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Other articles by Mike Diprose

Other articles by Mike Diprose

More about instruments

Remember, clarino means clear, not loud. Although strong in the low principale range, the natural tendency is to become quieter, whilst remaining present, in the overtone-rich upper register. We know this through written sources and from first-hand experience of playing original instruments. Of all extant trumpets from the 17th and 18th centuries, by far the most copied, if only in name, are those produced by J. L. Ehe, dated 1746, three of which are at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (GNM) in Nüremburg (catalogue numbers: M217, M218 and M219). Heinrich Sauer and I were privileged to test these hallowed labrosones in May 2008, after their conservator of musical instruments, Markus Raquet, had very kindly given us a guided tour. Without going into too much detail, all three were a dream to play, and all a little different from each other. My favourite was M217, which had a very meaty principale and a clarino register so clear, light and effortless that it almost played itself. In fact, the harder one tried, the worse it got

This visit was part of an ongoing study, comparing replicas with their originals. There are different interpretations of the word "replica" by different makers. There is a tendency to "know better" and alter measurements - particularly at the sensitive bell end. Some makers produce what might be described as a "student" bell, which looks more like a megaphone than any example from the 18th century. Yes, the "a" (13th partial) can be easily raised when playing in D but at what cost? Tuning in the other key (C) is compromised, the sound is less direct than originals and a lot of effort is required to make it work, rather than "sing". Also, rather than copy one good instrument, some makers take an average measurement from a few. This is a bit like playing the same tennis shot every time, or blocking out your car windows and driving only with the sat-nav. We may all have done so but does that make it right? Ten years ago, it might have been useful to technique pioneers learning about the 11th & 13th partials but now, original instruments can be played well, so why not just play accurate replicas?

My solution was to join an accurately-copied Ehe III bell by Frank Tomes to bespoke tubing, crafted by Graham Nicholson. Predictably, this trumpet has characteristics most similar to its exemplar and can be played beautifully in D & C at a’=415 and a’=440. Unfortunately, Frank has now retired from construction but, last I heard, David Staff is taking over the mandrel. 2)

This instrument was in service before the chance to reassess Matthew Parker’s fantastic replica of the Ehe II (1700) trumpet. In, for instance, 1723, there were no 1746 trumpets, so this model is perhaps even more appropriate for playing most European high-Baroque repertoire. It certainly works! Coloratura clarino passages flutter out with the greatest of ease, principale is solid, tuning is very good in C and D at a’=415 and its sound is noble, resonant and golden. 3)


GNM conservator of musical instruments Markus Raquet also makes brass instruments to a very high standard, concerned with building techniques that are as historical as possible in his careful reproductions. Trumpet replicas include Haas, Ehe III (C18); Hanlein, Droschel (C17) and are well worth your hard earned Euros. 4)

More recordings of real trumpets are emerging, thanks mainly to the persistence of Sigiswald Kuijken. Another must-hear is HAOTAT (Heroic Art of Trumpets and Timpani), recorded in 2003 but released in 2009. Although an hour of fanfares in D major (or high-pitch C) could drain all but the most compulsive enthusiast, this CD contains some virtuosic duets (sonatae a due) by Biber, stunningly executed by Igino Conforzi and JF Madeuf. 5)

Many youngsters are showing an interest in the real trumpet but J F Madeuf is still the only conservatoire professor prepared (or able?) to do in public what he or she claims to teach. I’m happy to report that his department at the SCB continues to thrive with a steady stream of well-motivated internal and visiting students. Lead on Madeuf!

It is difficult to accept that before the 19th century, many more people, representing a much higher percentage of the population, were able to play the real trumpet than the handful that can do so today. At each concert played and recording made with strainers, I lament the ever-deepening chasm of wasted effort and opportunity missed. For all the ability and musicianship of many straineers, it is a little tragic that their achievements mean nothing in real terms, other than making a fast buck and compounding the deception of their customers. Perhaps the strainer can be revived in 250 years. In the mean time, the most progress could be made if these gifted souls applied themselves and showed us all how it should be done. Come, ye faint of heart, get your gloves on!
Mike Diprose

Thanks to: Markus Raquet, Heinrich Sauer, J-F Madeuf, Graham Nicholson, Frank Tomes, Edward H Tarr, Matthew Parker, David Staff, Patryk Frankowski, Don Smithters, Olivier Picon, Barokensemble De Swaen, Margreet van der Heyden, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Rapp Stiftung, Ensemble Archimboldo, Musica Fiorita, Simon Lily. Murray Campbell, Arnold Myers, Kathrin Menzel, BRaSS Forum.

2) David Staff, Graham Nicholson

3) Matthew Parker, +44 (0)1558 650606

4) Markus Raquet, +49 (0) 951 203638

5) Tibicines Heroic Art of Trumpets and Timpani. Check the availability of downloads at: www.iginoconforzi.net