Interview with Julian Zimmermann, natural baroque trumpet soloist

Julian Zimmermann

Baroque trumpeter Julian Zimmermann grew up in Kriens, Switzerland (near Lucerne). After receiving a trumpet teaching diploma from Bern University of the Arts (studying modern trumpet with Marc Ullrich and Markus Würsch), he went on to study the natural baroque trumpet (without vent-holes) at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis with Jean-François Madeuf, where he earned a master’s degree in Early Music Performance.

In groups like Capriccio Basel, De Swaen, Berlin Baroque, Neue Hofkapelle Graz, Jeune Orchestre d`Atlantique, Das kleine Konzert, and Trondheim Baroque, Julian has worked with such renowned directors as Philipp Herreweghe, Hervé Niquet, Jos van Immersel, Herrman Max und Sigiswald Kuijken.

Instruments:
17th-century repertoire (Fantini, Schütz, Lully, Torelli, Biber):

Natural trumpet in C, A=466 (or, D, A=415), made by Aron Vajna (after Michael Nagel)
Mouthpiece: Egger-Renaissance trumpet mouthpiece with short 17th-century back-bore, altered slightly by Nathaniel Wood

18th-century continental repertoire (Bach, Telemann, Fux, early Mozart, Haydn)

Natural trumpet In D, made by Graham Nicholson (after Wolf Wilhelm Haas, 1730; since the Engraving says 1730 the maker would have been Wolf Wilhelm Haas)
Mouthpiece: Graham Nicholson, after Leichnamschneider (Graham Nicholson can be contacted at graham.nicholson “at” inter.NL.net) 

Museum trumpet by Wolf Wilhelm Haas (Basel Music Instrument Museum)

Natural trumpet in C, made by Aron Vajna (after Friedrich Ehe, ca. 1700)
Mouthpiece: Egger, MZ-Prototype (mouthpieces developed by Egger with input from Jean-François Madeuf and Julian Zimmermann: this line has a longer back-bore than the standard Egger Bull model. Note: this line of mouthpieces is not advertised on the Egger website at this moment; it is necessary to ask for it by contacting them directly)

Tirarsi (slide trumpet) in Eb, body made by Graham Nicholson (after Ehe with altered bellform) and slide made by Egger
Mouthpiece: MZ-Prototype, Egger

18th-century English repertoire (Handel, Arne)

Natural trumpet in Eb, made in collaboration with Nathaniel Wood (after Nicholas Wingkings, English maker, mid. 18th Century)
Mouthpiece: Bull 1/3 (original Bull) known from the article on early British mouthpieces by Eric Halfpenny, Graham Nicholson. (for more information, see this scholarly article)

Nathaniel Wood and Julian Zimmermann after finishing the Wingkings trumpet.

 

Early 19th Century “Classical” repertoire (Beethoven, Mendelsohn)

“Inventions-trumpet” with original bell dimensions made by Aron Vajna (after Michael Sauerle)
Mouthpiece: Egger KSB-4, KSE-4 and KFG-3

Interview with Julian Zimmermann, natural baroque trumpet soloist

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Julian! I have really enjoyed seeing some of your videos that you have recently posted!

JZ: My pleasure, I am very happy for the positive resonance of those videos and I hope they give motivation to trumpet players discovering real historical instruments, because, as you know yourself, playing them is fun, it brings us back to the core: singing with our instrument.

SC: Tell me about your childhood—how did you get interested in music and in the trumpet?

JZ: I grew up in Kriens which is a small city, near Lucerne, in the center of Switzerland. My mother was very supportive when it came to arts, and she listened to a lot of classical music. When I was quite young, I enjoyed listening to CDs of Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong, while building Lego-Castles.

At age seven, I went to a presentation of musical instruments at a local music school, where I met my first teacher. A year later, Ying Nie, a Chinese student of renowned British trumpeter, Philipp Jones, started teaching me. He introduced me to recordings of trumpeters like Maurice André, Timofei Dokschitzer, and Rafael Méndez.

