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Instrumental Ensemble Review Print

All You Ever Wanted to Know about Baroque Trumpets - but Didn't Know What to Ask

August 12, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:

The series Sights and Sounds on Sunday, sponsored jointly by the NCMA and the Raleigh Chamber music Guild has brought to the Triangle a number of unusual-and informative-musical ensembles, and none more than the Clarino Consort, who performed there last Sunday, August 12. Made up of Barry Bauguess and Patrick Dougherty, baroque trumpets, and John O'Brien, harpsichord, the ensemble presented a concert/lecture on the uses and misuses of this archaic instrument.

The baroque trumpet is exceedingly hard to play and most works written for it are short. Because, unlike its modern cousin, it has no valves, its only natural pitches are the first several notes of the harmonic series (fundament, octave, fifth, fourth and what would sound to our equal temperament trained ears, a very out of tune major third). Other notes that make up a scale can only be achieved by the player's mouth. And most players -including Bauguess and Dougherty-fudge by drilling finger holes in the tube.

Even with these "impurities," wrong notes are pretty much unavoidable, and Bauguess, avoided significantly more of them than Dougherty.

Some version of the trumpet has been around for over two millennia, and, for its entire history, as a military instrument. Its use was expanded during the renaissance and the early baroque when, as the loudest instrument known, it was often played from the top of the town tower as noontime entertainment, to announce the arrival of important persons or to warn of fires and other natural or unnatural disasters and special events. For this more civic function, composers created a large number of short compositions, often called Turmsonaten (tower sonatas).

As in ancient Rome, the trumpet was also used in assemblies to announce the entrance or exit of royalty.

The Clarino Consort performed examples from the more varied repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, interspersed with humorous but informative comments on the instrument and the music. O'Brien used a replica of an 18th century very small harpsichord built specifically for the travelling musician. In spite of its diminutive size, its tone was excellent and quite loud enough to be heard with the trumpets.
Some of the music was quite familiar. The Rondeau from Jean Joseph Mouret's Suite from the Court of Louis XIV is familiar to all viewers of Masterpiece Theater; and Jeremiah Clarke's The Prince of Denmark's March is a standard wedding or graduation march for those who think Elgar, Wagner and Mendelssohn cliché.

Many of the works were quite obscure and, while it was refreshing to hear some unfamiliar repertoire, a little baroque trumpet music goes a long way. Without the valves of the modern instrument, there is little flexibility with melody or possibility for modulating into other keys. Composers were all too aware of these limitations; in the sonatas for trumpet(s) and harpsichord, there were movements for harpsichord solo to break the musical sameness imposed by the trumpet. Clarino added further variety to the program by presenting one authentically choreographed minuet danced by Baroque dancers Paige Whitley-Bauguess and David Powell.

We strongly encourage the Sights and Sounds on Sundays program committee to continue to feature such unusual programs. While they may not rank as world-class events, they provide much-needed variety to the Triangle concert scene, as well as exposure to live music and information unattainable elsewhere.