You may by now be wondering why all this fuss about holeless trumpets in the first place? There are two reasons:
1) At the time, the trumpet was a very important instrument, both for its vital military role as means of signalling (trumpeters also carried out the delivery of diplomatic communiqués) and as an ’instrument of joy’ (’Sound the Trumpet’ from Purcell’s Come ye Sons of Art)), bringing that extra something to rousing choruses and (mainly) happy arias, and a general sense of celebration. Imagine Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus without! Incidentally, trumpeters were also by far the highest-paid musicians in these times.
2) Composers actually wrote music for these instruments and I’m quite sure that it was written to sound good. The holeless nat has certain limitations by modern standards, but they are what they are. We are doing now what would have been done then - working together to achieve the best possible results. This is a fantastic opportunity to build on the work and experience of our predecessors and get that little bit closer to what might have been.
The youngest member of Madeuf’s course at the Schola is 34. One could easily argue that players don’t have enough experience even to contemplate taking on the holeless nat until then. This need not be the case. We need players who are very talented, patient, charismatic, young and truly fearless beyond the usual machismo of the young shavers found in music colleges. Someone with enough money not to need the work, and enough confidence and PR skills to form a group or two and take this all-too-human instrument to a paying public and make them return (having bought the CDs).
Speaking of which, the French orchestra Le Concert Spirituel, under the inspired guidance of Hervé Niquet, released in 2002 a CD of those perennial favourites Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks (Glossa GCD 921 606) featuring nine holeless nats and nine holeless French horns - cave canem! The CD makes very interesting listening, and it’s nice to know that things are moving forward. Ironic that the French, with an historically less great trumpet tradition than the English and particularly the Germans, should now be leading the world in this field! Some of the great players in the Concert Spirituel have a job in the Musique de la Gardiens de la Paix, where they perform frequently on holeless nats.
Since being based in Basel, I have been lucky enough to work with Le Concert Spirituel playing this and other programmes, and it really is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Situated on the borders of three countries, Basel is an incredible place: multicultural, quite spiritual and liberal. It is oozing with history and culture - a veritable hub of many things; affluent, but with a sense of money well spent.
To study at the Schola isn’t as expensive as one might think. The fees here are a fraction of those of the colleges in the UK, rent is much cheaper than London and, being a small town, one can easily walk or travel by bicycle. These savings far outweigh the higher price of food and that most essential of essentials, booze. All is not lost, though, as Basel is on the French and German borders and but a short stagger by tram. The Schola is now registered with the Learning Skills Council in the UK, which means that interest-free, deferred-payment (for the duration of the course) career development loans are now available to us Brits (www.lsc.gov.uk or 0870 900 6800).
Harpsichordist Bridget Cunningham, amongst others, has spent much time on this subject. The best one we have found so far is Silbermann, or 6th Comma mean tone, starting from D for trumpet in D (with a slightly lowered B) and, predictably, C for trumpet in C, although much of the Italian C trumpet repertoire was written at high pitch (A=465), which translates to trumpet in D at A= 415.
Temperament need not be quite so fixed, though. Recent study of Bach’s scores has identified the strange squiggles on some of them as tuning instructions. Different works can use different temperaments, depending on the keys of inner movements. Of course, the many notes which the trumpet doesn’t play can be tuned to wherever sounds best.
Instruments: where can I buy one?
Makers of good holeless trumpets are quite rare and their products are subject to personal tastes of players. The first model one should buy is an Ehe II or III or Haas copy, followed by a Bull and then a renaissance coned-bell. Unless one can acquire a second hand (and later) model by the retired Canadian master Robert Barclay, one can approach: