Instruments | Brass
Best known in its military guise, the bugle is one of the simplest of brass instruments in terms of construction, but it is very difficult to play. The single tube of metal has no valves to help create different notes, so players have to do all the work by changing their embouchure – a combination of the tightness of the lips and the amount of air pushed through them.
Although simple tube trumpets date back to the Roman ‘tuba’, the bugle was a development from circular hunting horns and the usually straight post horns used by mail-coaches to announce the arrival of the post from the fifteenth century onwards. A coiled horn emerged during the Seven Years’ War of the mid-eighteenth century as an army signalling device. By 1800 the English bugle had stabilized as a single loop of copper or brass with a bell at the front, trumpet-style; following the Crimean War the double-loop form was standard.
Because of the restricted range of notes available, bugles were rarely heard outside the context of the army, although orchestral composers did use them to add a whiff of the battlefield. A keyed bugle was patented in 1810, but was shortly replaced by the cornet and the flugelhorn.
Pitched in B-flat, or occasionally in C, the three-valved cornet was invented in 1830 as a variation on the German post horn, and even briefly threatened to drive the trumpet out of the symphonic orchestra (an idea strongly supported by playwright George Bernard Shaw). In the nineteenth century, it emerged in the ranks of the brass bands, but it also proved to be a popular solo instrument in early jazz orchestras, adapted by New Orleans brass bands later in the century. Manuel Perez is credited by some as the first jazz cornettist, although Buddy Bolden may have, in fact, preceded him.
The dominant brass instrument in jazz until the late 1920s, the cornet has continued to be favoured by some players, including Bobby Bradford and Graham Hynes. The cornet’s cousin, the flugelhorn, was a valved bugle that likewise never quite achieved symphonic status (although Ralph Vaughan Williams gave it a prominent role in his Ninth Symphony).
Many people find it difficult to distinguish between the cornet, stalwart of the brass band, and the trumpet, since at first sight the cornet looks like a squat, fat trumpet. Although they share much in common, the essential difference lies in the conical shape of the cornet’s body.
Although it works like a trumpet, the conical bore is more like that of a horn, and as a result the cornet possesses a tone which is sweeter, less piercing and more expressive than the trumpet. A deeper mouthpiece also allows players greater versatility: the cornet is a solo instrument of great agility, handling fast, complex runs with nonchalance.
The circular shape of the horn is a visual guide to its lineage...
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