When is a cornet a cornet and when is a cornet not a cornet

trumpetb

Member
I am a cornet player and a trumpet player I find that trumpets are pretty well defined and accepted however cornets are a different beast.

In the 1850's cornets were part of bands and ensembles and they sounded quite different from modern day cornets, they were typically not resonant and players have experienced an inability to sound like a "real" cornet is expected to on an original 1850's authentic cornet. This is the thing, there is no more authentic sounding cornet than the mid 19th century cornets they are the real deal not the modern cornet..

Later cornets changed in design driven by the 1880's Besson cornet designs.

Cornet design then followed this design of Besson cornet however a great many cornets still varied from this design.

I acquired a conn 80a which is a cornet designed as a cornet and sounds like a cornet and takes a cornet mouthpiece but many "purists" will tell you as they told me the 80a cornet is not a real cornet.

So who exactly decided that they are the authority and could decide what a real cornet is supposed to sound like.

So where we appear to be today is that a cornet is only a cornet if it conforms to one single design and sound that emerged in the early 20th century and sounds exactly like that particular cornet is expected to sound like. Change the mouthpiece a bit too much and oh dear it sounds different and it is no longer acceptable as a "real" cornet

The reality is that this one single acceptable cornet is a sub class of cornet like for example a fender stratocaster is a sub class of guitar and a telecaster or a les paul or any other type of guitar are pronounced as not being a real guitar because they dont sound the same and dont look the same as a stratocaster and therefore they must not be played.

Do we ever hear oh no that is a Yamaha concert grand piano you are not allowed to play that it must be a Steinway concert grand.

I know I am being somewhat pedantic and literal here but since most of the truly beautiful sounding cornets are being rejected either because they do not look correct or sound exactly like some arbitrary standard sound, they are not allowed to grace the band.

In particular when authentic cornets from the early years of brass bands that were the very cornets on which both Arban and Clarke played, and were perfectly acceptable to both of them, are now not allowed to be played in a brass band surely something is not right.

A similar example might be that nobody today should be allowed to drive an early 1930s dodge or duezenberg or Ford because they are not "real" cars and they dont look right.

I liken this to the whole of the musical world changing from high pitch to low pitch instruments. High pitch A=452.5, and low pitch A=440 pitches were non standard before 1930 and players who travel just a few miles found that playing in a new band was impossible due to pitch issues.

Around that time everyone in the world changed to low pitch. Everyone except brass bands in the UK that is. They clung to the past and only changed to low pitch in the 1970s when instrument manufacturers flatly refused to make any high pitch instruments any more for that single market. All cornets for example that were played as cornets in bands the world over were rejected by british bands as not being acceptable due to the pitch issue. This is choosing to be parochial with heads in the sand just because you can.

And the argument that it would cost too much to change didnt seem to carry much weight when the instrument manufacturers forced the change upon the bands they just changed.

We would be playing on high pitch instruments today if the brass bands had not been dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

I might be tempted to suggest that some people of influence in brass bands are stuck so far in the past that the wheel would be a novelty to them.

Questions have been asked in the past why are brass bands less popular than we might expect them to be and why cornets are less favored than trumpets.

I think nobody wants to face the issues. It is about time some people faced the issues or bands will go the way of the Dodo.

Maybe the fact that any trumpet will do as a trumpet in any band in the entire world but only one design of cornet will do as a cornet in british brass bands and the other 90% of cornets are unwelcome in a brass band as a cornet illustrates the issue.

Blending is important of course but this is a quite different issue.

In the USA it is reported that many marching band directors issue one single instrument and issue one single mouthpiece to players and nobody is allowed to play on any mouthpiece or instrument that has not been issued to them.

Imagine being forced to play on a wick 3 regardless of your best sound and range being extant on a wick 4 or wick 4b or some other mouthpiece than the wick 3. To use the popular analogy that is like a running coach forcing all their runners to wear the same size of running shoe. Surely in the 21st century we are above such idiocy.

I know the pleasure the public derives from hearing different instruments and different setups, and we deny them this pleasure by decreeing that they are only allowed to hear the instruments that are approved regardless of the players preferences and skills.

This can only result in marginalisation of brass bands and a reduced fanbase than they otherwise might have.

Some bands have chosen to go down the community band non contesting route I think it is for this very reason and they are very popular and have a broad appeal and a great future.

In a time when due to changing musical tastes, and pressures due to lockdowns, surely now is the time to be widening the appeal of bands to the public not restricting appeal.