SC: When and how did you get interested in Baroque trumpet and, specifically, the natural trumpet?

JZ: My first exposure to the baroque trumpet was when I were about 16 years old in what Teacher-training College. I got the Vol. 4 of Niklas Eklund’s “The Art of the Baroque Trumpet,” and I was just thrilled. At that time, I didn’t know about the difference between a baroque and a natural trumpet.

SC: Which of your teachers do you think influenced you the most?

JZ: Maybe the stongest influence in my professional formation was Marc Ullrich. I think the most amazing thing about him was that he could play more or less in every style and genre. For more than 30 (or even 40) years he was principal trumpet in Basel (Switzerland). Nevertheless, he really liked to play jazz. He introduced me to the recordings of Clifford Brown (“Clifford Brown with Strings” is still inspiring me when it comes to control of sound color and articulation). And, of course, he was one of the very early students of Ed Tarr. He was basically one of the pioneers with the baroque trumpet.

Marc had this amazing patience and seemed to believe in every student without hesitation. For example, I decided unilaterally during one summer holiday to totally change my embouchure. Imagine a student, who comes to his first lesson in the new semester and is basically not able to play a straight note anymore! Marc just said “Okay, then let’s do it.” So, he guided me through the mental hell that I had chosen (without asking his permission). The embouchure approach and psychological resiliency, which I got through this embouchure change, turned out to be very helpful, when I was able to adapt them later to the natural trumpet. He was a big help, as well, in overcoming parts of my stage anxiety, which was really strong at the time I was studying modern trumpet.

Marc knew both Niklas Eklund and Jean-François Madeuf quite well and strongly suggested that I go to Basel and study with Jean-François.

SC: Tell me about Jean-Francois Madeuf.

JZ: My first “one-on-one” exposure to the natural trumpet (without vent-holes) was in the trumpet room of the Schola Cantorum with Jean-François. I had heard an older recording of him, which left me quite critical about the whole thing. But when I heard him in person about ten years after that recording was made, he sounded so much better! I understood at that moment, how much potential and space for development the natural trumpet still had!

Few people know so much about the natural trumpet, its music and surviving original instruments like Jean-François Madeuf. Since I am a person who likes to question authority, and he has a strong character, I think we were a good challenge to each other, and it really helped me to find my own voice. Today I am happy to call him a colleague and friend.

Schola Cantorum trumpet studio reunion

The Schola offers a diverse curriculum for students from all over the world. It is a place where a lot of different ideas can be pursued and discussed. I spent a lot of time in the cafeteria, hanging around and discussing these ideas with colleagues.

SC: Tell me about some of these colleagues that you met at the Schola.

JZ: I met my wife Daniela, who is the voice of reason to my stubborn trumpet mind. She reminds me that things which are important to me, are not necessarily important to the rest of the world. We played a lot of organ and natural trumpet together. More and more, we realized how a good continuo player is able to mask the intonation clashes: it is all about good voicing.

My colleague, Mike Diprose, is the one who got me interested in reading primary sources and to have a closer look at other instruments than only the trumpet. His big interest were tuning systems and how they fit into the bigger picture.

The last person I would like to mention is Nathaniel Wood. He gave me the incredible opportunity to build instruments together.

SC: What makes you so sure that the natural trumpet was the instrument they played in performances during the 17th and 18th Centuries?

JZ: Of course, I could just say look at all the museum examples of instruments from the time when clarino playing was in its hey-day. They are all natural trumpets. But I think to answer that question it is also good to show examples where iconography, written music and historical figures interlink.

At the court of Schwerin we have the court conductor and composer, Johann Wilhelm Hertel  (1727-1789). He was born in Eisenach into a musical family. Being court composer in Schwering, he wrote three very difficult concertos for trumpet and a double concerto for trumpet and oboe.  He demanded the same, if not higher, level of difficulty from his chief-trumpeter as J.S. Bach did from his trumpeter. Hertel’s trumpeter was Johann Georg Hoese (1727-1801). He was born in Leipzig, so he was seven when Gottfried Reiche (Bach’s trumpeter) died. I am pretty sure Hoese was familiar with Reiche’s performances of Bach, and I am even more sure he heard the trumpeter Ulrich Heinrich Ruhe, Reiche’s succesor. The great thing about Hoese is that we have a picture of him (done in 1770 by painter G.D. Matthieu) playing the natural trumpet in concert.

