History of the Trumpet
(According to The New Harvard Dictionary of Music)

Trumpet [Fr. trompette; Ger. Trompete, It. tromba, Sp. trompeta]. A soprano brass instrument commonly about 1.4 m. (4 1/2 ft.) in tube length, folded twice to a narrow rectangular shape about 35 cm. (14 in.) long. A mouth pipe with mouthpiece protrudes from one end of the rectangle, and an expanded opening or bell extends from the other. The center of the rectangle is occupied by three valves and associated extra tubing. The bore of the trumpet is mostly cylindrical, though like the *cornet it expands just before the bell. Most trumpets are now made of brass, either lacquered or plated with silver, nickel, or more rarely gold. Other materials occasionally used besides brass include German silver, copper, silver, and very rarely gold.

Trumpets are commonly available in several sizes named according to the pitch class of their fundamental. Instruments in Bb, C, D, Eb, F, and piccolo Bb or A have actual fundamentals Bb, C, D, Eb, F, and Bb or A. The Bb instrument is used mostly in school bands and popular music. The C trumpet is the favorite among professional orchestra players. The higher trumpets are becoming more common and find use in certain segments of the repertory written for instruments in those keys or demanding an extremely high register. For the latter use, piccolo trumpets are made in a variety of shapes, some (occasionally called Bach trumpets) straight except for the valves and their associated tubing, and some with four rather than three valves. American trumpets are now almost invariably equipped with Perinet piston valves for the right hand, though orchestra players some times use instruments with rotary valves. Better-quality instruments also have levers or rings for adjusting the length of the first and third valve tubes [see also Valve].

The trumpet mouthpiece is generally a shallow cupped shape with formerly rather pronounced but recently more rounded corners surrounding the bore or throat. The sound of the instrument is brilliant and commanding in its most characteristic range from written c' to c", gradually less brilliant on the increasingly difficult notes above this range, and more and more dark and grainy on the lower tones to f#. Special timbres and effects can be produced by using various kinds of *mutes in the trumpet bell [see ill, under Brass instruments].  Most trumpet parts since about 1900 are written either for Bb trumpet, sounding one tone lower, or for C trumpet at concert pitch. Orchestral parts from earlier periods were written for trumpets that could be put in the appropriate key for the composition to be played by means of crooks (small loops of extra tubing). These parts were commonly in Bb, C, D, Eb, and F, sounding from a tone lower to a fourth higher than written. Some late 19th-century parts were written for trumpets with an extra valve or slide to put them in A, sounding a minor third lower.  Orchestra players today usually play all of these parts on Bb or C instruments, making the necessary transposition as they play.

The trumpet has a very long history, having been used in ancient Egypt, the Near East, and Greece.  During much of that time, however, it was a signaling device sounding only one or two tones. Even in the Roman era, trumpet-like instruments, though prominent in art and literature, are not known to have been used in music. They remained instruments of only a few tones for signaling, announcing, commanding, and ceremonial purposes.  It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that the more musical possibilities of the long trumpet began to be recognized and used, and the instrument acquired its characteristic folded form. The instruments of this period were natural trumpets, on which only the tones of the *harmonic series were available. 


Evidence exists that toward the end of this period, however, some instruments may have been fitted with a single slide at the mouth pipe, theoretically providing a chromatic scale, except for one pitch, from the fourth harmonic upward. Such an instrument was called a tromba da tirarsi.


The 16th century saw increasing use of the trumpet in a variety of more musical situations in addition to court ceremony and military communication.  Craftsmen in Nuremberg, Germany, began to excel in trumpet making during this period and supplied instruments to most of Europe. At the end of this century and the beginning of the next, the first written accounts of trumpet playing occur. In these works are found trumpet calls, fanfares, toccatas, and sonatas using mostly the low register of the instrument.  Among the later of these writings are the first illustrations of melodic playing on the higher pitches of the harmonic series.


During the 17th and 18th centuries, the natural trumpet reached its peak of development and was used with brilliant effect by Each, Handel, and many other composers. The instruments were from about 1.8 to 2.5 m. (6 to 8 ft.) in total length, folded to traditional form, and pitched usually in D and C for court use and in Eb and F for the military. Players specialized in different registers, allowing the clarino or high-range players to concentrate on the top dozen or so tones where melodic playing is possible. This type of playing reached its zenith in the mid-1700s and gradually declined toward the end of the century.  The lower range was called the principale.  The orchestral trumpet of the late 18th and the early 19th century was in F, with crooks for lower keys down to C or Bb to match the key of the composition played. Its sound was not as loud as the modern trumpet's, and it balanced well with other instruments in smaller ensembles. The limitations of an instrument that could play only the tones of the natural harmonic series, however, became gradually more perplexing toward the end of the 1 8th century and led to a number of attempts to improve the instrument mechanically.


Hand stopping, used on horns since about 1750, was tried on specially constructed trumpets [Ger. Inventions trompete] beginning in the 1770s. The keyed trumpet was tried with limited success by several makers and players in the last 30 years of the century. Four or five keys like those on clarinets of the time provided pitches missing in the natural harmonic series. Concertos by Haydn and Hummel exploited the capabilities of these instruments. The slide trumpet, never completely forgotten since the 16th century, was revived again in England about 1800. The improved slide mechanism was fairly successful in that country throughout the 19th century, and such instruments continued to be made into the 20th century in the U.S. as well.  The most important mechanical improvement, however, was the invention of the *valve for brass instruments about 1814. Valves were very quickly applied to the trumpet, and, although crude at first, were gradually refined until they provided the trumpet with a fairly even chromatic scale. By the mid-19th century, the orchestral trumpet in F had two or three valves instead of the crooks used earlier in the century.  Late in the 19th century, as larger orchestras played for larger audiences, the long F trumpet was finally given up in favor of shorter-valved trumpets in Bb and C. The new instruments were louder, more brilliant, and somewhat easier to play accurately.  After the mid-1920s, the trumpet also replaced the comet in dance bands. 


Bibl.: James Murray Barbour, Trumpets, Horns, and Music (East Lansing: Mich St U Pr, 1964). Don L. Smithers, The Music and History of the Baroque Trumpet before 1 721 (Syracuse: Syracuse U Pr, 1973). Norbert Carnovale, Twentieth-Century Music/or Trumpet and Orchestra (Nashville: Brass Pr, 1975). Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments (London: Faber, 1976). Linda Parr, A Trumpeter's Guide to Orchestral Excerpts (Nashville: Brass Pr, 1977). Philip Bate, The Trumpet and Trombone: An Outline of Their History, Development, and Construction, 2nd ed. rev. (New York: Norton, 1978).