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The History of the Mellophone
(As based upon the best current information - contents
may change as new info comes to light. - Greg Monks)

Our story begins with a lawsuit between Antoine (Adolphe) Sax and Antoine Courtois. Antoine Sax, whose nickname was Adolphe, was constantly embroiled in legal wrangling over the authenticity of his inventions. He is crediting with inventing the saxophone when other fusions of ophicleides and woodwinds were already in existence, and many credited him with inventing the bass clarinet, though this instrument predated Sax by many years. To give him his due, Sax greatly improved any instrument he turned his mind to, and the saxhorn family of brass instruments was a genuine Sax creation that forever changed the world of music, displacing the keyed bugles, serpents, ophicleides, and other inferior antique junk tolerated by musicians and Sax’s peers and patrons alike (the latter of whom included Hector Berlioz and Meyerbeer).

Saxhorns became a staple of marching bands, especially in the United States. If you examine photos of Civil War bands of the North and South, you will see over-the-shoulder and upright saxhorns in abundance.

Coming back to the matter of the lawsuit: In 1855, Sax lost a lawsuit with Antoine Courtois, giving Courtois the right to manufacture saxhorns, which they do to this very day. This same year, a virtuoso cornetist and part-time instrument builder and designer named Herman Koenig, invented the family of horns that bears his name, and which were built by Antoine Courtois.

The Koenig Horn
The Koenig horns belong to the Fluegel family of instruments, having the same type of bore and taper, and using a funnel-type mouthpiece. One of these horns, of particular interest, was a C instrument, 4 feet in length, that came with mouthpiece crooks for B flat and A. As well, the tenor F Koenig horn is the progenitor of the instrument we know today as the mellophone, which has a larger bell, a somewhat altered bore and taper, and employs the use of a tenor Saxhorn mouthpiece.

Herman Koenig also worked with Courtois on a number of models of cornet, three of which were called the “Levy,” “Arbuckle” and “Emerson.”

Years later, in 1868, another virtuoso musician and long-time friend of Sax named Henry Distin sold an instrument design to Boosey & Co along with his own company, and Boosey subsequently manufactured a family of bell-up instruments under the name ballad horn. Many reference books claim that the mellophone is a type of ballad horn, whilst others, like the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, tell a different tale. Arnold Myers traces the history of the mellophone back directly to the Koenig horn, and John Webb makes no mention of the mellophone in his article on the ballad horn.

New information that has only recently come to light
I stated in the original piece that the ballad horn was invented in 1856, the year following the Koenig horn. I got this information from a number of sources, most notably the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I’m not sure of the source of this bit of information, but it turns out that this date is a mistake, that the ballad horn did not go into production until 1868, when Henry Distin sold out to Boosey & Co. It was Arnold Myers, curator of the Edinburg Museum and head of the Brasswind Taxonomy Project who set me straight on that score, even as he told me of a recent acquisition: the earliest mellophone on record, dating from 1881 at the latest! Another interesting bit of information is that this instrument is a copy of the Boosey ballad horn, the implication being that, if it turns out that this is the first use of the term “mellophone”, then the mellophone will have turned out to be a copy of a copy.

If correct, this information knocks all variations on this instrument out of the running for good and all. What we are left with is the Koenig horn, everything subsequent being its progeny, in turn marking the hapless mellophone as a product of design incest. It is also testament to the fact that one should never trust resource material, no matter how authoritative. I hope Arnold won’t mind when I say that one must always go straight to the horse’s mouth for information, which in this case is Arnold himself.

The Origins of the Various Names for
the early instruments
We know the Koenig-horn-like instruments today as mellophones, but where did the name “mellophone” come from?

The Hatbox Mellophone
For answer, we have only to look at instrument designs that bear various names. In 1868, Henry Distin was bought out by Boosey & Co., who marketed the four bell-up versions of his ballad horn, the smallest of which they called the liedhorn. Rudall & Carte, meanwhile, came out with their bell-forward version which was marketed under the name vocal horn. So instrument designs and names went together, along with the exclusive right to manufacture, protected by the existing patent laws; altogether a curious practice, considering that in this day and age no one would think twice about manufacturing an instrument while having to worry about the name of that instrument.

The Distin Altophone
In the mellophone world, there was the Koenig horn, of course, the Antoniophone, made by Antoine Courtois, the tenor cors of Besson and Rudall Carte, the Altophone made by Henry Distin, early mellophones that bear Distin’s name, though it is doubtful that he had a hand in their manufacture, the melophone that appeared on various imports to the US between circa 1890 and circa 1910 that was no doubt purely phonetic in origin, the hatbox mellophone with detachable bell, the mellowphone that appeared on early King instruments, the mellophonium manufactured by C. G. Conn in the 1950's in collaboration with Stan Kenton, the 19th century cavalry models with bell-up and bell-forward designs, the frumpet and finally the marching Mellophone.

