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    to promote communications among trumpet players around the world and to improve the artistic level of performance, teaching,and literature associated with the trumpet

    International Trumpet Guild Journal

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    A TRUMPETERS GUIDE TO THE CORNETTBY ELISA KOEHLER

    January 2006 Page 14

  • 14 ITG Journal / January 2006 2006 International Trumpet Guild

    F ew instruments suffer from the identity crisis thatplagues the cornett. As the premier virtuoso windinstrument of the Renaissance, it flourished between1500 and 1650 under a variety of names: cornetto (Italian), cor-neta (Spanish), cornet bouquin (French), and Zink (German).For the sake of clarity, this article will refer to the instrumentby its English name, cornett, rather than the Italian cornetto.1

    Although the cornett is often played by trumpeters, it is alsopopular with recorder players. This highlights a fundamentalissue regarding the cornett: it is essentially a woodwind instru-ment with a brass instrument mouthpiece, and a rather smallone at that.2 Given its unique hybrid nature and fickle tech-nique, the cornett is undoubtedly one of the most difficultinstruments to master.

    During its heyday, the cornett was strictly an instrument forprofessional musicians. Cornettists were trained through rigor-ous apprenticeships. While the cornett was briefly mentionedin sixteenth-century theoretical treatises, few detailed instruc-tion manuals were written for the instrument.3 The 1990s wit-nessed a distinct flowering in pedagogical and scholarly litera-ture for the cornett. Some contemporary cornett virtuosi pro-duced new study material, most notably Bruce Dickey, Mich-ael Collver, and Jeremy West.4 The Historic Brass Society(HBS) was founded in 1989 and has since produced a wealthof scholarship regarding the cornett as well as several interna-tional conferences. HBS President Jeffrey Nussbaum, in partic-ular, has done a tremendous service for the early brass commu-nity with his many articles (listed in the bibliography below)that compile lists of instrument makers, discographies, andartist interviews.

    This article aims to provide a practical introduction fortrumpeters desiring to play the cornett. For that reason, back-ground information on the instruments heritage and literaturewill not be discussed here. Many fine historical introductionsto the instrument are readily available.5 A detailed bibliogra-phy follows this article directing readers seeking more informa-tion to some of the best recent scholarship on the cornett andrelated issues.

    Thanks to the cornett renaissance (pun intended) and thepopularity of early music recordings, basic information aboutthe instrument is now more commonly available. Gone are thedays when trumpeters were surprised and perhaps evenappalled to hear how Gabrieli and Monteverdi were meant tosound on period instruments. In fact, contemporary cornettmasters have reached heights of artistic expression to whichmodern trumpeters would do well to aspire.

    The Cornett and the Early Music Revival

    The cornett gradually declined in prominence during themiddle of the seventeenth century as the violin usurped its roleas the dominant soprano solo instrument. Unlike instrumentsthat mutated into altered versions of their former selves (likethe recorder, the traverso and the modern flute), the cornett

    simply went the way of the dinosaur.6 Although cornetts stillaccompanied liturgical music in Germany and North Americaas late as the middle of the 19th century,7 the instrument fellout of the mainstream. The cornett survived, scarcely noticed,as a museum piece for over a century until the early musicrevival turned its attention to the instrument, thanks in largepart to Otto Steinkopf and Christopher Monk.

    The early music revival began in stages, depending on therepertoire and philosophy under consideration. For example,Englands Academy of Ancient Music regarded anything writ-ten before 1580 to be ancient in 1731.8 From Mendelssohns1829 revival of Bachs St. Matthew Passion to the neoclassicmovement of the 1920s, the concept of rediscovering oldmusic seems to have never gone out of style.

    Today, as in the past, the early music movement has gener-ated controversy among mainstream critics. It has been vari-ously derided as reactionary, counter-cultural, and puritanicalwhile being championed by supporters as a revelation.9

    Regardless of such shifting opinions, the proof is in the per-formance. Paul Hindemith defended historically informedperformance (abbreviated as HIP) in 1951 by pointing outthat,

    All the traits that made the music of the past lov-able to its contemporary performers and listenerswere inextricably associated with the kind of soundthen known and appreciated. If we replace this soundby the sounds typical of our modern instruments andtheir treatment we are counterfeiting the musicalmessage the original sound was supposed to trans-mit.10

    Although Hindemith later admitted that it was not possibleto recreate period audiences as easily as period instruments,attempts at musical time travel attracted a growing followingamong those disenchanted with 20th-century modernism.

    Hindemith joined the faculty at Yale University in 1940and exerted a powerful influence on the growing early musicmovement. He founded the Yale Collegium Musicum, and isconsidered the father of the collegiate early music movementin North America. His primary goal was to broaden the hori-zons of his students by providing them hands-on experiencewith music they were studying. Hindemith often conductedperformances on period instruments borrowed from theMetropolitan Museum of Art as well as from private collec-tions. Such performances included Dufays Mass Se la face aypale at Yale in 1946 and Monteverdis Orfeo in Vienna in1954.11

    Throughout the Baroque Revival of the 1960s and 1970s,HIP grew more professional as musicians gained experiencewith period instruments. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed asurge in HIP recordings as well as institutions devoted to fos-tering early music, such as the Historic Brass Society. Manynotable performance ensembles were formed featuring bril-liant cornett soloists such as Concerto Castello (Bruce

    This article was reviewed and approved for publication by the ITG Editorial Committee.

    A TRUMPETERS GUIDE TO THE CORNETTBY ELISA KOEHLER

  • 2006 International Trumpet Guild January 2006 / ITG Journal 15

    Dickey), Concerto Palatino (Bruce Dickey), Le Concert Bris(William Dongois), La Fenice (Jean Tubry), His MajestiesSagbutts and Cornetts (Jeremy West), Les Sacqueboutiers deToulouse (Jean-Pierre Canihac), and Musica Fiata (RolandWilson).

    Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, HIP finds itselfin the curious position of becoming a mainstream phenome-non. The true barometer of HIPs influence and successremains the emotional impact of the music performed.Regardless of the philosophical debates and artistic turf warssurrounding HIP, there is no denying that brass musicians nowhave more repertoire and convincing interpretive optionsavailable thanks to theearly music revival.

    The cornett occupies aunique position amongperiod instruments. Un-like violinists playing alter-ed forms of that well-known instrument, trum-peters taking up the cor-nett are faced with a steeplearning curve and delayedgratification. With dedica-tion, patience, and seriousstudy, there can be light atthe end of the tunnel,though. The cornett reper-toire is sumptuous andvast.12 Opportunities forgood players are growing.Best of all, acquiring alevel of competence on thecornett can open up new possibilities for artistic expression,and this can translate into more sensitive and sophisticatedplaying on modern instruments as well.

    Preliminary Study

    One of the best prerequisites for cornett study is to learn toplay the recorder. Woodwind fingering technique presents aformidable challenge for trumpet players approaching the cor-nett, and playing the recorder provides a relatively stress-freeintroduction to this vital skill. The recorder also requires sub-tle articulation and gentle airflow which is useful for good cor-nett playing. Plastic instruments are inexpensive and easilyobtainable, and many good method books are available.13 It isadvisable to begin with