire around the world. These vented trumpets are commonly referred to as "Baroque trumpets."

More recently, over the past few decades, a new school of playing has emerged using replicas of period instruments as they were played historically; that is, without vent systems. This school, led by French virtuoso trumpeter Jean-François Madeuf, has been steadily gaining adherents and acceptance as its musical concepts and goals are being disseminated through the work of his students. In this case, the choice of mouthpiece and overall approach to sound production and musicality are critical. It has been proven beyond doubt that the most virtuosic "high trumpet" literature of the Baroque period is not only possible without the use of vents, but that the sound and musical approach has a purity and elegance that can be difficult to achieve when using vented systems. These players are said to be playing "natural trumpets."

"Trommet" (natural trumpet) as it appears in Michael Praetorius' musical treatise Syntagma musicum (1614-1620)

Modern replica of a trumpet by Johann Leonhard Ehe III (1746)

BfB Trumpets

Brass for Beginners strives to make the study and performance of early music more widely accessible by offering high-quality, affordable, user-friendly instruments for trumpeters at all stages of development. Both the BfB Nat™ and the BfB Baroque™ can be played as natural trumpets, and the BfB Baroque™ plays in ten keys with the option of using the 4-hole vented system as a Baroque trumpet. Mouthpieces based on historic models are available to facilitate both "natural" and Baroque playing techniques.

Baroque Trumpet

Baroque trumpet artists playing high trumpet repertoire on the BfB Baroque™ using the 4-hole vent system.

Natural Trumpet

Historic trumpet artists plaing the BfB Nat™ and BfB Baroque™ using Baroque Beginner™ mouthpieces.

Suggested Reading

Hoover, Cynthia. “A Trumpet Battle at Niblo’s Pleasure Garden.” Musical Quarterly 55, no. 3 (July 1969): 384-395.

Klaus, Sabine Katharina. Trumpets and Other High Brass: A History Inspired by the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection. Vol. 1: Instruments of the Single Harmonic Series. Vermillion, SD: National Music Museum, 2012.

———————. Trumpets and Other High Brass: A History Inspired by the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection. Vol. 2: Ways to Expand the Harmonic Series. Vermillion, SD: National Music Museum, 2013.

Koehler, Elisa. Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer’s Guide to Trumpet History and Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Proksch, Bryan. “Buhl, Dauverné, Kresser, and the Trumpet in Paris ca. 1800-1840.” Historic Brass Society Journal 20 (2008): 69-91.

Smithers, Don L. The Music and History of the Baroque Trumpet before 1721. 2nd ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.

Tarr, Edward H. “The Romantic Trumpet.” Historic Brass Society Journal 5 (1993): 213-61 and 6 (1994): 110-215.

———————. The Trumpet. Trans. S.E. Plank and Edward Tarr. Portland: Amadeus Press, 1988.

Wallace, John and Alexander McGrattan. The Trumpet. The Yale Music Instrument Series. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011.

Dr. Elisa Koehler's book, Fanfares and Finesse is an excellent resource for all trumpeters interested in the fascinating history of the trumpet and its relevance for modern performers. Do you have a copy?