A bass trumpet is a brass instrument similar to regular trumpet, but larger in size. Therefore, it sounds lower, with true bass trumpets being more comparable in pitch to trombones. The instrument also is known as the basstrompete in German, tromba bassa in Italian and trompette basse in French.
Heinrich Stölzel developed the first bass trumpet in the 1820s in Germany. His initial instrument was pitched as a tenor instrument. Later, Stölzel developed bass trumpets that were true bass instruments. The original bass trumpets had just three valves, but modern bass trumpets have four.
The bass trumpet looks like a regular trumpet, but it has much more tubing. In fact, the length of tubing in a bass trumpet is almost identical to the length of tubing in a trombone. The mouthpiece of the bass trumpet also is similar in size to the trombone. For this reason, trombone players often perform on the bass trumpet, but some trumpeters also play the bass trumpet.
Experienced players of this type of trumpet can produce pedal tones between E1 and Bb1. The lower register is between E2 and Bb3. The middle range is between Bb3 and F4, while the upper range is F4 to C5. The entire range of the bass trumpet extends to E1 to C5, or one octave below the range of the regular trumpet.
Modern bass trumpets are transposing instruments. They often are designed in Bb with music written in the treble clef a ninth above the actual pitch. However, some are pitched in C, sounding an octave below written. A few are pitched in Eb, sounding a sixth below written, but these are rarer.
In terms of sound, the bass trumpet does not sound as rich and full as a trombone does. It is favored, however, because the tone is much darker than the regular trumpet. Composers have associated this timbre with magic, power and ominous characters or events. The bass trumpet also is incredibly powerful, with a fortissimo on the instrument being equivalent of several regular trumpets or french horns.
The most recognized work featuring this instrument with great prominence is perhaps Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. This work has the instrument double the regular trumpets but also requires frequent solo playing. Other notable composers who have used the instrument are Igor Stravinksy, Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg. Although this instrument is best known for its role in classical music, people also have used it in modern jazz and pop.