|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 Saxs 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
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
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 wont mind when I say that one must always go straight to the horses mouth for information, which in this case is Arnold himself.
The Origins of the Various Names for
The Hatbox Mellophone
The Distin Altophone
The Various Tuning Methods and Keys
The second method is to switch the tuning and sometimes also the valve slides for a longer set stored in holders in the instruments case.
The 5-Valve King Mellowphone
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
(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 youre probably dealing with some sort of fluegel horn.
The Courtois Tenor Cor
(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-
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 isnt 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.
Isnt There Any Connection Between
First off, lets dispel a little of the confusion. Lets review a few things about the outward shape of the instrument. Lets 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 instruments 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
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 couldnt have been more mundane? Most of these instruments are interesting only in their outward design. On the inside, its only the same few ideas, tried over and over and over again, ad nauseam.
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 wouldnt 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
The 5-Valve King Mellowphone
The Distin Altophone
The Courtois Tenor Cor