Did Sax invent the saxhorn?




(Saxhorns are the top row of instruments in this 1872 advertisement) In1845, French military music reached the bottom of a long decline. The war ministry, desiring to reorganize it completely, arranged for a contest among bands with various instrumentation. The band led by Adolphe Sax won. The Belgian-born Sax had only moved to Paris and set up shop three years earlier. His quick success (largely due to the superior craftsmanship of his instruments but also to notable supporters such as Hector Berlioz) annoyed established French makers. That this upstart should win the right to reorganized French military music added insult … Continue reading

The buccin: a dragon-headed trombone




In the early nineteenth century, some  French and Belgian instrument makers manufacturered a fanciful adaptation of the trombone known as the buccin. In place of the standard bell section, it had a widely curving tube  ending with a gaudily painted serpent’s or dragon’s head.  The same makers also put monster’s heads on serpents, serpent bassoons, and other precursors of the ophicleide. Judging from the trombone parts in French music during or after the Revolution, the was played loudly, primarily in the lower register.  As the French used a very small-bore trombone, its sound must have been coarse and at times … Continue reading

Trombone vs bull




This article, copied from the September 23, 1841 issue of the [Pittsfield, Massachusetts] Sun speaks for itself: Trombone vs. Bull.–The Lafayette (Louisiana) Chronicle, in enumerating the various definitions given to the word “gentleman,” relates the following anecdote: An intoxicated trombone player was returning from a country ball, and while crossing a field he was accosted by a bellowing bull. What with the darkness in the eyes of a man who could not have seen straght had it been daylight, the trombone player mistook the bull for a brother musician,and the bellow for a defiance to a trial of skill. Possessessed … Continue reading

The Ophecleide




The serpent eventually morphed into the ophecleide, a metal instrument built more or less in the form of a bassoon. This shape made it possible for the tone holes to be correctly placed and the right size. Unlike the serpent, then, its intonation was dependable. It made a logical bass to the keyed bugle, which was invented at about the same time and for a while became a popular solo instrument. The ophecleide, too, in the hands of skilled players, made an excellent effect both in bands and orchestras and as a solo instrument. But notice that I must use … Continue reading

The Serpent (and I thought the trombone gets no respect)




The serpent was the bass of the old wooden cornett. As such, it predates the invention of keys and mechanics that make them work. It got its name from its  curvy shape. No one would have been able to hold it or finger it if it were straight. As it is, the tone holes are placed according to where the player’s fingers can reach them and the right size for the player’s fingers to cover them. They are neither large enough nor properly placed for either optimum tone or intonation according to the laws of acoustics. As the quotations below … Continue reading

Trombone in the (old) news–part two




Here are some more gems from the Times of London: Dec 25, 1863. In the midst of the American Civil War, the Christy Minstrels, among the most important American entertainers of the time, went on an international tour and presented ten concerts in London during the week following Christmas 1863. The advertisement lists all of the music to be played on the two concerts on Saturday, the 26th, including a trombone solo performed by J. Randall. 1866. Two different horses named Trombone appear in the “Sporting Intelligence” column. One owned by Mr. Machell is mentioned on Sept. 29, and Oct. … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading