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Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Richard I. Schwartz

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Early Documentation

The cornet began its journey during the third decade (1820's) of the nineteenth century. The early documentation for the instrument which appears below is fascinating for it provides a unique look into the birth of perhaps the most influential brass instrument of the nineteenth century. Recent research in Historical Musical Instruments in the Edinburgh University Collection (Myers and Parks 2000, 6) mentions, “Etienne-François Périnet’s French patent 4149 of 1829 on a three-valve cornet opens with the statement ‘Le cornet dit à piston, connu depuis quatre ans environ, n’avait, dans son origine, que deux pistons; depuis, on en avait ajoute/ un troisième…’.” Translated, it reads, “The cornet, called ‘à piston,’ known for about four years, did not have but two pistons at its origin; since then, a third was added.” This is a most significant piece of early contemporary documentation which may well establish the arrival of the cornet as early as c1825!     

Edward Tarr’s article, "The Romantic Trumpet" in the Historic Brass Society Journal (Tarr 1993, 213-261), provides an interesting look at some early documentation concerning the cornet à pistons and was the impetus for much of the discussion below. On page 257 of his article, Tarr quotes an early document written by Berlioz appearing in The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz (Cairns 1975, 136) which describes the instruments of the orchestra at the Prix de Rome award ceremony in October 1830, a ceremony at which he was awarded first prize. Translated by David Cairns, it reads, "A full orchestra is assembled, with nothing missing: strings, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets…four horns, three trombones, and even cornets – modern instruments!" These "modern" cornets may have been in fact those with pistons and it is this author's opinion that the earliest appearance of the cornet may well have have been in c1830.

Other documents suggest post-1825 dates for the arrival of the cornet. Edward Tarr also quotes François Georges Auguste Dauverné’s Méthode théorique & pratique du cornet à pistons ou cylinders in his article (Tarr 1993, 236, 258). "En 1831, Mr. Antoine-Halary, eût l’heureuse idée d’appliquer le principe de méchanisme imaginé par Stölzel, au Post-Horn (Cornet de Post) [,] espèce de petite Trompette dont les Postillons en Allemagne se servent pour announcer le départ et l’arrivée des voyagers…" (Dauverné c1846, 9). Translated, the passage reads, "In 1831, Mr. Antoine-Halary, would have the fortunate idea of applying the principle of the mechanism conceived by Stölzel to the Post-Horn (Cornet de Post), a kind of petite trumpet which the mailcoach driver in Germany would use to announce the departure and arrival of travelers…" According to this account, the first cornet was built in 1831 by Jean Louis Antoine (b Paris 14 Jan 1788; d Paris 16 May 1861), also called Halary. Tarr also quotes Dauverné’s Méthode pour la trompette in his article (Tarr 1993, 258) and mentions that the instrument may have appeared towards the year 1832. "L’apparition de ce nouvel instrument donna naissance, vers 1832, au Cornet à pistons, espèce de petite Trompette" (Dauverné 1857, xxi). Translated, the passage reads, "the sudden appearance of this new instrument [the valved trumpet] gave rise, towards 1832, to the Cornet à pistons, a kind of small trumpet."

[L.]Dufrène was the first to use the cornet with success in ballrooms, especially in the Champs-Elysées Promenade Concerts, first given by Philippe Musard (1793-1859) in 1833 (Tarr 1993, 236).

