Tell a Story on the Trumpet: The Cadence

When I play trumpet, I want to communicate with the listener. I want to tell a musical story. If my fundamentals are working on the trumpet (breathing, articulation, fingers, lips, tongue placement, etc.), then I can shape and pace notes in ways that help deliver this story, from the details up to the big picture. Perhaps the smallest detail of the story that we musicians can tell is the cadence, which is that part of a phrase that harmonically resolves, usually with a dominant chord leading to a tonic chord.

The melody, which cannot fully convey the harmonic movement, nevertheless can support the underlying cadence. From the Sixteenth Century until today, a very good rule of thumb with cadences is to give more intensity throughout the dominant and relaxing this intensity on the tonic. The reason for this is that the dominant chord is harmonically “far” from the tonic. The dominant has tension, dissonance, or “drama.” Will the dominant resolve? Maybe yes, or maybe no–that is the drama that the listener is confronted with. Imagine a movie where the camera follows the protagonist down a dark hallway. Something will happen. Will it resolve peacefully or will there be a shock? Watching the scene, your anxiety increases, and your heartbeat quickens. This is drama. In a very similar way, the dominant chord sets up expectations which can be fulfilled or denied.

A good movie director underpins the dramatic hallway scene with lighting, music and pacing that helps the audience feel the anxiety more. In the same way, a good musician can highlight the drama of the movement from dominant to tonic with more intensity. This intensity usually means more volume, but it could also be a change of vibrato, timbre (tone color), pacing or articulation. This helps the listener hear the harmonic framework of the music better. It helps to draw him into the “rhetoric” of the music. 

To me, nothing is more “rhetorical” than Renaissance music, so, as an example, I offer this cued-up YouTube video of cornettist Bruce Dickey playing Josquin des Prez’s Mille Regretz. Notice the intensity swelling and then releasing as the dominant resolves to the tonic (this happens twice at 1:24 and 1:29). 

Let’s look at another example from the second movement of Joseph Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet. I want to contrast two great performances with the small difference of this device. In the eleventh bar, we hear a line descending by steps with the longer notes on dominant harmony and the shorter notes on the relative tonic of each successive dominant. In the first (cued up) example, a young Wynton Marsalis, teamed up with John Williams and the Boston Pops, performs this passage smoothly.

But listen to the contrast in rhetorical delivery with more emphasis on these dominant-underpinned notes in a performance by French trumpeter, David Guerrier (who plays a historically-accurate keyed trumpet). This video is also cued up to the same musical passage (it is pitched lower, at A = 430). 

For me, the subtle difference of “leaning” on the dominant notes that Guerrier does in his example helps us hear the harmony more vividly. 

One more example comes from the end of the first movement of G. P. Telemann’s Concerto in D (the “first” concerto). In the first example, listen to the great Maurice André play this last phrase. He has a gorgeous tone, he has chosen a very luxurious tempo (very slow), but his shaping of the inner dynamics from the dominant to the tonic (where he is playing a trill) is pretty straight. There is not much contrast. 

Another example (on baroque trumpet) by Niklas Eklund, shows the dynamic tension on the trill followed by a slight release on the last note, which coincides with the dominant-to-tonic harmony. Notice, in both examples, that the trill starts slow and speeds up, which also helps the drama of the line. This cued-up video is pitched at A = 415, which is lower than the example by André.


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Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: “Deposit potentes de sede”

MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 7

(This is the twenty-forth part of my dissertation series. Previous: MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 6)

Deposuit potentes de sede

Domenico Fetti (Roman, 1589-1623) The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (1618/1628). Notice the cornett player among group of musicians in upper right.

Domenico Fetti (Roman, 1589-1623) The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (1618/1628). Notice the cornett player among group of musicians in upper right.

Monteverdi’s Magnificat from the 1610 collection is divided into twelve sections, coinciding with the twelve Biblical verses. Cornetts are used in six of these verses: (1) Magnificat anima mea, (3) Quia respexit, (7) Deposuit potentes de sede, (8) Esurientes implevit bonis, (10) Sicut locutus est, and (12) Sicut erat in principio.

The seventh section, Deposuit potentes de sede, is particularly interesting for many reasons, one of which is that its orchestrational and motivic concepts are derived in large part from the very well-known aria from Orfeo, “Possente spirto.” Both pieces share the texture of two soprano obbligato instruments playing in echo, which decorate and punctuate the solitary vocal line. In addition, there are many motivic devices that link Deposuit to “Possente.” Thus, one can see that Monteverdi used “Possente” as a model for Deposuit. In figure 13, four such devices are illustrated, including the upward-sweeping scale, spanning an octave, which I shall call Motive A; the downward, broken third figure, Motive B; the dotted rhythmic figure, Motive C; and the written out cadential gruppo figure, Motive D.