I think the answers are rooted the fact that bands are not at all progressive, and they force members to conform to standards where there is little justification for doing so.

There is a call for bands to win competitions but the competitions make for difficult listening for the public. The same piece played over and over and over and over and over again is not winning the public over as an event to attend. And why do this, so we can decide who is the best.

What does it mean to be the best, and is everyone else really rubbish. I can play higher than you can, I can jump higher than you can.

This is not music this is barbaric one-upmanship and fighting akin to bullying, where we annihilate the opposition and shout in their faces you lost you are LOSERS. But we have to beat them to show we are the best dont we.

I see the attitude of the football hooligan in this.

For me music is about pleasure and beauty not about winning.

This is one short step away from having people going around and spiking the oppositions instruments when they are not looking so we can guarantee the win.

Did Mozart win against Beethoven. Who is the best Brahms or Paganini. Who would win between List and Wagner. Does it matter. I think not.

What I am asking is this, in an effort to be the best and win against other bands has banding become parochial narrow minded insular provincial and petty. and in doing so are we losing the very audiences who are needed to justify our existence as musicians.

Lets be 21st century musicians and become the best we can be as musicians not contest winners where winning awards is the goal and the aspiration.
 
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GordonH

Active Member
I spent a bit of time accurately measuring a number of cornets and trumpets.
The ratio of cylindrical to conical bore was about the same on all of them.
This disproved the idea that cornets are conical and trumpets are cylindrical. Although this was true when we were using F alto trumpets in the orchestras - where there was a lot more cylindrical tubing, but not with a Bb trumpet.

The main differences were:

Cornets had a wider bell flare than most trumpets, (the Martin Committee and Flip Oaks Wild Thing had even bigger bell flares than most cornets.

The leadpipe on cornets was longer than all trumpets because the amount of tubing on the bell side was shorter. If you look at the Conn 28A, which is a stretched out cornet made to look like a trumpet, the leadpipe extends way beyond the bell bow and the tuning slide ios really short to accommodate the length of the leadpipe even though it has a bit more length on the bell side of the valves.

Almost all cornets (and all very old cornets) had no mouthpiece gap leading to less resistance at the mouthpiece end. The resistance in the system comes from the additional bends in what was the second main tuning slide in a British cornet - the loop that points forwards, and the main tuning slide itself.

All the cornets had a much smaller venturi (the diameter of the leadpipe at the end where the mouthpiece goes, but this had changed over time. Most modern cornets had bigger venturi than most vintage ones (apart from the Olds cornets that were built with as bigger taper). You can see this development as very old cornets have mouthpieces with smaller shanks.
BUT, French trumpets made before about 1960 had a smaller venturi than most modern trumpets close to a lot of modern cornets. They used a trumpet mouthpiece with a smaller end diameter to make that work.
A smaller venturi make the instrument more controllable and more agile. It's why some modern cornets feel a bit "dead weight".
Trumpets built with smaller venturi generally can't play as loud as more standard designs, but that's often down to them also having smaller bores or bells.

Vintage cornets, apart from outliers like the Conn 80A and Circus Bore had small bore sizes, but so did most trumpets in those days.
Cornets got larger bores partly to make them feel less stuffy and partly to increase their dynamic range.

The bracing on most cornets is quite light, adding to the agility of the instrument.

That is what I found. As for trumpets in brass bands, I would say no.

I would go the other way and say that most trumpet players in amateur orchestras would sound better on cornet, because most are playing trumpets based on a Bach 37 that are difficult to get a nice tone from, especially at low dynamics.
Harry Mortimer wrote about this in his autobiography. Sir Hamilton Harty objected to him playing the cornet in the Halle Orchestra so they organised a test at his club, where Harry played the same passages on either instrument from behind a curtain and the men in the club couldn't tell the difference or thought the cornet was better.

The trumpet is not an agile instrument. If you make it agile you tend to lose the note centres and end up with something like a Matin Committee - hard to play in tune as the slots are so wide. Fine for jazz but not great for accuracy.
Brass band repertoire requires agility most trumpet setups just cant achieve.

That's my thoughts anyway.

As for the official definition, prior to 1988 the definition of a cornet in the rules of the national championships was an instrument pitched in Bb or Eb with a cornet receiver and a tuning slide that pulled backwards. This rule was to prevent the use of the 4 valve Schilke Eb trumpet or American cornets that had underslung forward facing slides. Then Boosey and Hawkes launched a Sovereign soprano that had a forward pull slide so they had the rule changed.
There were also thoughts about allowing piccolo trumpets to cover soprano parts. Something we have seen recently in concerts with some of the top bands. In the 80s, one of the top people in the brass band world told me "we could do that now that Boosey's make one". That shows how much Boosey and Hawkes drove the brass band world, or owned it - depending on your point of view.
 

