Trombone in the (old) news–part one

I am in the process of preparing a book on the history of the trombone for publication. Scarecrow Press will publish it some time before the end of next year. There are a lot of interesting details that wouldn’t fit into the book and probably aren’t much good for any other formal, scholarly writing. That’s the great thing about blogs. From time to time I’ll share my wealth of interesting but not necessarily useful or important information.

Every word of the Times of London from 1785 to 1985 is available in full text online (for anyone with access to a library that subscribes to it.) And it’s keyword searchable. So here are a selection of tidbits from the first half of the nineteenth century I found when I looked for all the references to “trombone.” The dates are the date of the newspaper.

October 23, 1827. Neither the trombone nor operatic composer Rossini got much respect from the partisans of “serious” music in the early part of the nineteenth century, as demonstrated by this excerpt from a preview of the coming operatic season at Covent Garden:

“The orchestra and the chorus singers are to be augmented–that is, noise and discord are to be increased. This puts one in mind of a remark by Rossini’s A friend of his, on the first rehearsal of the Gazza Ladra, told him that many passages were defective in point of composition. Rossini assented. Nevertheless he invited the critic to the first representation, saying, that the noise of the accompaniments would be so great, that he would not be able to hear the defects of the harmony. In order to give room for the additional musicians, the orchestra is to be enlarged, and the pit diminished. Thus will the trombones from the centre of the theatre be startling the audience, and all architectural proportions will be destroyed.”

In 1841, a French trombonist named Faivre was engaged to play solo trombone for a series of promenade concerts conducted by the very popular conductor Jullien. He also participated in a tour advertised on April 12. The agent that hired him chose not to pay him the full amount promised. Faivre had to sue in the Court of Exchequer, which, as reported on June 15, ruled in his favor.

Oct. 15, 1850. It is not at all unusual for the trombone and trombonists not to get respect. There is enough evidence of that over five centuries to fill more than one more blog post. So it’s nice to point out some exceptions, deliberate or not. An advertisement for a series of Grand National Concerts announced, “The prospectus issued by the managers of these entertainments, which are announced to begin on Tuesday evening, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, is full of promise. The avowed object is to provide an intellectual entertainment of the highest order, embracing the greatest works of the greatest masters, illustrated by the most eminent artistes in Europe. . .” The list of soloists included renowned trombonist William Winterbottom.

June 5, 1851. Normal practice in a review, when trombones are mentioned at all, is to complain that they were too loud. This review of a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a refreshing change: “The effect of the trombones behind the scenes, when the statue, in the churchyard, accepts the invitation to supper of Don Giovanni, is very solemn and appropriate; but last night these instruments were probably so far off, at the commencement, that they were inaudible, and the statue had to sing his first solo without accompaniments.”

(First published in The All-Purpose Guru on August 18, 2009)

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