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In “Possente spirto,” there are four sections underscored by obbligato instruments in the following order: (1) violin duet, (2) cornett duet, (3) double harp, (4) two violins with “Basso da brazzo.

The concluding fifth section is for voice alone (and
un-ornamented). Unlike the order of the first two sections of “Possente,” the two sections of Deposuit potentes de sede are accompanied first by a pair of cornetts, then by a pair of violins. Despite similar motivic usage, as illustrated in example 13, between the first two sections of “Possente” and the whole of Deposuit, there is a significant difference between the two pieces: Monteverdi reverses the order of obbligato instruments. I believe Monteverdi conscientiously reworked the earlier material in order to make a significant correlation between the instrumentation and the new text. The words “Deposuit potentes de sede” (“He hath put down the mighty from their seats”) are framed by ritornello passages played by two cornetts. The words of the second half of this section, “et exaltavit humiles” (“and exalted them of low degree”), are set off by ritornelli played by two violins. The “mighty” in Deposuit are associated with the cornetts, whereas those of “low degree” are underscored by the violin (which was Monteverdi’s own instrument). Having already established the correlation between the cornett and the princely class, this text-painting of social status by means of instrumentation makes sense.[1] Moreover, if the mighty are to be put down from their seats, the cornett as a symbol of vanitas and death becomes an even more pertinent symbol for this passage.[2]

(Next: The Cornett as a Symbol of Social Hierarchy)

[1]. “To Monteverdi, the cornett substitutes for the trumpet and, by transference, becomes a symbol of the political power and munificence of the Gonzaga family.”

[2]. The Cornett as a Symbol of Death and the Transitory in the Graphic Arts

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Cornett Phrasing on “Ancor che col partire”

(Note: this is a re-posting of this article. The previous posting was deleted because of “spam” problems)

Yesterday, I briefly generalized about phrasing Renaissance music. Today, I wanted to provide some specific applications by looking at ’s famous madrigal, “” first printed in 1547 and reprinted many times thereafter. Like some of the well-known opera and folk tunes that J. B. Arban wrote fantasies (e.g., “Carnival of Venice”), Rore’s madrigal became the basis for countless 16th-century decorated versions for solo voice and lute, or “viola bastarda” settings, or unspecified instruments (but very appropriately played on the cornett). But for this post, I just want to play the original top line and, hopefully, show how some general ideas of Renaissance phrasing might help, one idea at a time. You have to have Adobe Flashplayer and Java installed to play these audio clips. 

Facsimile of top voice of "Ancor che col partire"
Facsimile of top voice of “Ancor che col partire”


Here is a perfunctory, modern reading of this excerpt.

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Now, in this audio clip, I will emphasize the long notes (in this clip this is just barely noticeable).

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To help with the long notes, in this clip, I “swell” them. The correct name for this type of devise is the “messa di voce”.

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Further helping the emphasis, I add a little space BEFORE the long note (taking away from the duration of the preceding note). These are called agogic accents.

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Finally, to add a little more polish, I connect more smoothly with stepwise (conjunct) motion and more separately with disjunct motion.

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Hopefully, these ideas will give you a STARTING place to make good phrasing decisions while you play music from the 16th Century (and, to a certain extent, from the early 17th Century).

Here’s a FABULOUS version of Ancor by Doron David Sherwin that I just had to share!

MSUC: Chapter 1, part 5 (conclusion of Chapter 1)

(This is the sixth part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 4)


Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.42.50 PMTo analyze these general trends, the material for this study was gathered from more than 2,500 sources into a database. Table 1 shows data on the types of sources, their dates, and associated geographic regions. Roughly 2,100 (85%) of sources are musical, but there are more than 200 literary sources and nearly as many artistic sources.[1] Although roughly three-quarters of the sources are from the seventeenth century, they range in date from 1500 B.C. to 1801 A. D. The top three geographic regions in numbers of sources are Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe, respectively, 38%, 26%, and 21%.

Table 2 shows the geographical distribution separately for the musical, artistic, and literary sources. Since are by far the greatest number of sources, the same top three geographic regions in sources (Gemany, Italy, and Eastern Europe) understandably have the highest numbers of , accounting for 43%, 27%, and 25% of the subtotal. However, the picture is different for artistic sources, for which Italy, Germany, and Western Europe provide, respectively, 38%, 29%, and 22% of the subtotal. For literary sources, the picture is even more different, with England providing 84% of the subtotal, followed by Italy (5%), other Western Europe (3.7%) and ancient sources (4.6%).

