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A NEW SPECIES OF INSTRUMENT: THE VENTED
TRUMPET IN CONTEXT

Robert Barclay

Introduction
The natural trumpet is the one instrument not yet fully revived for use in the performance
of Baroque music. A handful of recordings are available and very rarely a concert featuring
solo performances on the instrument is given, but to a great extent the idiosyncrasies of the
natural harmonic series are still considered to be beyond reliability in the recording studio
or in live performance. Most current players have taken to using machine-made instruments
with as many as four fi nger-holes placed in their tubing near to pressure nodes, so that the
so-called “out-of-tune harmonics” of the natural series (principally and ) will not
be unpleasant to modern sensitivity. The vented instruments that have resulted from this
recent “invention of tradition” are often equipped with so many anachronistic features that
the result is a trumpet which resembles its Baroque counterpart only superfi cially, whose
playing technique is quite different, and whose timbre is far removed from that expected
for Baroque music.
Among publications that deal with the compromises made to natural instruments in
modern practice, those of Tim Collins, Richard Seraphinoff, and Crispian Steele-Perkins
deserve especial mention. Collins provides an excellent summary of the characteristics of
the natural trumpet, and an analysis of the current state of playing of the instrument.1

Seraphinoff concentrates on the early horn, and discusses the pros and cons of the use of
vent holes in so-called historical performances.2 Steele-Perkins summarizes the develop-
ment of the modern Baroque trumpet and provides practical advice on the selection of
instruments 3 All three authors highlight the tension that has arisen within the fi eld of early
brass performance.
This article examines how the current state of affairs arose, and suggests a new terminol-
ogy to avoid confusion among scholars and musicians, and to prevent misrepresentation to
the general public. A good proportion of citations in this article are from the publications
of the Historic Brass Society. This is deliberate. Because, by its title, the Society espouses
specifi cally the historical aspects of brass instrument study and performance, the way in
which its members and contributors express themselves may be used as a yardstick in
determining the general level of scholarship.

Taxonomy
In their seminal 1914 publication , Erich von Horn-
bostel and Curt Sachs categorize the trumpet as an instrument of cylindrical bore where
“the airstream passes through the player’s vibrating lips, so gaining intermittent access
to the air column which is made to vibrate.” 4 They further subdivide the category into
natural trumpets, in which no supplementary devices are employed to modify pitch, and

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HISTORIC BRASS SOCIETY JOURNAL2

chromatic trumpets, in which added devices are used. Such added devices include slides,
valves and vents. Slides and valves have the function of increasing or decreasing the length
of the vibrating air column, thus affording access to further sets of harmonics. Vents have
the effect of splitting the air column at nodal points, thus creating different modes of vi-
bration. Vents may be covered either by keys or by the fi ngers. The classifi cation system of
von Hornbostel and Sachs has proved inadequate for the ever-increasing complexities of
modern taxonomic description, especially of non-Western musical instruments.5 However,
in the context of this paper, and using the fi rst- and second-order levels described above,
it remains perfectly adequate.
The instruments used in modern performance of Baroque trumpet music are of three
distinct taxonomic types: at the fi rst level there are natural trumpets, where vibration is
generated by the lips with no added devices employed to modify pitch, and chromatic trum-
pets where such devices are employed. The chromatic trumpets are further subdivided into
those instruments that employ vents in addition to the lips to modify pitch and those that
employ valves for the same purpose. These categories are shown schematically below.

The valved trumpet in high pitch was the instrument normally substituted for the natural
trumpet until the re-invention of the vented trumpet in the 1960s. Vented trumpets have
long antecedents. Towards the end of the eighteenth century experiments with venting
of natural instruments were carried out, as is the case with Shaw’s “harmonic trumpet”
of 1787. However, the development of a truly chromatic instrument through the ap-
plication of a key system dates from a slightly later period. Examples of keyed trumpets
are evidence of experimental applications which were to characterize the approach to all
other orchestral instruments during the extended period of the Industrial Revolution. The
result of applying keys to the trumpet created an essentially new instrument, as Dauprat
remarked in 1824:

This attempt, already made on the Trumpet, has changed the timbre of the instrument
to a point [so as] to give it a completely peculiar character, to make it an instrument
which is neither Trumpet, nor any other known instrument. This species of Trumpet,

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HISTORIC BRASS SOCIETY JOURNAL6

