Why are cornets preferred over trumpets in UK Brass Bands?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by CornetAnderson, May 15, 2011.

  1. CornetAnderson

    CornetAnderson New Member

    I'm asking this as someone who is pretty new to the world of brass bands. I do know a bit but not all the nuances. Now I only play the cornet because its tone is closer to the sound concept I'm looking for but I did start off as a trumpet player. At first, in America, the cornet was king of the brass even in the infancy of jazz. When jazz started to take hold, bands were getting larger and nightclubs were not the most sedate places to play. Cornets started to fall out of favor and the trumpets brilliant and cutting tone eventually made it the horn of choice. I would also know how are trumpets viewed in the UK. Thanks
  2. Coverhead

    Coverhead Member


    In my opinion, outside of the brass band world, cornets are a lot less common over here than they are in the States. The majority of jazz players stick to trumpet and flugel and rarely use cornets... unfortunately!!

    On a personal note, I find it a lot easier to play a cornet than I do trumpet (mostly orchestral). And I do prefer the more mellow sound it makes. I'm not quite sure why they're not more widely used in UK-based jazz groups. Maybe someone more experienced than me could answer this?
  3. John Brooks

    John Brooks Well-Known Member

    Outside the jazz world there are other differences. For example, in North America you will find trumpets used in military bands whereas in the UK, they use cornets. I'm not sure about the European and Scandinavian military bands. Anyway, I just added this comment to illustrate that the use of cornets is not limited to brass bands, although globally that is probably where cornets are used more than any other musical combination.

    Dr. Ronald Holz lives just "up the road" from you in Kentucky, I believe in Wilmore. Among other things, he's the conductor of the Lexington Brass Band. If anyone can give you a definitive answer I think it would be Ron.
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    That may well have been largely the case in the past - although we used to use both, although the trumpets were largely limited to the old parts which relied very much on fanfare-style writing, as with the old valveless instruments.

    Nowadays, there is a lot more flexibility, with trumpets, cornets or frequently flugel being used as appropriate, together with the occasional appearance of piccolo trumpet.

    Regarding the initial question, the development of the British style brass band came with the desire to produce a fairly homogenous sound, apart from the trombones, particularly in their old narrow-bore versions. The appearance of the "cornet-a-pistons" came about alongside the development of the saxhorn family, at a time when trumpets were generally still valveless. From then on, tradition began to take over, together with rules and regulations regarding the set-up of contesting bands.

    I can't see the trumpet ever supplanting the cornet in the standard brass band, although there have been a number of groups who have operated with trumpets and french horns, which can work if the repertoire is carefully chosen. Having said that, many bands have employed trumpets (or a full section of flugels) for specific effect in concert or entertainment contests, where the rules have allowed it.
  5. Zappa

    Zappa Member

    Just to elaborate a little on this to another point ....

    It does frustrate me when cornet players think they can pick up a trumpet and play it in the same style ...

    And when trumpet players and cornet players think they can just automatically transfer onto flugel without any thought of it being a different beast ...
  6. CornetAnderson

    CornetAnderson New Member

    Totally agree with you. Are you reading my mind?:oops: Trumpets play loud and cornets play music:biggrin:
  7. cockaigne

    cockaigne Member

    What he said - I agree entirely, though would add that there's more to it than the technical and historical reasons given above.

    The difference in sound quality is very noticeable - the sound of the trumpet is designed to cut through (think of fanfares etc. historically) and so more than 3 or 4 playing in unison tends to grate on the ear. The cornet, having a conical bore (in line with the saxhorns, although technically it is a member of the bugle family) gives a much mellower, more naturally-blending sound. 10 or 11 of them playing as a section (whether in harmony or in unison) can (or at least should!) be much easier on the ear than the same parts played by trumpets.

    Speaking from personal experience here, the brass band we ran at college (as a student union) tended to use french horns and trumpets (in the latter instance because not all the players had ready access to a cornet). The horns blended reasonably well, all things considered, but the trumpets couldn't (or wouldn't, you know what they can be like) ;)

    As an orchestral and big band player, I get a real thrill from sitting next to (or in front of) a good trumpet section - but it is quite a different animal, and rightly so.
  8. Independent Silver Band

    Independent Silver Band Active Member

    As late as the sixties, much of the wind band music used cornets in three, or four parts, and two trumpet parts. I graduated from high school in 1963. By the time I had graduated from the university, the cornets had been replaced.
  9. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Simple answer:

    Cornets had valves long before trumpets had them.
    When brass bands started trumpets did not have valves.

    Late 19th century orchestral music still has separate trumpet and cornet parts (cornet parts being chromatic and trumpet parts being natural notes). Even into the 20th century composers had both in orchestras (e.g. Vaughan Williams).
  10. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Hmm, not sure about that. Looking at the late 19th century, you could see Brahms's trumpet parts for evidence - they are often written in a faux-natural-trumpet way - you'll find mostly notes that would be open on a trumpet of some pitch - but every so often, when he grows bored with the artificial limitation of it, he'll slip in a note that wouldn't have been playable on a natural instrument. It's clear that it was a musical device, presumably intended to evoke memories of Beethoven, who he admired, and who was genuinely limited by a lack of brass valves.

    We certainly see the effect you talk about in Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique' (1830), where a florid cornet part is contrasted with valveless trumpet parts. However, by the time Wagner wrote 'Lohengrin' (1850), the trumpet parts call for notes that need valves. I'm sure there were variations regionally in the date of adoption, but it seems pretty clear to me that any survival of natural-like parts into the late 19th or even early 20th centuries was purely idiomatic, rather than based on any necessity.

    You may well be on the right track with your first point, just felt I had to respond to your back-up point.
  11. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Trumpets with valves were also usually in F and quite large. Bb didn't take over till about 1900. Here is a big F trumpet:


    Not much fun for marching with and more difficult to pitch on in the upper register as so many notes with the same valve fingering are close together.
  12. we have cornets, coz cornet players are arrogant enough. imagine what life would be like with 10 trumpets.

    Q. how many cornet players does it take to change a lightbulb

    A. five. one to change it, and four to explain how they would have done it better.
  13. Independent Silver Band

    Independent Silver Band Active Member

    How many trumpet players would it take? One-and the world revolves around him/her.
  14. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    Hmmm. No quite so simple. First modern cornet (ie not a valved posthorn) c. 1828; Reidl's rotary-valved trumpet dates from 1835.

    I'm sure it's because the smaller saxhorns were not as successful as the larger ones, they were soon replaced by cornets - the nearest sonic equivalent.

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