The first methods for the two-valve cornet did not appear until 1834. Gambaro published a cornet method by [L.] Dufrène, the famous cornetist with the Musard Promenade Concerts, in 1834 entitled, Grande Méthode Raisonnée de Cornet-Trompette Á Pistons…. It was for the two-valve cornet, which could play chromatic tones by stopping with the hand. The pitch d# 1(in the first octave above middle c) achieved by half-stopping e 1, the d 1 by fully-stopping e 1, and f# 1 by half-stopping g or using the first valve (Anzenberger 1994 [no.85], 79). There were two possible two-valve configurations for early cornets. In the first configuration, the one used in the Dufrène method, the first valve lowered the instrument one-half step, and the second valve, one step; and the second configuration, first valve, one step and the second valve, one-half step. The early cornet was constructed with only two valves and a third one was added shortly afterward (Tarr 1993, 236). It became apparent to early players that another valve needed to be added to fill in the gaps in a two-valve scale. Tarr’s quote from Dauverné’s Méthode théorique & pratique du cornet à pistons ou cylinders in the Historic Brass Society Journal confirms this point: "Plus tard, on sensit l’importance et la nécessité de restituer à l’Instrument, son 3e Piston, afin de pouvoir combler les lacunes qui existaient dans sa gamme, causé par son absence" (Dauverné c1846, 9) Translated, the passage reads, "Soon one realized the importance and necessity of restoring the third valve to the instrument to complete the gap in the scale caused by its absence."

Dauverné’s Méthode de Trompette à Pistons [of 1834 or 1835] had a short chapter on the two-valve cornet, but the notation was in the trumpet octave [an octave too low for the cornet] (Anzenberger 1994 [no.85], 79). Another method of the time was Luigi Mariscotti’s Nouvelle Méthode Complete de Cornet à Pistons…, published by Mariscotti himself in 1837 in Paris. It was designed for use with the two-valve cornet. It did not have the complete investigation of the chromatic scale, as with Dufrène’s Grande Méthode Raisonnée de Cornet-Trompette À Pistons…. Dufrène’s Nouvelle Méthode Simplifiée Pour le Cornet à Pistons, published by Baissières-Faber in Paris in [1834] was also designed for the two-valve cornet. This method was very simple in comparison to the others. It mainly contained simple exercises and transcriptions of well-known songs (Anzenberger 1994 [no.85], 79).

Early cornets in major collections have dates actually later than 1830. A cornet, in the form of an early cornopean with Stölzel valves, appears in the Royal Military School of Music collection at Kneller Hall (Anthony C. Baines, "Cornet (i)," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians). The instrument was built by "Halary-Antoine" in c1835.

Another cornet (number 26069) appears in the Deutsches Museum, München. It is a cornet à pistons with two Stölzel valves built in 1836 by COURTOIS Frères. It has crooks [keys not specified], an attachment (number 26070) down to f, ivory touch pieces, and the French position for the valves (to the left of the bell). The first valve lowers the pitch one step, and the second valve, one-half step. It is "eines der ersten Cornets à pistons" [one of the earliest of the cornets à pistons] (Seifers 1980, 120).

A third early cornet appears in the Trompetenmuseum Bad Säckingen. In Bb, it has two Stölzel valves and was built by A. G. Guichard in c1835. The marking on the instrument is Guichard Breveté [in script]/ A PARIS (stamped) (with weapons and a crown on top). There are shanks for Bb and A, and crooks for Ab, G, F, E, and a small extension to be used with the F crook to put the cornet into Eb. When crooked into keys lower than A, the instrument is A=455. In Bb, however, the instrument is A=450.

There are some sources, some of them general however, which point to the 1820's for the arrival of the cornet à pistons. One such source is Musical Wind Instruments (Carse 1965, 244). In it, Carse mentions a cornet à pistons (number 1141) in the Conservatoire National Supérieur du Musique of Paris. According to Carse, the entry for the cornet is dated 1828. It was built by COURTOIS Frères, but there is no date on the instrument. Another source appears in the Brass Bulletin (Anzenberger 1994 [no.85], 77-78). Anzenberger mentions that Halary "appears to have been the first" to have constructed the valved cornet, between 1826 and 1827. He unfortunately does not give a contemporary reference. A third source for the 1820's appears in The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments which mentions, "in France in the mid 1820’s valves were added to the posthorn…to create the cornet" (Herbert and Wallace 1997, 126). Unfortunately no contemporary documentation was given for this early date either. A fourth source is Baines who mentions that the origin of the cornet was “some seven years” prior to 1834 (Baines 1976, 226). Another source mentioning 1825 for the cornet’s appearance is discussed in the Historic Brass Society Journal (Tarr 1993, 258). According to Tarr, Mechel Laplace in his article, “Trompette ou Cornet?,” La Gazette des Cuivres, Revue trimestrielle de l’Association “Cuivres en France (Paris, June 1922, no. 12, p. 3) mentions that the archives of Halary-Sudre establish 1825 as the date for Halary’s first cornet. Three valves were added to a military posthorn and could be put into C, Bb, Ab, and G. According to Laplace, COURTOIS Frères had even built a cornet close to the year 1830. Tarr questions Laplace, as he does not verify these important statements with any specific contemporary documentation.