1770 painting by G.D. Matthieu of musical performance at court of Schwering

He holds his trumpet in one hand and the sheet music in the other hand (if you look closely enough, “clarino 1” is marked on the paper). Note that there is no music stand for him. So how could he operate any finger system on his instrument? That looks like a Haas-made trumpet to me (and in that time it would be the grandson of J.W.Haas, Ernst Conrad Haas).

Also, there is a second picture from Schwerin with three trumpets in concert.

Painting of music concert at court of Schwering (18th C.)

Considering that Hoese was right at the end of the Golden Age of the natural trumpet, I assume it can be viewed as the general way of doing things for that period—that is, playing without fingerholes. Also, we have the iconic pictures of Gottfried Reiche (Bach’s trumpeter).

Portrait, oil on canvas of Gottfried Reiche (1667–1734) by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (1695–1774), 1727

And another of Valentine Snow (Handel’s trumpeter), which show the same evidence of playing the trumpet one hand.

Portrait of Valentine Snow (1700-1770), c. 1753
Artist: Unknown
Location: Fenton House, England

Having said all that, recently a great thing happened. In a phone call with Graham Nicholson (a British trumpet maker and natural trumpet pioneer living in the Netherlands) discussing Reiche and his instrument, Graham said to me “You know Julian, there actually is a picture of Reiche in concert, playing that instrument”. And it is true: Reiche was in Leipzig much earlier than Bach, and there is a picture of Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) conducting a cantata. We can see Reiche with his round Instrument and two colleagues with long trumpets.

Frontispiece of Leipzig Gesangbuch, Johann Kuhnau, 1710

 

SC: Those are some fantastic images, Julian! I think there is a general ignorance in the early music world about authentic baroque natural trumpets. We have had decades of “period instrument” performances by trumpeters who use fingerholes. I use them, too, for most of my performances, but I have misgivings. Talking with conductors, I usually find a lack of interest in authenticity, and I think conductors mainly want to hear clean, “in tune” trumpet playing. What are your thoughts on this?

JZ: The divine creator obviously had a misunderstanding with Signor Vallotti when defining the laws of nature! (Interviewer’s note: the “Vallotti” system of tuning, named after Francesco Antonio Vallotti, was used in the 18th Century. It is used frequently in baroque music groups today, but its intonation does not line up ideally with the harmonic series of the natural trumpet. In a mathematic sense, the only interval that lines up between the natural trumpet and the Vallotti tuning system are the octaves, because Vallotti gave more emphasis to the 5th than the  3rd in general)

I think the natural trumpet can serve as an instrument to challenge the approach we have with historically informed performance practice (or “HIP”) today. In music, all is interconnected!

But Intonation is a good topic to discuss, what does “in tune” mean? Here is a quote from Tosi in his book on singing:

“… If one were continually to sing only with the above-mentioned Instruments (keyboards), this knowledge might be unnecessary, but since the time that composers introduced the custom of crowding the operas with a vast number of songs accompanied by bowed instruments, it becomes so necessary, that if a soprano was to sing D-sharp like E-flat, a nice ear will find he is out of tune. Whoever is not satisfied in this, let him read those authors who treat of it, and let him consult the best performers on the violin. …”

–Tosi, Introduction to the Art of Singing (Bologna, 1723), page 21 in the English Translation of 1743

To make it short: why do so many schools of the baroque era make a difference between sharps and flats, big semitones and small ones and where is that fact reflected in our current performance practice using keyboard temperaments as a judge of what is right and wrong? The amount of correction to the 11th and 13th partial becomes much smaller when using a “relative,” or “just” system like Tosi describes, where notes change their position with their harmonic function – as opposed to a “fixed” system like Vallotti’s keyboard temperament.