A dedicated performer [...] needs a good copy of a genuine antique trumpet upon
which he can train his or her lip, and a modern fi nger-holed instrument with which
to earn a living in an environment where time is money and where there are mon-
strous egos to be satiated.20

And, as Andrew Pinnock has so wisely remarked on the subject of the technical achieve-
ments of the recording industry, “we all fall from grace at the studio door.”21

Controversy over the vented trumpet does not concern the use of the instrument itself, but
the way in which it is marketed. Post-modern deconstruction has ensured that authenticity
would become a meaningless term. It has undergone such expansion and dilution since
it fi rst came to be used to signify the values of the early music movement, that it is now
worthless. Taruskin has pointed out that “nowadays, in the area of musical performance, it
sometimes seems as if authenticity, as a word and as a concept, has been stood on its head.”22

He further states that “the word needs either to be rescued from its current purveyors or to
be dropped by those who would aspire to the values it properly signifi es.”23 This is nowhere
more apparent than in descriptions of performances of the Baroque trumpet, and the same
criticism can be levelled equally at use of the term “natural” in this context.
Throughout all phases of development of the twentieth-century vented trumpet, the
instrument has continued to be referred to as “natural,” and this is still done consistently
today. Thus, a tension has arisen between diverging taxonomy and parallel terminology. The
need to distinguish between the natural trumpet as intended by the new terminology, and the
natural trumpet as described taxonomically, has resulted in such terminological tautologies
as “hole-less natural trumpet,” “unashamedly natural trumpet,” “real natural trumpet,” and
so on. Occasionally one simply encounters the word “natural” set in parentheses, which is
quite meaningless because the average reader is unaware of its context. Clearly, when the
term “natural trumpet” occurs without modifi ers in writing, even in scholarly sources, it
is impossible to determine to which instrument reference is actually being made. As only
one example of many, the reader’s attention is drawn to an interview entitled “A Unique
Approach to the Modern and the Old,” where the topic of using the natural trumpet is
discussed.24 However, the reader is left with no clue anywhere in the text as to whether
those being interviewed are referring to the natural trumpet, or its historical precursor,
the natural trumpet. That this confusion should be encountered in the publication of an
organization that seeks to establish a scholarly basis for the study of early brass music and
instrumentation is regrettable.
The confusion of terminology above indicates the errors incurred and magnifi ed by
inexactitude. It could be argued that, as the development of the vented trumpet’s form
was gradual and progressive, its nomenclature therefore remained conservative, was largely
unarticulated, and eventually became unconsciously entrenched. Thus, the writers know
whereof they speak and write, and assume the same knowledge among their readers. Such
an analysis, however, ignores the potential commercial advantage of maintaining some

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HISTORIC BRASS SOCIETY JOURNAL12

Baroque sculpture is not of fi breglass, and Baroque altarpieces are not painted with acryl-
ics—but it still represents probably the most viable compromise for use in a commercial
setting. Although the term “vented trumpet” is used throughout this article, as is to be
expected of a publication in a journal that fl ies history’s banner, it would be foolhardy to
believe that such bare-faced objectivity would achieve exclusive currency among players,
early music promoters, and the general public. So, although “Baroque trumpet” might well
become the norm in the commercial milieu, “vented trumpet” must always be the way
the instrument is described in such scholarly contexts as the publications of the Historic
Brass Society.
In conclusion, the cover illustration of a recent recording shows how the term “Baroque
trumpet” is coming to be used, and might well be used in the future. The instrument in
the cover photograph is shown held in an uncharacteristic pose for a natural trumpet,
with the fi ngers of the right hand poised, in an apparently non-supportive role, at the near
end of the lower yard. 45 The instrument is a modern Baroque trumpet, with all that that
implies–at least, until the species becomes extinct.

Robert Barclay works at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, specializing in the
care and preservation of musical instruments. He is the author of The Art of the Trumpet-
maker, published by Oxford University Press. He has made more than sixty Baroque trumpets,
and since 1993 he has offered trumpet-making workshops in the United States and Europe,
in which participants learn the process of making instruments using pre-industrial techniques.
One of these workshops is the subject of a television feature produced by the BBC in association
with the Open University.