Hsop

Member
Eb with a cornet receiver and a tuning slide that pulled backwards.
Not sure of the exact wording of the rules but what about the B&H Sovereign soprano (1970's) that has a vertical tuning design. Or, the 920 Sovereign (1970's) which features both backwards and forwards main tuning slides?

Also, on the Schilke E3L and E3L-4 trumpets, the bell is pulled or pushed for tuning.
 

trumpetb

Member
A very well written view Gordon thanks for that.

I have an area of contention though

This is what you said "The resistance in the system comes from the additional bends in what was the second main tuning slide in a British cornet"

If resistance were caused by the amount of bend in the tube why does the resistance stay exactly the same regardless of valves depressed, and regardless of the additional amount of bend added to the tube due to that.

One valve adds 180 degrees two valves adds 360 degrees three valves adds 540 degrees.

A rising scale keeping the dynamics the same would be almost impossible to play if resistance changed dramatically every time a valve were used. The only reason I can play smoothly and consistently is because the resistance does not change at all as the amount of tubing bend in the instrument is increased.

I have played dozens of instruments from UK USA France Czechoslovakia Japan China and they all behave the same. I see no changes to resistance as bends increase not in any of them, so as far as I am concerned the evidence says that the amount of bend in the tube has no effect whatsoever on resistance.

This opinion that bends add resistance is an apocryphal story I think and I have heard it said many times in different ways, for example that the shepherds crook slight bends are responsible for the tone the resistance and just about every characteristic of the instrument and it has never made much sense to me.

Can you explain a little more I am eager to learn
 

GordonH

Active Member
Not sure of the exact wording of the rules but what about the B&H Sovereign soprano (1970's) that has a vertical tuning design. Or, the 920 Sovereign (1970's) which features both backwards and forwards main tuning slides?

Also, on the Schilke E3L and E3L-4 trumpets, the bell is pulled or pushed for tuning.

The front facing slide on the imperial and early sovereign were not the main slide.
And Boosey and Hawkes made both those instruments so the rul wouldn't;t have banned them.
The E3L-4 has a trumpet receiver so was banned.
I once loaned mine to a Soprano cornet player and he said it was the best soprano he had ever played on.
 

GordonH

Active Member
A very well written view Gordon thanks for that.

I have an area of contention though

This is what you said "The resistance in the system comes from the additional bends in what was the second main tuning slide in a British cornet"

If resistance were caused by the amount of bend in the tube why does the resistance stay exactly the same regardless of valves depressed, and regardless of the additional amount of bend added to the tube due to that.

One valve adds 180 degrees two valves adds 360 degrees three valves adds 540 degrees.

A rising scale keeping the dynamics the same would be almost impossible to play if resistance changed dramatically every time a valve were used. The only reason I can play smoothly and consistently is because the resistance does not change at all as the amount of tubing bend in the instrument is increased.

I have played dozens of instruments from UK USA France Czechoslovakia Japan China and they all behave the same. I see no changes to resistance as bends increase not in any of them, so as far as I am concerned the evidence says that the amount of bend in the tube has no effect whatsoever on resistance.

This opinion that bends add resistance is an apocryphal story I think and I have heard it said many times in different ways, for example that the shepherds crook slight bends are responsible for the tone the resistance and just about every characteristic of the instrument and it has never made much sense to me.

Can you explain a little more I am eager to learn
The resistance comes from the first few bends out of the mouthpiece. The ones after that add less.
Its not blowing resistance, but resistance to sound - to do with the nodal points in the standing waves.
Passing air through the instrument doesn't really measure that.
If you have ever put heavy caps on a cornet or trumpet you will know it usually feels harder to blow even though the tubing hasn't changed.

That's my understanding anyway.
The first few inches of the receiver and leadpipe are critical in instrument design.
I know that some of Monette's ideas are about forcing the nodal points back into the leadpipe as you can do more about them there rather than in the middle of the valve block.
Some of his bell designs use parabolic flares.

Here is a thought:
The cornet sound we think of as being traditional really dates back to the time when leadpipes had removable shanks so the air went through a narrow tube, into a large chamber at the join. where it then went out into a much larger diameter tube.
If you have played one you will feel the resistance, but its a resistance that gives and the sound lights up when you push harder on it.