On the other side of the coin, there is a lack of accepting the character and nature of historic trumpets and horns, and this character gives them their identity! This would be as absurd as a conductor talking to a cembalo player: “in this bar, I would like to have a real pianissimo and you are too loud, so please push the key down softer.” After repeating that bar five times, the conductor finally says “it’s getting better!”

SC: What is the way forward to develop an interest in the baroque natural trumpet? Is there some “marketing” type of strategy we need to embrace?

JZ: As a marketing strategy, it is very important to show people historic iconography to our performances, pictures are a lot of times stronger than words. But, as well, we should be able to talk about what we do in context, that shows we have a deep interest in the time where the music we perform comes from. We should expand our knowledge in all possible aspects.

SC: If a trumpeter wants to learn how to play the natural baroque trumpet well, what are some suggestions that you might have for him or her?

JZ: Having a good instrument, with a fitting mouthpiece from the start, helps a lot. Then, you should take separate time from your daily practice, with a rest time of at least three to four hours (so that the different mouthpiece rims don’t confuse the embouchure). And don’t over do it. You should make, for exemple, two 15-minute sessions with a rest in the middle. 

To play with big mouthpieces, it is important to start in the middle register (middle C, 8th partial) with the aperture not too wide open. This is why I don’t use the Tarr method anymore, since it has an approach which is more from bottom to the top. About four years ago, I developed my own routine (something comparable to James Stamp and Vincent Cichowicz). It is on my website www.naturtrompete.ch. I use it today to get well-centered on an instrument. For example, if I have to play in C, which is a low and somewhat clumsy key, compared to D, or if I have to get used to a 17th-century instrument in a short amount of time.

When it comes to music, I think the repertoire from Purcell and Handel are good to start with. Especially because Handel wrote some very good second and third voices, which create a stable low and middle register.

Swiss historic natural trumpet ensemble, Trummet

The third trumpet part is, in a lot of cases, not getting enough attention in our practice. I think it is essential to work on military signals, which we find in Fantini, Mersenne, Philidor, Altenburg and Dauverne. If you carefully consider, for example, Bach’s low trumpet parts, you will not only find the style of military signals, but also the actual signals everywhere in his works with trumpet, as for example, in BWV 119. Another very important aspect is practicing to hear difference-tones as a trumpet section (a good place to start is with Ed Tarr’s second book). The first thing that will convince people is a trumpet team that sounds good as a unit. That was the reason that gave birth to the trumpet ensemble “Trummet” (www.trummet.com).

 

Another thing I would like to mention is that it is very important to get stage experience without holes. To build up the confidence on stage, it is good to increase the stress gradually. I was lucky to meet players, that were supportive with me! Although they usually play with holes, they provided me the opportunity to play third and second parts without holes in the actual concert. That took a leap of faith for them, and I offer my sincere thanks to Henry Moderlak, Frans Berglund, Andy Hammersley, Roland Callmar and Giuseppe Frau.

For (an) interested young students that means: question what your teachers do! Go to the museums! Get a faithful copy of a historic instrument! Practice it with an open mind! Read primary sources! Discuss them with colleagues! Try them out seriously!–Julian Zimmermann

SC: Tell me about the trumpets and mouthpieces you play. Why do you think they are effective for what you are doing?

JZ: I think an important thing to know is that a natural trumpet of fixed length changes its playing characteristics with time according to the player. After playing an instrument for some time, it gets easier to place and vibrate the Fs and As in tune. What is really interesting to me is the experience of playing on some original instrument (one that is found in a museum), and sometimes I can still feel how the original player played on it.

To find out if an instrument is good, I check first to see if the basic notes, the frames, are purely in tune (the tonic and dominant notes). It is also important to say that natural trumpets played with a modern approach are going to sound flat in the low register. But this doesn’t mean the instrument is bad. So, if possible, get a player with real experience to choose an instrument for the beginner!