Table 2 also shows the chronological distribution of the three separate sources. The seventeenth century contributes about three-quarters of the musical and literary sources, but fewer than half of the artistic ones. Roughly one-third of artistic sources come from the sixteenth century, and nearly one-fifth from before 1500. Artistic sources are thus the largest group of earlier sources.


[1]. In musical sources, for statistical purposes, the individual piece and not the entire collection was counted as a single record in my database. Equal weight was given to manuscripts, non-extant pieces known only from contemporaneous inventories, and printed pieces. Only pieces which specified cornett in writing were included.

16th-century map of Europe

16th-century map of Europe



Table 1. Research Sources by Type, Date, and Geographic Region[2]

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[2]. “Eastern European” refers to Austro-Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian, and Croatian nationalities; “Other Western European” refers to Danish, Dutch, Flemish, French, Portuguese, or Swiss.






Table 2. Research Sources Shown by Type, Broken Down by Geographic Region and Date

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Because most of the sources (93%) come from the three-hundred year period from 1500-1799, with 75% alone from the seventeenth century, it makes some sense to single out that period for separate analysis. Figure 1 shows the remarkable growth in the number of sources from 1600 to 1699 during the period 1500-1799. But this overall picture obscures the fact that literary and artistic sources occur relatively early in these years; by 1680 there remain only musical sources (figure 2). Further limiting our scope to Europe, divided into “South” (Italy and Spain) versus “North” (all remaining) yields a picture similar to that of Collver and Dickey (figure 3), in which the southern sources show a peak in growth that is slightly earlier than the northern peak.

The database includes five other fields of secondary interest. First, each record includes bibliographic material.[3] Second, a field indicating whether or not the cornett was being played is included.[4] Third, each record shows instrumentation as stipulated by the source.[5]  In some musical examples, either the cornett or another instrument could play the same part; therefore, a fourth field exists to show the instrument for which the cornett substitutes.[6] Finally, when possible, each record notes the type of cornett represented.[7]



[3]. Drawing from 66 secondary sources, my database shows 2,425 primary sources authored by more than 700 writers, artists and composers.

[4]. In the 408 artistic and literary references recorded in my database, the cornett is played about 75% of the time. It is, of course, assumed that the cornett is played in all musical sources.

[5]. There were more than 800 distinctly different instrumentations. Most notable were cornett and trombone ensembles of various combinations: 2 cornetts and 3 trombones, with or without basso continuo, occured 34 times; one cornett and 3 trombones, with or without a basso continuo occured 29 times; 2 cornetts and 4 trombones occured 16 times; and there were 17 instances of unknown types of cornett and trombone ensembles.

[6].  I counted 37 unique instrument substitutes. The top three were as follows: violin was a possible substitute 494 times; trumpet substituted 55 times; flute substituted 28 times.

[7].  I recorded twenty-five distinct types of cornett in my database. The treble cornett—a term I used to denote a cornett which plays in the soprano range—is represented the most, with 1,971 records. The cornettino occured in 207 records. The mute cornett occured in 118 records, the tenor in thirty-two, the straight cornett in twenty-nine, and the alto cornett in twenty-five. The oliphant, an ancient precursor to the cornett, is represented seventeen times. Eleven records  mentioned a “storto” (not a reference to crumhorn). The bass cornett occurs in nine sources, while the shofar—in the database because of its clear linkage to the cornett—occurs ten times. There are four examples of the fingerhole horn, another ancient precursor. In addition, there are infrequent examples of fantastical cornetts, animal-headed cornetts, and unknown types.



Fig. 1. Total Number of Sources by Decade

Fig. 1. Total Number of Sources by Decade









Fig. 2. Number of Sources by Decade and Type

Fig. 2. Number of Sources by Decade and Type









Fig. 3. Northern and Sourthern Sources Contrasted by Number of Sources by Decade

Fig. 3. Northern and Sourthern Sources Contrasted by Number of Sources by Decade









Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.47.41 PMThe symbolic association field is the most important part of the cornett symbolism database, albeit the most difficult to categorize and quantify. One sees, many times in the course of this research, source examples that point to multiple symbols. That is the nature of most emblematic research. For instance, in Stephen Harrison’s engraving “The Garden of Plenty” from The Arches of Triumph (London), King James I is greeted by a cornettist in satyr costume.[8] In this example, the cornett has two symbolic associations: it is not only an instrument to announce royalty but also an instrument symbolic of a sylvan mythological creature. My database, therefore, allows for any one record to have multiple symbolic associations, and, since each association can have more than one record, the relationship between records and symbols is a many-to-many relationship. This makes it difficult to make meaningful statistical comparisons between the records and the associations, but it still allows for overall counting of the associations and statistical comparisons between different associations.

