Help! I’m a baroque trumpeter, and I don’t want to play the “baroque trumpet” anymore!

I have been playing baroque trumpet regularly ever since I traded my student model flugelhorn for a baroque trumpet that I had to dig out of a duffle bag in a New York City apartment on a cold winter’s day in 1993. That instrument was made by Richard Seraphinoff, a well-known natural horn maker and horn professor at Indiana University. A near-copy of British trumpeter Stephen Keavy’s 4-hole, machine-made type of instrument, it was an early attempt by Seraphinoff to make a baroque trumpet. This instrument played in many different keys and took a modern trumpet mouthpiece in the lead pipe (most baroque trumpet mouthpieces have a larger shank than modern trumpet mouthpieces). It has proved to be a very usable and stable instrument, but not very authentic.

Hanns Hainlein Reproduction Trumpet

Hanns Hainlein Reproduction Trumpet

That next summer, I attended the very first Natural Trumpet Making Workshop in Bloomington, Indiana. At this workshop, I made my own baroque natural trumpet using principles that Dr. Robert Barclay had learned from studying and measuring many specimens while he was curator of instruments in the German National Museum of Nuremberg. I made a copy of an instrument made by Hanns Hainlein in 1632.

Baroque natural trumpet harmonic series (blackened notes are out of tune)

Baroque natural trumpet harmonic series (blackened notes are out of tune)

I haven’t used this trumpet very much outside of my own practice room up to now, because it’s pretty difficult to play accurately (because all of the notes in the melodic upper octave are so close to each other) and, like all truly natural trumpets, the high “F” and “A” (11th and 13th partials) are out of tune from the scale. Back in the 17th and 18th Centuries, however, this type of instrument–the natural trumpet–was the instrument used by all professional trumpeters. Almost all of these trumpeters confronted the limitations of their instruments by developing extraordinary control and embouchure strength so that they could bend notes to suite the intonation that they were using. It’s likely that some inventive types of trumpeters experimented with a few different means to achieve better intonation and more notes than the natural trumpet “harmonic series” could provide. But these trumpeters were in the extreme minority and, by virtue of their altered instrument, were not allowed to be in the Imperial Trumpet Guild, established in 1623, and written about in length by Johann Ernst Altenburg in his Trumpeters’ and Kettledrummers’ Art (1795).

Four different ways of confronting these limitations were either rarely mentioned or never documented (but still conceivable in that time-period): 1) the baroque slide trumpet–a single slide fitted into the first yard of the instrument. This instrument was mostly used in church to double simple chorale melodies in the low register. There is no documented evidence that this technique was used for high “clarino” playing (virtuosic high-register playing).

Me playing a baroque slide trumpet (note single slide coming out of the first yard)

Me playing a baroque slide trumpet (note single slide coming out of the first yard)

Flatt trumpet as reproduced by Matthew Parker

Flatt trumpet as reproduced by Matthew Parker

2) the English “flatt” trumpet specified by Purcell in his Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary. This instrument had a “double” slide (like a trombone) fitted between the second and third yards. The slide was moved backwards away from the bell with the left hand. 3) fingerholes are rather obscurely mentioned by Altenburg–he had heard of a trumpeter named Schwanitz from Weimar who had one hole with a leather slider over it. But the main message of Altenburg was that nearly all other trumpeters played a trumpet without any inventive additions to it–just a natural trumpet.

Portrait of Gottfried Reiche, J. S. Bach's primary trumpeter, pictured with the coiled natural trumpet

Portrait of Gottfried Reiche, J. S. Bach’s primary trumpeter, pictured with the coiled natural trumpet

4) The coiled natural trumpet COULD have been played with the hand in the bell, so that out of tune notes could be corrected (but with a much more muted sound). This technique has NEVER been documented by contemporaneous sources.


