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Session 4-4 (AMIS-HBS)
Organology and Brass Instruments

J. Kenneth Moore (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY), Chair

 

The Soprano Trombone Swindle

Howard Weiner (Freiburg im Breisgau)

The soprano or discant trombone is the stepchild of the trombone family. Developed late in comparison to the other trombones, it hardly found employment by composers of stature; only Johann Sebastian Bach called for a soprano trombone, in three of his cantatas. By chance and through the absence of historical knowledge in following generations, however, Christoph Willibald von Gluck and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were also brought into connection with this instrument. Thus, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries various false "facts" concerning the soprano trombone have made the rounds. In concentrated form, they are to be found in Posaune, vol. 8 of Hans Kunitz's series Die Instrumentation published in 1959. Kunitz, however, did not content himself with a simple retelling of the usual legends, but rather fabricated a grandiose history of the soprano trombone, a forgery that has found great acceptance in spite of its obvious source-historical problems. The influence of Kunitz's swindle is clearly discernible in many articles, lexica, and books on organology and will be discussed in this paper.

 

The French Connection: Origin and Early Days of Périnet-Valved B3-Cornet Design

Niles Eldridge (American Museum of Natural History)

The bewildering diversity of cornet design stands in marked contrast to the configurational monotony that has characterized trumpet manufacture since the nineteenth century. Yet the history of cornet design diversity is far from chaotic, and it has proven possible to pinpoint the origins and subsequent histories of major models that set the standards and were industry leaders over successive intervals of time. Several designs originating from the Parisian ateliers of Courtois and Besson in particular dominated Périnet-valved cornet design on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1850s up to the end of the nineteenth century--and one of those designs (the Besson "Concertiste" dating from the early 1870s) became the forerunner of modern cornets.

 

The Right Measure: How Brass Instrument Makers of the 19th Century Decided on Dimensions of the Bore

Herbert Heyde (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)

This paper suggests that the most common way to determine the bore of brass wind instruments was empirical by nature in the 19th century. Accumulating experience as a manufacturer and trial and error were the prevailing methods to determine precise dimensions that would produce a particular sound quality. In addition to this approach, proportional methods played a role that was not directly related to music. Some written sources and extant instruments indicate the use of procedures that attempted to develop designs using a rational approach and, in this way, to impose distinct dimensions. The paper discusses the sources and instruments in question.

 

Did Sax Invent the Saxhorn?

Arnold Myers (University of Edinburgh)

The maker and inventor Adolphe Sax successfully fought a legal battle defending the novelty of the family of instruments now known as saxhorns. This paper re-examines the claims of Sax and his rival instrument makers, drawing on systematic measurements of surviving instruments. The criteria for an acoustically significant characterization of brasswinds are explored. The paper concludes with a discussion of what is meant by a "family" of instruments.

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