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What Is a Baroque Trumpet?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 23, 2024
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Baroque trumpets are trumpets musicians played primarily between 1650 and 1750, although people used versions of these trumpets well into the classical period. They usually are made of brass and are a derivative of early instruments used primarily for military, ceremonial and communication purposes. The baroque trumpet eventually evolved into the modern valved trumpet used as both a solo and ensemble instrument.

Two types of these trumpets exist. The first is the "natural" trumpet. This means that the trumpet has no valves or holes. This, in turn, means that the player has to control the pitch of the instrument to a greater degree with his lips. This is notoriously difficult for modern players to do, as modern trumpets are constructed so that the player does not have to make such drastic lip adjustments to stay in tune.

The second type of baroque trumpet is the "vented" trumpet. These instruments are very similar to the natural trumpet, but they have vent holes the player may cover and uncover. As the player does this, he alters the flow of air inside the trumpet, which allows the trumpeter to correct intonation problems commonly found on natural instruments.

Performers who play these period trumpets are divided about whether to use natural or vented trumpets. One reason for this is that the sound of vented notes on a vented baroque trumpet is noticeably weaker than the sound of those same notes played on a natural trumpet. On the other hand, venting permits players to have greater pitch accuracy, which most conductors and other ensemble players want. The preference for a vented trumpet and the resultant pitch accuracy has led to many musicians and scholars using the term "baroque trumpet" to refer only to the vented version of the instrument, although some players do perform on natural trumpets.

In comparison to the modern trumpet, the baroque trumpet has about two to three times as much tubing, depending on its key. On a true baroque trumpet, the mouthpiece also is different, having a shallower cup that permits greater ease and lightness in the upper register. Many modern players use versions of modern mouthpieces on baroque trumpets, which unfortunately creates a less authentic, more dominating and heavy sound very different from what baroque composers intended. Additionally, on a natural instrument, the player is able to hold the trumpet with just one hand.

In terms of pitch, most commonly, the baroque trumpet was constructed in C, meaning that if the trumpeter played a written C, it would match a C played on a non-transposing instrument like the piano. To pitch the trumpet in D also was common. Other versions existed in Bb, Eb and F, however. Some baroque trumpets used crooks that fitted between the mouthpiece and the main body of the instrument, which would lower the pitch so the player easily could adapt to different keys.

Some of the most notable composers who wrote for the this instrument included George Frederic Handel, who used the baroque trumpet in works such as the Water Music suite and The Trumpet Shall Sound from the larger, celebrated masterpiece, The Messiah. Johann Sebastian Bach used the baroque trumpet in his Magnificat and perhaps most famously in his second Brandenburg concerto. Other composers who used the instrument for sacred, solo and orchestral works include Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Arcangelo Corelli and Georg Philip Telemann.

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