The Various Tuning Methods and Keys
In the earliest days, the simplest and most obvious way to change the pitch of an instrument was to increase an instrument’s length by inserting a piece of tubing into the mouthpiece receiver. These lengths of tubing are called “shanks” (the straight variety, fitted into the mouthpiece receiver) and “crooks” (the bent variety, often referred to as “pigtail” crooks).

The second method is to switch the tuning and sometimes also the valve slides for a longer set stored in holders in the instrument’s case.

The 5-Valve King Mellowphone
The third method, which began appearing on mellophones circa 1900, was the introduction of as many as two rotary keys which, when turned, diverted the air through longer sections of tubing.

Some mellophones employ neither system, are in one key only, and are most commonly pitched in F and E flat. Kanstul manufactures a marching mellophone bugle in G, so you will always encounter exceptions and variations.

The circa 1910 vintage York & Sons and King 5-valve models are pitched in F, E flat, C and B flat. Other models, usually employing the use of crooks, before and after this same time, could play in such various keys as F, E flat, D, C, B flat, A, and G. Once again, if you dig hard and long enough, you will no doubt find variations and exceptions.

Grouping the Various Incarnations
of This Instrument
This researcher, after painstaking examination of examples of instruments, has now decided upon the following categories into which mellophone-like instruments can be categorized:

(A) The Koenig horns, which are characterized by a fluegel bell-taper and the use of a funnel-cup mouthpiece in keeping with this bore-profile. As evidence, compare the bell tubing down their entire length of the early Koenig horns, with those of alto and tenor fluegel horns. The design is indisputably fluegel. If your instrument is much wider than 2" at a distance of 6" from the bell opening, then you’re probably dealing with some sort of fluegel horn.

The Courtois Tenor Cor
(B) The Tenor Cors, which are a hybrid instrument, also tellingly referred to as the tenor cornet (not to be confused with an earlier lip-vibrated aerophone bearing the same name that was also called the cornett, cornetto, cornetti, and zinck; also not to be confused with the oval tenor horn, which also is often referred to as the tenor cor). This researcher was baffled by the interchangeability of parts of what he thought were European mellophones and cornets of the same manufacture, until he twigged to references made of these same “mellophone” instruments as being tenor cors. Tenor cors are characterized by having a trumpet or cornet mouthpiece receiver and lead-pipe, trumpet/cornet bore where there is cylindrical tubing, often an identical tuning slide to the trumpet/cornet analogue by the same manufacturer, and a smaller bell than the mellophone, of 10" or less, with a less pronounced funnel shape, that is narrower throughout, and only becomes pronounced near the bell opening. Generally speaking, the bell is usually around 2" in diameter around 6" from the bell opening. Playing-wise, the tenor cor does not generally suffer from having a flattened fifth partial, and has a more focused, stable sound, especially in the upper range. Some have such good resonance that they are on equal footing with any other brasswind.

(C) The Mellophones, which again are a hybrid instrument. Most mellophones this researcher has examined are a cross between the Eb tenor Saxhorn and the Horn, often having a tenor horn bore and a bell that was fashioned on a Horn mandrel. The easiest way this researcher has found to distinguish a true mellophone from other instruments is to check the bore, and check the bell by placing various types of Horn mutes in the bell. The bell itself may be wider than 10", and the throat will certainly be wider than 2" in diameter at a distance of 6" from the opening, though not in the same manner as a fluegel instrument. The fluegel instruments and the mellophones can readily be distinguished from one another by the taper of the bell. The fluegel bell is markedly funnel-shaped and narrower than either tenor cor or mellophone.

Performance-wise, mellophones are characterized by having poor intonation, a disfocused tone, a flattened fifth partial, limited range, and very poor resonance overall, with glaring dead areas in general range and blaring nodes on certain partials.

No doubt this mixture of profiles has from the start produced undesirable results, and inadvertently led to endless confusion over the true nature and origins of this instrument, and has served to distort the picture where ascertaining performance attributes and genuine quality are concerned.

The Mellophone as Horn-
Substitute Myth
This researcher has for years listened to the endlessly regurgitated myth that the mellophone:
-acts as a substitute for the Horn
-is a cheap way to teach students to play the Horn
-serves to replace the Horn in brass and concert band music

In truth, where the Horn is concerned in band arrangements, quite the opposite is the case. In point of fact, the Horn has never been seen as being a desirable instrument in brass band ensembles. It simply isn’t loud enough, for one thing. For another, the Horn is a problematic instrument to carry. Regardless, since the beginning, the Horn has always been seen, from an orchestral standpoint, as best blending with woodwinds and strings.

Is the mellophone the least bit useful in teaching students how to play the Horn?

This question is inane. The two instruments are unrelated.

Does the mellophone act as a substitute for the Horn in band music? Actually, the mellophone, when it arrived upon the scene, served to replace two instruments: the tenor horn and the Horn, though this in itself is misleading. The tenor horn, because of its range, plays music in the same range as the Horn. That said, while the Horn was found in orchestras, and tenor horns in brass bands, either instrument was often found in concert bands, and this is where the myth of mellophone-as-Horn-substitute originates.

