What Is a Baroque Trumpet?

Baroque trumpets are trumpets that were popular between 1650 and 1750, though variations of these trumpets were used well into the classical period. They are typically made of brass and are descended from early instruments that were primarily used for military, ceremonial, and communication purposes. The modern valved trumpet evolved from the baroque trumpet and is now used as a solo and ensemble instrument.

There are two types of trumpets. The “natural” trumpet is the first. This means there are no valves or holes in the trumpet. As a result, the player must use his lips to control the pitch of the instrument to a greater extent. Modern trumpets are designed so that the player does not have to make such drastic lip adjustments to stay in tune, making this notoriously difficult for modern players.

The “vented” trumpet is the second type of baroque trumpet. These trumpets resemble natural trumpets, but they have vent holes that the player can cover and uncover. The player alters the flow of air inside the trumpet as he does so, allowing the trumpeter to correct intonation issues that are common on natural instruments.

Whether to use natural or vented trumpets is a point of contention among period trumpet players. One reason for this is that vented notes on a vented baroque trumpet sound noticeably weaker than those played on a natural trumpet. Venting, on the other hand, allows players to achieve greater pitch accuracy, which is desired most conductors and other ensemble members. Many musicians and scholars use the term “baroque trumpet” to refer only to the vented version of the instrument, despite the fact that some players do perform on natural trumpets, due to the preference for a vented trumpet and the resulting pitch accuracy.

The tubing on a baroque trumpet is roughly two to three times that of a modern trumpet, depending on the key. The mouthpiece on a true baroque trumpet is also different, with a shallower cup that allows for greater ease and lightness in the upper register. Many modern players use modern mouthpieces on baroque trumpets, which results in a sound that is less authentic, more dominating, and heavy than the sound intended baroque composers. Furthermore, on a natural instrument, the player can only use one hand to hold the trumpet.

In terms of pitch, the baroque trumpet was most commonly built in C, which meant that if the trumpeter played a written C, it would sound exactly like a C played on a non-transposing instrument like the piano. It was also common to play the trumpet in D. However, there were also versions in Bb, Eb, and F. Some baroque trumpets had crooks that went between the mouthpiece and the main body of the instrument, lowering the pitch and allowing the player to easily switch between keys.

George Frederic Handel, who used the baroque trumpet in works like the Water Music suite and The Trumpet Shall Sound from the larger, celebrated masterpiece The Messiah, was one of the most notable composers who wrote for it. The baroque trumpet was used Johann Sebastian Bach in his Magnificat and, perhaps most famously, in his second Brandenburg concerto. Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Arcangelo Corelli, and Georg Philip Telemann were among the composers who used the instrument for sacred, solo, and orchestral works.