Brass Family in Detail

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The trumpet can be found in antiquity and among all primitive civilizations.
Early trumpets were tubes made of wood, bamboo, or gourd. In ancient Egypt trumpetlike instruments were made of silver, and ancient Greek instruments of ivory still exist. The modern trumpet began to evolve around 1300 with the introduction of a metal instrument with a wide flared bell and short cylindrical bore. The trumpet's sound is produced by a forceful stream of air through the player's lips cupped in a mouthpiece, thus creating a vibrating column of air. In the later 14th and 15th centuries the tubing was shaped like the letter S rather than flared forward. Toward the end of the 15th century the trumpet's tubing again changed its shape and was wound in a loop. Throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries this so called natural trumpet  as opposed to later trumpets with valves or slides was the norm.

Trumpet music traditionally conveyed festive or martial feelings, and many fine parts were written by baroque composers, including Bach ("Mass in B Minor") and Handel (Dettingen Te Deum'). Classical composers who wrote notably for the instrument include Haydn, whose 'Concerto for Trumpet in E Flat' is a mainstay of the repertoire.

Trumpets with keys and with valves, which were capable of producing a wider range of notes and of sustaining more accurate pitch, were developed in the early 19th century, a time of transition for the instrument. Although trumpets were built in many keys (trumpets in E flat, F, G, and A flat were not uncommon by the end of the 19th century) the standard trumpets were in the keys of B flat and C. The modern piccolo trumpet often has four valves and is pitched in A or Bb, one octave higher than the standard Bb trumpet.

The flugelhorn is a bugle with valves that is pitched in B flat. Because of its large bell, wide bore, and deep mouthpiece, it has a sound that is even more mellow than its prototype. While Ottorino Respighi and other contemporary composers have occasionally called for its use in orchestral scores, the flugelhorn is primarily employed in European military bands.

The cornet is closely related to the trumpet, which it most obviously resembles by being a valved brass instrument pitched in B flat. Unlike the trumpet, which was derived from a natural (valveless) instrument that dates back to antiquity, the cornet was derived from the post horn, a coiled brass instrument used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Compared to the trumpet the cornet has a deeper, more generous mouthpiece and a gradually expanding bore that give the instrument its characteristic rich, rounded sound.

Cornets, which came into widespread use in the 19th century, are found mostly in brass bands, in which a family of four cornets is the norm. In the symphony orchestra they were most inventively employed by Hector Berlioz and other 19thcentury French composers. Since trumpets at this time had no valves, cornets were used to provide the orchestra with a treble brass voice of great agility.

While the horn has many antecedents in earlier civilizations including instruments made of shell, bone, or brassit was not until the end of the 16th century that the true precursor of the modem horn emerged. This was the helicalshaped hunting horn, and its great popularity in France is thought to be the reason that the instrument is known as the French horn. Although the horn's characteristic burnished sound is produced in the same way as the sound of other brass instrumentsby a player's creating a vibrating column of air that courses through the length of the instrument's tubingthe horn differs from the trumpet, trombone, and tuba in one significant way: Instead of a cupshaped mouthpiece, the horn has a funnelshaped mouthpiece that has a direct effect on both the production and quality of the sound.

These simple early horns were used occasionally by opera composers in the mid17th century (including Pietro Cavalli and JeanBaptiste Lully), but they were also used in a far more sophisticated way by the great baroque composers of the 18th century (such as Handel in his "Water Music" and Bach in his "Mass in B Minor"). Classical composers also wrote masterfully for the instrument (such as Mozart in his four "Horn Concertos" and Beethoven in his "Horn Sonata").

Enabling the instrument to play in a variety of keys were crooks, or pieces of tubing of differing sizes attached to each other and to the horn, thereby changing its length and its pitch (the longer the tubing, the lower the pitch). Although various mechanical systems were devised in the late 18th century to make it easier for horns to play in various keys without the constant changing of crooks, it was only in the early 19th century that the valved horn developed. A system of rotary valves enables the horn player to embrace the entire chromatic spectrum that lies within the instrument's range. All keys can be played without the necessity of using crooks.

Shortly after these instruments were introduced, composers used them in tandem with the traditional instruments. In the first opera to use valved horns, Fromental Halevy's "La Juive", and in early operas of Wagner, these instruments were used in pairs along with pairs of natural (valveless) horns. By the late 19th century valved horns were the norm. Among the notable pieces written for this instrument are Schumann's "Adagio and Allegro" and Benjamin Britten's "Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings".

The trombone evolved in the early 15th century. In the late 14th century the medieval trumpet had its straight shape folded into the curves of an S, and this shaped suggested an instrument that became known as the trombone. The instrument has a cupshaped mouthpiece attached to a cylindrical length of tubing
that expands toward a flared bell. As with other brass instruments, the sound is produced by a vibrating column of air through the mouthpiece into the instrument's coiled tubing. Unlike the modern trumpet or French horn, which have valves that produce different notes, the trombone has a long Ushaped slide that the player manipulates to produce a wide range of pitches.

Early trombones were regularly used in groups with trumpets, where they were the lowest voice in the instrumental consort. A tradition of music for these instruments continued into the 17th century, when music for trumpets and trombonesor cornets and sackbuts, to refer to their earlier names was internationally popular with such eminent composers as Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schutz, and Henry Purcell. In the 18th century the trombone was often used for coloristic effects suggestive of menace or majesty. Mozart offers examples of such writing in his "Requiem" and in his opera "Don Giovanni". In the 19th and 20th centuries the trombone is used primarily as an orchestral instrument. Virtuoso passages for trombone occur in Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique", in Wagner's "Der Ring des Niebelungen", and in Dimitri Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 5".

The tuba, the deepestvoiced member of the brass family, was invented in Germany in the late 1820's. Unlike the trumpet and French horn, it had no valveless ancestor but was created with a system of rotary valves that gave it great flexibility. The instrument found immediate favor both with composers of band music and with orchestral composers. Wagner used it in his opera "The Flying Dutchman", and later in the 19th century it was used prominently by Berlioz and Richard Strauss,

The helicon and the sousaphoneThese instruments are circular in form supported by the player's shoulder and left hand while the right hand operates the instrument's valves. The sousaphone was designed to the specifications of the noted bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa, and it became indispensable to marching and military bands.

Materials compiled by the Epic Brass from:

Compton's Encyclopedia
Harvard Dictionary of Music
A History of Western Music by Donald Grout
The Art of Brass Playing by Philip Farkas
Yamaha Corporation of America
(Musical Instruments pictured)

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