The Trumpet

Listen to Jeffrey Work, Principal Trumpet performing an excerpt from Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonora Overture No. 2. Choose one:
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The trumpet is the soprano instrument of the brass family. There are many varieties of trumpet, each with a different range and timbre for specific styles of music. The most common in the symphony orchestra for classical music is the C trumpet, B-flat for pops, and the “bach” or high D trumpet in Baroque orchestral music, such as Handel’s Water Music. Since about 1880, all trumpets have finger-operated valves which control the length of the tube, allowing players the full chromatic scale (all the white and black keys of the piano). Before valves, first crooks (replaceable sections of tubing) then keys allowed some flexibility in moving between tonalities.

The trumpet played in ancient Egypt and Assyria was made of one piece of wood or metal. The ancient Greeks and Romans also had trumpet-like instruments. From the 1300s in Europe, the instrument had considerable importance in court functions. As the melodic range grew, it came to be used in “art” music and developed a large repertoire by the end of the 18th century. Baroque composers preferred its high register in festive music, and Classical composers used its middle register to reinforce tutti passages in the orchestra. Some developments in orchestral trumpet technique have come from jazz: glissandos (sliding from one pitch to another), flutter-tonguing, “smears,” “rips” and special mutes such as the “cup,” “wa-wa,” “plunger” and felt hat.


Source: The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., [1991] ISBN 0-333-43236-3

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