Based upon Myers and Parks (see first paragraph), it is quite apparent to the author of this document that 1825 may well stand as the year that the cornet à pistons made its appearence.

The Halary Workshop


The history of the Halary (also known as Asté, Halari, or Halary-Asté) workshop is an interesting one, for Jean Louis Antoine was not its founder. Jean Hilaire Asté (also called Halary) (b Agen c1775; d Agen c1840) had founded the firm in 1804. It manufactured brass and woodwind instruments in Paris from 1804 until c1893. In 1817, the company "completed his key-bugle family of three instruments. They were called, respectively, the clavi-tube (a keyed-trumpet), the quinti-tube (afterwards the alto-ophicleide), and the ophicleide" (Rose [1995], 123). According to Talks with Bandsmen (Rose [1995], 142), the company had even claimed to have invented the ophicleide.

Jean Louis Antoine had apprenticed with COURTOIS even before he came to the Halary workshop and was foreman for Halary before he became owner in 1825, upon the retirement of Jean Hilaire Asté. Halary’s workshop had achieved some degree of financial security since it bought out Riedloker in 1831. In 1835, the workshop experimented with a type of "turning-plate" valves called "plaques tournantes," but apparently did not patent the idea. The patent for disc valves, or "swivel valves," was granted to John Shaw three years later in 1838 (GB #7892).

The next period, i.e., from 1845 to Jean Hilaire’s death, was one of conflict for the firm. In 1845, Halary and thirty-three other Parisian instrument manufacturers formally protested to the French War Ministry for adopting Adolphe Sax’s instruments exclusively for its use. Manufacturers included F.G. Adler, Baillet, Bartsch, G. A. BESSON, J. L. Buffet, L. A. Buffet, August Buffet, COURTOIS NEVEU AÎNÉ, COURTOIS FRÈRES, A. COURTOIS FILS, Darche (Darché), David, Gambaro aîné, Gentellet, Godfroy, Goudot jeune, GUICHARD, Jahn, Klemmer, J. C. Labbaye, Lefèvre père, Legoupil (Legoupy), Lota, Martin frères, Michaud, Paridaëns, Périnet, M. A. Raoux, Remy, F. Triebert, Tolou, Widmann (Widemann), and J. Winnen. Jean Louis Antoine was the secretary of a committee of five representing this large and very impressive group. As a signatory of the letter, he was a likely target for Adolphe Sax, who, in 1854, had some of Halary’s brass instruments seized due to a violation of one of Sax’s patents. Over the next few years, Adolphe Sax filed law suits against many of the above mentioned firms for violation of his patents, as can be read in Chapter 6 of this document.

In 1857, "Halary & fils" was opened in London, and in 1859, the firm finally received permission to produce Sax-model brass instruments. Jean Louis Antoine’s son, Jules Leon Antoine (also known as Halary) succeeded him upon his death. Early Halary markings, c1845, include the Halary monogram [on the bell] and HALARI FOURN.SEUR DU ROI BREVETE A PARIS [around the bell rim] (Myers and Parks 1994, 13). Halary instruments were present at the Paris exhibitions of 1817, 1823, 1827, 1839, 1849, and 1855, and were produced at least until 1893. 1893 is the last year of a company catalogue listed in The New Langwill Index (Waterhouse 1993, 157).