Since that time, I have bought a couple of other baroque trumpets: a Graham Nicholson instrument that plays with our without holes (4-vent hole system) and a Rainer Egger, “historic” 4-hole system instrument. I have used the Egger for almost all professional baroque trumpet performances, because of its relative accuracy, intonation and reasonably authentic sound. Using vent holes is accurate, primarily because when you play in the upper octave and you open the various holes, essentially half of the partials are not playable, so, to miss a note, your lips have to buzz at a much more distant pitch from the desired note. Incidentally, nowadays, if you are talking about a natural instrument, you say, “natural trumpet” or “natural baroque trumpet,” but if you are talking about a vent-hole instrument, you say, “baroque trumpet,” to avoid confusion.

But I have begun to have a different feeling about playing this “baroque trumpet.” The main reason I was attracted to the natural baroque trumpet was the thrill of playing authentically like real 18th-century trumpeters and the challenge of playing an instrument that was (and is) exponentially more difficult than a vent-hole baroque trumpet compromise. When comparing the piccolo trumpet to the baroque vent-hole trumpet to the natural trumpet, it’s helpful to keep in mind that their “batting average” would be something like .990, .890, and .600, respectively. I am now much more interested in playing the authentic natural trumpet, while I try to correct out of tune notes solely with lip bending. Now, the issue is convincing conductors and audiences that this is the best approach.

Last winter, I played several concerts with soprano Tia Wortham, harpsichordist Jay Wilcox, and cellist Doug Poplin. Here are two clips from one of those performances that may offer a glimmer of hope in the argument for more authenticity. The edits were done because of–you guessed it, missed trumpet notes!

There are a few other really good (complete) videos of natural trumpet playing. Here is a nice one of the French master Jean-Francois Madeuf playing Bach’s “Grosser Herr” from the Christmas Oratorio. Notice the amazing sound quality Madeuf achieves (in part from the authentic natural trumpet and also in part from the rather large mouthpiece he uses–which is thought by many to be an important aspect of the authentic approach:

Compare this to Swedish virtuoso Niklas Eklund playing the same aria. What I hear in this performance is amazing accuracy, technique and intonation. Nevertheless, I also hear a certain modern strident sound quality inherent in the vent-hole instrument Eklund is playing (a 3-hole instrument):

Okay, not to mislead, I guess I will play the “baroque trumpet” if someone pays me, but I really want to sway people to the natural trumpet!

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9 thoughts on “Help! I’m a baroque trumpeter, and I don’t want to play the “baroque trumpet” anymore!

    • Luis, the military bugle–like all lip-vibrated natural instruments–has the same harmonic series that the natural trumpet does. It is a phenomenon of acoustical physics. The limiting factor is the smaller size of the bugle–so it is more difficult to play up to and beyond the 8th partial on the bugle, whereas the baroque natural trumpet frequently played up to the 16th partial and beyond.

  1. ‘Nice article. I’m looking for measurements of the exact intonation of actual natural trumpets as opposed to theoretical values (where you might see the frequencies juxtaposed between natural and baroque trumpets to see the differences on every note/partial). Might you know of an on-line resource for this?



    • Thanks, Andy–good question. I suppose I could do that myself and post the results. But–are you looking for the values as played without any effort on the part of the trumpeter to bend the note into tune (in other words–the notes right in the “sweet spot”, which, by the way, is still subjective), OR are you looking for the values as played by a trumpeter trying to bend the natural trumpet’s tones to be as close as possible to, say, Valotti or Kirnberger temperament?

      • I’m looking to see the values as are actually played with no bending at all. I’m also interested in seeing how the exponential nature of the bell changed this in the upper harmonics (the bells became more exponential over time as the makers learned how to flare the bell more.

        • Andy–great question. I would love to see this done one day. Of course it would be hard to know how impartial the player would be for this experiment (no pun intended!).

  2. Very thoughtful essay. I’ve recently unearthed my natural trumpet– a Collier Ehe repro from the ’80s (2 holes– one you blow in; one the sound comes out of! )– upon being inspired by Mssr. Madeuf. We’re on a similar journey. Check out– He’s spent years perfecting his art. I want to play like that now!

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