Over 4,000 associations were assigned to the 2,500-plus records, making a average of nearly 2 associations per record. There were 372 records with no clear association to be determined. In addition, there are associations that, because of their obvious defining rather than metaphorical natures, are devoid of symbolic meaning and could have been left out of the database.[9] Leaving these out, the top thirty associations are listed in table 3.


[8]. Reproduced in Leslie Thomson and Folger Shakespeare Library, Fortune “All is but Fortune” (Washington, D.C. and Seattle: Folger Shakespeare Library Distributed by University of Washington Press, 2000), 71, fig. 2.

[9]. These were often the most frequently assigned associations: for example, the cornett as a symbol of religious music (1,498 occurrences); the cornett as a symbol of multiple choir performances (308 occurrences); the cornett as an instrument (104 occurrences); as an accoustic phenomenon (60 occurrences); as a symbol for musicians (45); and as a symbol for a group of musicians (36).

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Table 3. Top Thirty Cornett Associations

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Five thematic categories emerged from this tapestry of cornett symbols: (1) “alta” instrument—the cornett as a symbol for the large, or open-spaced venues where loud music is required; (2) sexuality and the senses; (3) learning; (4) death and rebirth; and, (5) social status. The fourth category, death and rebirth, is the focus of the next chapter in dealing with the cornett in Orfeo. The fifth category, social status, is the focal point of the third chapter, which examines the symbolic role of the cornett in the Vespers of 1610. Table 4 provides some statistical observations about all five thematic categories, the uncategorized associations, and the unspecific records.


Table 4. Thematic Categories with Statistical Analysis[10]

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[10]. In column two, the number is followed by the percentage relative to the total number in this column. In column three, each theme may have one or more records. This total number of records is followed by the percentage relative to total number in this column.


(next: Chapter 2, The Cornett as a Symbol of the Underworld in Orfeo: Cornett and Trombone Ensemble Underscores Scene Changes)



MSUC: Chapter 1, part 4

(This is the fifth part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 3)


Letter by Monteverdi of 1627 to his patron, Marchese Enzo Bentivoglio, discussing music appropriate for a presentation of Tasso's "Aminta." In a different letter about a proposed maritime opera, Monteverdi indicates that cornetts and trombones would be appropriate but not elegant.

Letter by Monteverdi of 1627 to his patron, Marchese Enzo Bentivoglio, discussing music appropriate for a presentation of Tasso’s “Aminta.” In a different letter about a proposed maritime opera, Monteverdi indicates that cornetts and trombones would be appropriate but not elegant.

A general symbolism for the cornett can be extrapolated from contemporary iconography, literary references, the construction of the instrument, and . Although this paper does not intend to exhaustively explore the general European-wide, fifteenth- to seventeenth-century symbolic use of the cornett, this line of research contributes important insight toward an understanding of Monteverdi’s symbolic use of the cornett, especially considering J. A. Westrup’s argument that “Monteverdi’s orchestra is quite normal in structure for the period. He does not ask for unusual instruments. He employs recognized groups [of instruments] and recognized continuo instruments, and uses them in a way that would have occasioned no surprise among his contemporaries.”[1]


In contrast to this general associative use of the cornett, Monteverdi’s personal symbolism may be deduced from dramatic contexts, textual relationships, what he reveals in his letters, and other evidence derived from his life and philosophy.  No research literature to date adequately addresses Monteverdi’s symbolic use of the cornett, although a wide variety of unsynthesized information on this subject is available.

Since this type of symbolism has so many different levels of meaning, some clarification may be necessary before continuing. In this paper, when the cornett has a strong association with something else, be it an concept, a mythological figure, a person, a thing or even another musical instrument, the cornett will be said to be symbolic of this. This association might be a historic tradition long established before Monteverdi’s day, or a novel idea used only once. Although my research has indicated nearly 500 different symbols associated with the cornett, these symbols reduce down to only a handful of broad themes. While there is a certain flexibility and even inconsistency found among the sources (for example, the cornett is depicted both in heaven and in hell), the general thematic trends contribute to a symbolic niche unique to the cornett.

Next: Analysis

[1]. Westrup, “Monteverdi and the Orchestra,” 240.

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