Victor Cornette and his trombone method

Victor Cornette trombone method 1854 cover

Colombier edition of Cornette’s method for trombone (ca. 1854)

For most of a century, advanced trombone students have worked from a combination of the trombone method by Victor Cornette (1795-1868) and the Melodious Etudes compiled from Marco Bordogni’s vocalises by Johannes Rochut.

Cornette published the first edition of his method in 1831.

The Paris Conservatory taught trombone when it opened in 1795, but soon abandoned it. It didn’t offer trombone again until after Cornette published his method,

Beginning in 1833, Félix Vobaron taught a preliminary class and wrote a method. When the Conservatory decided to establish a permanent class, it passed over Vobaron to hire Antoine Dieppo, who wrote a new method.

Who, then, was Cornette? And why has his method become so much more widely used than either Vobaron’s or Dieppo’s?

Victor Cornette’s career

Victor Cornette cornet method cover

Colombier edition of Cornette’s cornet method

Like many musicians of his day, Cornette was a musician’s son. His father was an organist in Amiens.

Like Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod, he studied music with Jean-François Lesueur.

At one time or another, he served as a military musician, a member of the orchestra at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, choir master at the Opéra and Opéra Comique, and organist at two different churches. He also taught singing, piano, and harmony.

He must have played multiple instruments. According to the cover pictured here, he wrote methods for several more instruments:

  • Violin
  • Flute
  • Cornet with 3 valves
  • Cello
  • Double bass
  • Flageolet
  • Horn
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • Ophecleide
  • Accordion

The French Bibliothèque National entry for Victor Cornette shows covers of Colombier editions of six of these methods, all with a picture of the same man playing the appropriate instrument. It may be a picture of Cornette himself.

The same web page identifies 73 works composed by Cornette, although on closer inspection most are method books and arrangements of operatic excerpts for numerous instruments and ensembles. He also prepared the piano reduction for several operas.

That library doesn’t necessarily own all of Cornette’s works and probably hasn’t put its entire holdings online, but I notice many arrangements for flute, cornet, etc., but not a single one for trombone.

WorldCat, on the other hand, shows holdings in modern editions for six concert duets for trombones and a set of trombone trios. It also has a graph that compares publications in Cornette’s lifetime with his many posthumous publications.

Cornette’s trombone method

Victor Cornette trombone method illustration

An illustration from Cornette’s trombone method

When I requested a copy of the method on interlibrary loan while researching for my book, a received a German edition published in Mainz, Brussels, and London by Schott.

According to Sluchin and Lapie (see sources below), Cornette prepared an expanded edition of the method, which must have been published sometime before 1842.

The German edition does not resemble their description of the expanded edition. As near as I can tell, it appeared no later than 1835.

It is therefore essentially the first French edition with the French text and a German translation in parallel columns. It omits some duets and trios that, according to Sluchin and Lapie, the first French edition had.

All the French methods were quickly translated into German. It appears that no method book for trombone was first published anywhere else but Paris until at least 1870.

Cornette’s method begins with a brief prose introduction. It describes the seven slide positions, three different kinds of trombone (alto, tenor, and bass), and makes brief remarks on the mouthpiece, tone, articulation, and taking care of the instrument.

The first four exercises introduce the seven positions, repeating the same pattern of notes in each.  Next Cornette presents a page of all the major and minor scales. The bulk of the Schott edition of the method comprises music under the headings

  • Chromatic scale with sharps and flats
  • Exercises in intervals
  • Six little preparatory exercises
  • Twenty lessons in the most useful keys (each with a brief solo etude and a short duet)
  • Six grand etudes

Vobaron writes a more informative prose introduction than Cornette. Dieppo’s is even better. But they both spend an inordinate amount of space on exercises to teach the seven positions. They provide considerably more exercises, but even at their most advanced they don’t come close to demanding the level of technique of Cornette’s grand etudes.

I received photocopies of the Vobaron and Dieppo methods that aren’t clear enough that I can play through them. They look awfully boring and repetitive, though.

Vobaron’s method appeared in a 20th-century edition. Dieppo’s didn’t, although some excerpts did. He co-wrote a method with Friedrich Berr and repudiated it when he started teaching at the Conservatory. (The publisher paid Berr, but not Dieppo.)  WorldCat shows more editions of that method than the one he acknowledged.

The modern reputation of Cornette’s method

Victor Cornette trombone method Procter The six grand etudes probably explain why Cornette’s method remains useful after the other two have fallen by the wayside.

Anyone who has studied from both the Cornette method and Oskar Blume’s 36 Advanced Etudes knows that both contain the same six grand etudes. Blume found them so useful that he simply copied them for his own book. Robert Müller also included them in the third volume of his Technische Studien.

The most common modern edition, edited by Jerome N. Procter, appeared in 1937. Procter substituted his own prose introduction for Cornette’s and added some material, notably

  • 36 Exercises and Scales for Daily Practice by L.S. Kenfield, then trombonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
  • 15 Studies in Chromatics
  • 31 Brilliant Etudes by M[ichel] Bléger (misspelled Blecer), a little-known 19th-century French trombone virtuoso, taken from his own little-known method
  • 6 concert duets by Cornette (as I say, not present in the edition I have, but in the original edition. Procter omits the trios)
  • Several later solos (useful only as etudes, as there is no reference to where to find piano accompaniments)
  • The Modern Trombonist by Jerome Procter

Procter wrote in his foreword

Since this method was first composed by Mr. V. Cornette, the art of trombone playing has changed greatly. At that time the trombone was a dignified, sedate member of the orchestra, playing only accompaniments and occasional bass figures.

Today, the trombonist is expected to perform many passages and do many things that, 30 years ago, would have been considered impossible or entirely beyond the ability of ordinary performers. On practically every radio program you may now listen to such previously unheard of effects as the glissando, the triple tongue, the laugh, the lip trill, etc. Simultaneous chords and extreme high and low (pedal) notes, although not usually required by the average trombonist, can be produced by virtuosos.

The work I have done on this method consists, chiefly, of a description of these tricks, or stunts, and instructions on how to play them

Cornette’s method demands more of the trombonist than its contemporaries. Therefore, it provided Procter a superior vehicle to prepare for instruction in advanced techniques. Especially with the addition of Bléger’s etudes, it provides an excellent counter to the vocal style of Rochut’s Melodious Etudes.

A history of the trombone / David M. Guion (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2010)
Grande méthode de trombonne / Félix Vobaron (Paris: Gambaro, 1834)
Méthode complete pour le trombonne / Dieppo (Paris: Troupenas, 1837)
Posaunen-Schule = Méthode de trombone / V. Cornette (Mainz: B. Schott [between 1832 and 1835]
Slide trombone teaching and method books in France (1794-1960) / Benny Sluchin and Raymond Lapie; translated by Anne Bonn, Peter Ecklund, and Jeffrey Snedeker. Historic Brass Society Journal (1997), pp. 4-29

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