The Trumpet Shall Sound

Following on from yesterday’s post about Handel’s Messiah I thought I’d include this very nice performance of The Trumpet Shall Sound, featuring the excellent bass voice of Alastair Miles with Crispian Steele-Perkins playing the solo trumpet part. One of the reasons for posting it – other than the obvious one (that it’s great) – is that I was thinking about it after Tuesday’s  concert.  The trumpet part at the performance I went to was played (superbly) by Dean Wright on a modern (valved) trumpet, but that wasn’t invented until many years after Handel’s time.

The historical development of the trumpet is a fascinating story but the most interesting technical developments actually happened long after Handel wrote Messiah (which was in 1741).  The keyed trumpet – a forerunner of the modern valved variety – wasn’t invented until the late 18th Century. In fact Joseph Haydn wrote his Trumpet Concerto specifically to demonstrate the capabilities of this instrument; that piece wasn’t first performed until 1800. The modern valved trumpet didn’t begin to appear until about 1818. Before that orchestras used the natural trumpet, which has no valves or other means of controlling the flow of air through the instrument and is therefore only really capable of playing harmonics (rather like a bugle).  Other notes can be generated, but only with some difficulty, using the lip. This kind trumpet is the sort of instrument that would have been played in Handel’s time. The so-called baroque trumpet  is actually a 20th century invention created for musicians who want the “period sound” of  a natural trumpet but with the additional flexibility that comes from having “vents” in the tube that can be covered with the fingers. This is the kind of instrument that Crispian Steele-Perkins is playing in the video. It is valveless but has two finger holes which the trumpeter can close and open with the thumb and little finger of the right hand for fine pitch control.



10 Responses to “The Trumpet Shall Sound”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Crispian Steele-Perkins was the trumpeter in a concert I went to about 15 years ago in the Corn Exchange in Cambridge in which the orchestra wore 18th century kit. He entered into the spirit of it wonderfully well. I hadn’t thought that one could be amused and enjoy classical music at the same time.

    • telescoper Says:

      I take it the audience didn’t dress up as well?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I and my goddaughter didn’t!

        The last Trump is pretty topical at the moment…

      • telescoper Says:

        I don’t know why but I suddenly remembered the Bowdlerized version of Othello in which

        ‘She hath played the strumpet in our bed’

        was changed to

        ‘She hath played the “trumpet” in our bed.’

        I’m not sure which would be worse..

  2. I got thoroughly nerd-sniped by looking up the differences between natural and baroque trumpets on Wikipedia. I escaped only after being ambushed by the different kinds of temperament!

  3. […] I was recently wittering on about trumpets I thought I’d share gain my favourite bit from my favourite trumpet work. It’s the […]

  4. John Peacock Says:

    Nice insight. For my taste, this modern fake natural trumpet has not been a good development, as it tends to damp down the brazen character that makes the trumpet so stirring. So when I hear Crispian Steele-Perkins playing, I admire his musicality and technical finesse, but the basic sound always seems to have something missing. In an older generation of period performer, the trumpeter who always seemed to me to have it right was Michael Laird. I don’t know for sure what he played on, but he understood that the trumpet was meant to dominate at times (like the closing pages of Messiah). But most modern period trumpeters are so self-effacing, you’d hardly know they are there.

    • I take your point. If any instrument should be brassy, it’s a trumpet!

      • John Peacock Says:

        More of the same: last night I heard the Dunedin Consort perform the Messiah. Fantastic singing and ensemble. But the trumpets were a disappointment: very secure and tasteful, but at times almost drowned out by the other forces – 11 strings and 12 singers shouldn’t be able to win that fight.

      • This is generally why I prefer jazz trumpeters – they know how to let rip!

        The performance of Messiah I went to last week was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 last night. It is now on iPlayer.

        The trumpet is very elegantly played, but doesn’t shine in the recording as it did on stage, and the timpani are way up in the mix.

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