Choice of Instrument


According to Anthony C. Baines, "Forestier's Méthode pour le Cornet a pistons contains a historical introduction contributed by Dauprat above the date 1834 saying that ‘it occurred to Halary to apply the valve system as perfected by Meifred to the Post-horn des Allemands, known in our military bands by the name petit cornet’" (Baines 1976, 226). This quote suggests that the first valve system on the cornet may have, in fact, been Meifred’s "valvule" [internal vane] system. Its patent (Fr #4002) with Deshays was approved in 1834. Myers research above, however, indicates an earlier date (1825), but 1834 in the quote above does correspond to the date of Meifred's patent. There is no patent date established yet for the first two-valve cornet à pistons, so a description of the initial valve type is not possible at this time. Early extant cornet à pistons, however, do show two Stölzel valves, as mentioned above, and not Meifred valves.

It is quite apparent from Tarr’s quote from Dauverné (in the third paragraph of this document) and Baines' quote (above) that Halary’s first cornet à pistons was based on a German Posthorn, and not a French one. The French post horn is primarily a conical instrument with only a three-octave range and no pedal, while the German Posthorn is primarily a cylindrical instrument with a four-octave range and no pedal (see Nicholas Bessaraboff and the Cornet à Pistons in this document). According to Ancient European Musical Instruments (Bessaraboff 1941, 400), a two-valve four-octave instrument works much better melodically and chromatically than a two-valve three-octave instrument. We can only speculate about the reasoning behind Halary’s (or perhaps even Périnet's) choice. Did he know something about the acoustical differences between the German and French Post horns over 150 years ago? Did he experiment with valves on each one? Was his choice a matter of convenience or intuition?

According to Ancient European Musical Instruments (Bessaraboff 1941, 400), the difference between three-octave and four-octave instruments were perhaps not clearly understood in the early stages of valve development (Bessaraboff 1941, 400). Perhaps early instrument makers were more experimenters than acousticians, and learned more from trial and error than from direct knowledge of acoustics, but Halary apparently made the correct choice.

Many names were given to conical circular shaped horns of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In France, many terms were used. Among them were cornet, cornet simple, cornet ordinaire, cornet de post, and petite trompette aiguë (Carse 1965, 244). In Germany, the term Posthorn was used, in England, post horn, and in Italy, cornetta di postiglione. Their basic circular coiled shape was the same, with the exception of the English post horn.

The English post horn came in two varieties. The first was a straight copper "coach horn," either forty-six inches long (in C) or thirty-six inches long (in high F). It was sometimes built in three telescoping sections. The second was a brass "post horn," either twenty-eight inches long (in Ab) (built in two sections) or thirty-six inches long (in high F) (Tarr 1993, 215). The Ab English "post horn" was an octave higher than the German Posthorn in Ab. This instrument became the more popular instrument of the group (Tarr 1993, 215). It often had a tuning joint midway up the horn and could only easily play up to the fourth or fifth harmonic. It was still manufactured in the twentieth century and used in performances of Koenig’s Post Horn Galop (1844) (Anthony C. Baines, "Post horn," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).

The Continental Posthorn (e.g. the German Posthorn) of the seventeenth century was generally only one small coil, only seven centimeters in diameter, and played only two notes, each an octave apart. The Posthorn of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was circular, coiled up to three times, usually in the key of F (but Eb, Bb, and C were also used) and could play up to the eighth harmonic (Anthony C. Baines, "Post horn," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians). The Posthorn was used by Mozart in the Serenade K320 and also in the Deutsche Tanz K605 no.3, which calls for Posthorns in Bb and F. By 1820, the German Posthorn had crooks and a tuning slide. The idea spread to France, and by 1825, the instrument even had keys. Even though the most common pitch was F in Germany, the C Posthorn was used by Beethoven in Deutsche Tanz WoO8 no.12, and the one in F was used by Spohr in Nottorno op.34 for military band. Some post horns also had a hole to transpose the instrument up from F to Bb (Anthony C. Baines, "Post horn," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).

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