Another anecdote: Jack Mackintosh, the great cornet soloist, played on a Conn cornet in the 1930s because he had a job playing in the music hall in Sunderland so he needed an instrument with high and low pitch slides. The Conn came with that and had fittings in the case to carry them. It just shows that not everyone was Boosey, Hawkes, Besson or Higham in those days.

Also, long model cornets are permitted in brass bands. The Bach large bore works quite well, but is discontinued (orderable as a special but nobody does). I knew someone who played one in a band as bumper up and it gave a lot of extra oomph in marches and test pieces. In the 70s Maurice Murphy played an Olds Recording trumpet in the LSO and an Olds Supersonic long model cornet, which he played in various bands as a soloist during that period. He was not in a band by that point. It will, be the cornet he is playing on the recording of the Coronation Street theme that the LSO did on an album of TV themes - on spotify somewhere.
 

trumpetb

Member
That was worth the read thanks Gordon

Things fall into place,

I have put a few comments in a different thread where I express the view that the resistance is a function and a result of two opposing waves travelling in opposite directions in the instrument, of course a standing wave is not a wave it is an acoustic effect of two waves of the same frequency moving in opposite directions and the result is a standing wave with nodes and antinodes.

The important thing here is one wave - a reflected wave, travels from bell to mouthpiece and opposes the wave moving from mouthpiece to bell, and it therefore opposes the actions of the player in blowing air into the instrument by the player playing a note and this is perceived as resistance.

I do not believe the bends have anything to do with it as a primary root cause however when they fall at a node or antinode they can and I believe do affect the resonance at that point as a secondary cause as do heavy valve caps. Secondary causes also include reverse leadpipe, mouthpiece gap, mouthpiece weight, and their effects can vary from subtle to profound.

Resonance amplifies frequency as we know from the opera singer shattering the glass the glass sympathetically resonates and the frequency is amplified until the glass shatters.

The presence of greater weight fixed to the valve block must affect the manner and the frequency of the vibrations and resonance at that point and this I believe propagates the effects of the waves in the instrument with the result of making the standing wave stronger and opposing more strongly the filling of the instrument with air.

Alterations of and changes to resonance at any point must affect the behaviour of the air column in the system as a whole and it must therefore affect the vibration of the air column, this in turn must affect the ease with which the air column is stimulated to vibrate, in other words the resistance is changed.

The whole system is so complex that it is difficult to understand and is of no surprise that confusion and the acceptance of theory that has little grounding in truth has happened in the past.

Your explanation clears some of this deadwood and clarifies and exposes some truth in what is an ocean of misinformation on this topic.
 

David Broad

Active Member
All good stuff but the quality of the old instruments from the 1930s was pretty dire, and from the early 1900s even worse. Very thin metal. When I started in the 1960s we had a set of basically 30/40 year old instruments in pretty bad nick full of dents from constant use, we were amazed how much heavier the 1980s Boosey and Hawkes Westminsters and the like were when we finally went low pitch and were able to buy new instruments. They put sleeves on 1st 3rd and Tunimg slides of the old instruments, to "Convert" them. I now have a Besson round stamp medium bore cornet from 1980 with hardly a scratch on it, despite being hawked around every job we do initially as principal cornet and latterly the case serves as somewhere to carry my conducting wand. Those pre WW2 cornets and we still have a couple, in "High Pitch" have a very harsh reedy tinny clarinetty tone, great for last post, except they have tiny mouthpieces which fit tiny tapers, too small to get a Demis Wick in. I presume the lead pipe must also be smaller. Anything above metzo forte playing alongside 2000 era Besson cornets and the notes start to crack and split, you can't really get anything into tune. Jam the mouthpiece in a 928 Sovereign and F above top C becomes almost effortless and it sounds absolutely horrible, in the normal range, that's if you can actually get down below the stave at all. They would sparkle with smaller bands, that piercing cutting through tome ideal for a five piece dance band, far more agile than contemporary trumpets. Like wise the Euphs, and Tenors, I occasionally play a 1920s Boosey tenor horn sometimes, it was converted to low pitch but I tookthe conversion spacers off and its now back in allegedly High pitch though my electronic tuner doesn't agree, 10mm out on the tuning slide and its in tune with 1990s Besson 700 series tenors, but it has a sweet tone, Flugel like very easy to play but no volume before it gets really tinny.
Listen to the old Harry Mortimer recordings. They sound horrible to me, so harsh and brash, compared to the way Brighouse and the like play. Imagine Harry Mortimers men of brass playing the Floral Dance...
Have a bespoke 1880s cornet made from modern brass if you want to compare the technical details of tapers fairly, but their material is too different to make a meaning full study of their acoustics possible. Also remember that with Cornets there are in general only 5 notes you can play in tune in the normal range without triggering or lippig CGCGC, The old ones used to have some real wolf notes, as do most learners cornets, c sharp down the bottom (ouch) though most oldies with non mobile 3 slides had the D in tune ish. Its just not about comparing Apples and Pairs. And which genius came up with A440 at 20degrees C as a tuning pitch, a note you have to trigger to get in tune. And how do you get 20 degrees C when you're freezing your washers off outside Asda playing carols int snow. Whenever I see an electronic tuner appear I just know someone has lost the plot. Apples and Pairs mate Apples and pairs
 