In the early days, parts for this range were scored both in E flat and F (and other keys, in rare examples). As the physical record demonstrates, many Horns from this period were manufactured in E flat to accommodate, just as there were tenor horns in F. As well, an examination of the music shows that in concert bands, music for the tenor horn gradually drops out of the picture, leaving parts that very often say things like: F horn, Eb horn (another name for the tenor horn, incidentally), F mellophone, E flat mellophone, French Horn/ Mellophone, and so on.

So the very notion of “substitution” is erroneous. As far as the composer or arranger or band-director was concerned, the part was of far greater importance than the instrument playing it.

Isn’t There Any Connection Between
The Mellophone and the Horn?
As it turns out there is, but like the instrument itself the truth is muddled.

First off, let’s dispel a little of the confusion. Let’s review a few things about the outward shape of the instrument. Let’s remember that this instrument came in three configurations: bell down, bell up, bell forward-facing. If the bell-up version was the only one we were familiar with, no one would say “Look! This instrument is obviously closely related to the Horn!” Instead, we would see the truth without needing to be reminded of it: that this is an instrument in its own right.

That said, manufacturers themselves did something to forever cloud the issue. In making the mellophone, they created a hybrid: an instrument that was part tenor horn, part Horn.

But the resulting instrument is not possessed of Horn-like attributes. The bell of the Horn is designed to compliment the overall length and bore-profile of that instrument. Slapping a Horn bell on a tenor horn takes away from the bore-profile and performance attributes of the tenor horn, resulting in an inferior instrument.

It turns out that the only connection between the Horn and the mellophone was a misguided notion in the minds of the original instrument’s manufacturers that grafting a Horn bell onto a circularly configured tenor horn would produce a palatable hybrid for use in concert bands. That is an important distinction. Concert bands; not symphony orchestras or brass bands, but concert bands. The mellophone was seen as being the most appropriate of the upper-middle-brass instruments for playing concert band music, before both the Horn and the tenor horn.

That said, the tenor cor (often called the tenor cornet), which is primarily a European version of this same hybrid instrument, was a far superior instrument, and filled this role without having to make excuses or suffer the same indignities.

Some Remarks on the Proliferation
Of These Functional Instruments
There is a curious matter that from the beginning has left this researcher scratching his head. In light of the fact that all of these instruments played a minuscule role in nineteenth and early twentieth century music, why on earth were there so many of them, and in so many varied forms?

Since the advent of the modele anglais cornet in 1855, for example, cornettists have been content to allow this model to dominate. The same goes for most other brass instruments. Why, then, had this upper-middle brass range seen such an explosion of design for instruments whose purpose couldn’t have been more mundane? Most of these instruments are interesting only in their outward design. On the inside, it’s only the same few ideas, tried over and over and over again, ad nauseam.

One thought that occurred to me is that, because the music was so boring (remember, the mellophone and its tenor horn counterpart often got stuck playing endless offbeats, and this was certainly true in the 19th century when military band music was one of the biggest forms of popular music, and the very reason the tenor horn was often refered to as the “peckhorn”), the player had to be compensated in some manner. Take the bizarre incarnation called the Antoniophone, for example. One look at this contraption and the obvious comes to mind: “Hey! Look at that thing!”

Could these outward designs have been a way to compensate for their players not being virtuoso musicians? Was it it possible that their owners, staid, complacent, Victorian types, were content to express their boring, comfortable domesticity through their unimaginitive, unchallenging music, and that these instruments provided them with the perfect vehicle to do just that?

First off, we have to remember that the 19th century was a period rife with manufactured gimmicks and contraptions on the one hand, and a buying public that was caught up in the mystique of novelty, a trend that lasted until the end of the 1920's. On the other hand there was a naïve innocence about those times when it came to the emerging modern technologies, and your average member of the buying public did not have the same access to information that people do today. Instrument builders and other tradesmen were often very secretive about their individual craft, just as knowledge of music performance and composition got passed along via methods that for the longest time were closely guarded secrets. So a 19th century gentleman listening to a music store proprieter singing the praises of a brand-new 1868 Boosey & Co ballad horn wouldn’t have had the least inkling of what he was really purchasing. What would have lured him in is the fact that these instruments were cheap, attractive, easy to play, and very popular.

A List of Mellophone Manufacturers
Accord, Amati, American Student, Antoine Courtois, Bach, Blessing, Boosey & Co, Boosey & Hawkes, Bryant & Newell, Cerveny, Champion Silver Piston Valves, Concertone, Conn, Coutierre (J. W. Pepper), Distin, Dynasty, Elkhart, Fidelity, Getzen, H. N. White, Hatbox, Holton (Frank), Huttl, J. W. Pepper, Jupiter, Kanstul, King, Kohler & Son, Lyon & Healy, Miraphone, Olds, Oxford, Reynolds, Raison Brass, The Players Co., Thibouville-Lamey, William Frank, Winston, Yamaha, and York & Sons.

The 5-Valve King Mellowphone


The Distin Altophone


The Courtois Tenor Cor