Today, for 18th-century repertoire, I play a cup with a diameter of 19.5to 20 mm. I have also started to play with larger mouthpiece throats in recent years (up to 5mm in diameter). Those provide more space to move notes, but it’s not for beginners!

Close up of original baroque natural trumpet mouthpiece (made by Jacob Steiger)

SC: What kind of trumpeters and other musicians do you like to work with?

JZ: First of all, I like musicians with an open mind. If someone approaches early music with concepts and sound pictures rooted in the 20th Century, I find it very difficult. I enjoy when people are able to take original information and authentic copies of instruments, and create something aesthetic and beautiful with those ingredients.

Personally, I like an emphasis on a strong, driving bass, and I love, in general, the sound of string instruments strung all in gut—making equal tension on all the strings!  That authentic way of stringing instruments seems to have been predominant throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. L. Mozart still describes it in paragraph 4 on page 5 of his Violin-School (1756). I find violinists like Oliver Webber amazing to hear!

SC: Tell me about some of your favorite performances.

JZ: I had two performances that really changed me! Both with Bach cantatas, the trumpet parts of which were written for Reiche. The first was during the 2013 Bach Festival Leipzig, where I played Cantata 77 in the Michaeliskirche with students from the Hochschule in Leipzig. I had a lot of discussions with colleagues about which instrument to use to perform it. The first movement is basically a “no brainer.” It says “Tromba da Tirarsi” and it is playable on a single-slide instrument like I have, even though it goes up to high C. The alto aria (“Ach, es bleibt in meiner Liebe,” (no. 5), is the big question. The original part just says “Tromba,” but it has a lot of notes outside the harmonics. Although they are possible to bend, it is quite difficult to play in tune, because Bach voices the 13th partial very often as a perfect fifth and as octave to the bass. This is a harmonic voicing that you can’t really get in tune on a natural instrument, because the 13th partial is so flat. When I went to Egger to get my tirarsi, I talked about it with Gerd Friedel and he asked “what does the text say.” And with this question, he really got to the right point…. It says “Ach es bleibt in meiner Liebe lauter Unvollkommenheit! Hab ich oftmals gleich den Willen, was Gott saget zu erfüllen, fehlt mirs doch an Möglichkeit.” roughly translated: “in my love (to God) there is so much imperfection! Even though I often have the will to do what God tells me, I don’t have the ability.” So, it is about being an imperfect human being that tries so hard and still struggles to get it right. In the end, I decided to do the aria on natural trumpet. It felt very special while performing it, and I had an inner peace which stayed with me the whole aria.

Julian Zimmermann

The other time was the performance of Cantata 66 on Easter 2016. I played it twice that day, in the morning for a church service and in the evening for a concert. In the morning service, there was a moment when the sun was shining into the church, and I was so inspired that it felt like I wasn’t playing it under my own power, but that the music played itself.

SC: Wow, that’s an inspiring story. Julian, what do you think is the future of early music?

JZ: Hopefully, young explorers will enter the field of early music and revive it’s core values. History repeats itself, and early music was born because people felt that authenticity was absent in the traditional way of performance. Today we are there again, because early music is now a huge market, and it is too big and inflexible to deal with new (old) ideas! 

SC: So what can we do?

I think a new subculture will arise. The internet links musicians that are really interested! The great thing is that there are a lot of original texts, schools and iconography already online. This means you can live anywhere and have access to the important information, and that is a game changer.

For interested young students that means: question what your teachers do! Go to the museums! Get a faithful copy of a historic instrument! Practice it with an open mind! Read primary sources! Discuss them with colleagues! Try them out seriously!

SC: What do you like to do when you are not playing trumpet?

JZ: I really like to do Tai-Chi Chuan.

SC: So, what do you want to be doing in five or in 20 years?

JZ: Hopefully still being happy with my family! And playing the natural trumpet, of course, and I would love to get the opportunity to teach interested students.

SC: Julian, thanks again for sharing all of your really great insights into playing early music on the natural trumpet!

JZ: As I said in the beginning, my pleasure!

 

 

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