trumpetb

Member
Im sorry David but that is the opposite of my experience.

I play exclusively on instruments that vary from around 1924 to 1965. Not because I dont like more modern equipment, I just see no need to change they do everything I could wish for to a higher quality than I can attain so I have hit no limits with them technically or tonally.

My go to right now is a 1948 ish Olds, and that is only because my 1924 ish Besson is too precious for me to play on, although this besson was my go to for a while and I received a great deal of complements playing on this instrument.

I also have a 1952 and a 1965 Conn cornets that both sound sweet and beautiful, both instruments were originally designed around 1917.

I must say if these instruments were good enough for Bix Beiderbecke Louis Armstrong Red Nichols Arban and Clarke Harry James Bobby Hackett Freddie Hubbard and all the rest who played fabulously on old instruments why would these same old instruments suddenly be sounding bad for us today.

Musicians in my audiences tell me my instruments sound beautiful and that is good enough for me.

I dont understand why there is such a difference between my experience and yours I suspect that something else is at work that is causing this difference.

You mentioned low range difficulties, I play a range from pedals up to high c but not beyond high c and all tones throughout the range from below the staff to above it sound great lyrical and beautiful and the instruments are in tune with themselves.

I am not saying your opinion is wrong I am simply saying my experience is different. Could it be your equipment is causing problems, and maybe I would have some issues too. It did take me a very long time to perfect what I do tonally, maybe this has something to do with it.

I have read that some excellent players have had the very same experience that you have. Maybe I have been lucky to achieve what I have achieved or maybe there is an equipment code that needs to be cracked that enables problems to disappear on older instruments. I dont know.

I did hear quite a long time ago that the mouthpiece/instrument system is super critical on older instruments and can cause major issues or even havoc if there is a big enough mismatch. I also heard that older instruments really do suit older mouthpieces and can give strange results if a modern mouthpiece is used rather than a more matched mouthpiece.

Maybe there is some truth in this that is causing our profoundly different experiences. I will say that I have been careful to build up a range of older mouthpieces alongside the older instruments and I have spent a lot of time matching them together and playing on the matched pairs of instrument and mouthpiece.

For example I do not play on one single mouthpiece but change around the mouthpiece instrument combination until I find one that works well. If I change the instrument I know I will probably change the mouthpiece along with it to achieve what I want tonally.

I will also say that modern mouthpieces particularly wick mouthpieces dont seem to suit the older instruments at all, they sound way too dull which is a surprise to me as I hear so much advice that the wick 4 is a pretty good piece. My go to piece right now is a cornet Vincent Bach 1 1/4 C which is more of a trumpet piece in cup shape but I have no difficulty sounding rich and deep on this piece.

The Bach cornet mouthpieces are of course a more rounded c cup than the deeper traditional cornet vee shape cup of the wick models. I have the wick 3 the wick 4 and the wick 4b but I rejected all of them as delivering very poor tones in the lower register. I may revisit them but right now I see no need to.

Maybe we have a correlation here between our experiences.

FYI and just so you know I have been playing for many years on dozens of cornets and trumpets I have a huge number of mouthpieces from large deep vee to small and shallow c cup in both trumpet and in cornet so I have been around the park and through the hoops and over the fences plenty.

The music I play varies from columbian salsa at the bright end through orchestral to jazz to blues at the darker end I play just about everything in all styles, so my experience is not based upon playing a limited number of instruments with a limited number of mouthpieces with a limited repertoire.

I have studied what I do deeply so I know exactly how to generate the tones I look for and that audiences love. I am totally confident that my experience is good and is a correct reflection of old instruments and their excellent qualities.

I am very interested in your comments and experiences in particular your instrument and mouthpiece combinations that seem to give so much trouble. I am here to learn.

I appreciate your comments.
 

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