1Tim Collins, “So How Many Holes Does a Baroque Trumpet Have, Anyway?” Historic Brass Society
Newsletter 9 (1996): 11-15.Newsletter 9 (1996): 11-15.Newsletter
2 Richard Seraphinoff, “Nodal Venting on the Baroque Horn: A Study in Non-historical Performance
Practice,” The Horn Call 27/1 (1996): 21-24.The Horn Call 27/1 (1996): 21-24.The Horn Call
3 Crispian Steele-Perkins, “The Trumpet,” Early Music Today, February/March 1998, pp. 11-15.
4 E.M. von Hornbostel, and Curt Sachs, “Classifi cation of Musical Instruments,” trans. A. Baines
and K.P. Wachsmann, Galpin Society Journal 14 (1961): 3-29. Galpin Society Journal 14 (1961): 3-29. Galpin Society Journal
5 Margaret Sarkissian, “Lip-vibrated Instruments of the Ancient and Non-Western World,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, ed. Trevor Herbert and John Wallace (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1997), pp. 5-7.
6 Louis-François Dauprat, Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse (Paris, 1824), Article 3. This translation Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse (Paris, 1824), Article 3. This translation Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse
is by Jeffrey L. Snedeker and appears in the Historic Brass Society Journal 4 (1992): 160-192.
7 Ralph Dudgeon, “Keyed Brass,” The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, p. 142.
8 H. Kirchmeyer, “Die Rekonstruktion der Bachtrompete,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 122 (1961): Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 122 (1961): Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
137-45.
9 Edward H. Tarr, “The Trumpet Before 1800,” The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, p.
101.
10 The descriptive notes provided with the recording Balletti: Sonaten, Serenaden am Hof zu Kremsier

Page 13

13

(MDG L 3369, 1990) state, regarding the 11th and 13th partials, that: “klingen diese Töne der
Naturtonreihe für unsere heutigen Hörgewohnheiten unsauber.”
11 , Harmonia Mundi, HM
513 (1984).
12 , Amon Ra, CD-SAR 30 (1987).
13 , Taverner Consort/Taverner Choir/Taverner Players,
EMI, CDC 7 47633 2 (1987).
14 Michael Praetorius, II: (Wolfenbüttel, 1619), p. 170. (Wolfenbüttel, 1619), p. 170.
15 Steele-Perkins, “The Trumpet,” p. 12.
16 , Hyperion, CDA 66315 (1988).
17 Andrew Pinnock, review in 44 (1991): 191. 44 (1991): 191.
18 Richard Taruskin, “The Authenticity Movement Can Become a Positivistic Purgatory, Literalistic
and Dehumanizing,” 12/1 (1984): 3. 12/1 (1984): 3.
19 9 (1996): 20-25. 9 (1996): 20-25.
20 Steele-Perkins, “The Trumpet,” p. 12.
21 Review, 44 (1991): 192. 44 (1991): 192.
22 Taruskin, “Authenticity Movement,” p. 3.
23 Ibid.
24 10 (1997): 3-6. 10 (1997): 3-6.
25 Personal communication to the author, March 1992.
26 “The English Four-hole System,” presentation at Historic Brass Society Conference, Edinburgh,
1994.
27 Sadly, the motorcycle on which Henry VIII roared around Hampton Court Palace in the 1540s
has also failed to survive.
28 Robert Donington, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974), p. 45. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974), p. 45.
29 Ibid., p. 44.
30 4 (1992): 49. 4 (1992): 49.
31 G.F. Handel, , Hyperion, CDA66350 (1989).
32 Ibid., p. 3.
33 Ibid., p. 10.
34 G.F. Handel, , Vanguard, VSQ-30020 (1973).
35 Douglas Adams, (London: Pan Books, 1982), p. 33. (London: Pan Books, 1982), p. 33.
36 , Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm, MD+G L 3348
(1990).
37 , FNAC Music, 592332 (1994).
38 EMI/HMV CDC 7 47664 2, recorded 1986.
39 There is a downside to blocking the vents of a machine-made, modern instrument. The notes
center so effectively in such trumpets that bending the harmonics into tune can be a frustrating and
futile exercise. Thus the student becomes convinced, not of the possibility of the exercise, but of its
impossibility.
40 “Beginning with the Baroque Trumpet,” presentation at Historic Brass Society Conference, Am-
herst, 1993.
41 9 (1996): 58. 9 (1996): 58.
42 Don Smithers, K. Wogram, J. Bowsher, “Playing the Baroque Trumpet,” 254/4
(1986): 108-115.
43 Jonathan Impett plays a fi nely made instrument after Haas by the Thein Brothers on the recording
referred to in n. 12.
44 Tarr, “The Trumpet before 1800,” p. 101.
45 , NAXOS, 8.553531S (1995).

BARCLAY

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