Instruments | Cornett | Brass
The cornett of European Renaissance art music is a longer finger-hole horn made of wood. A precursor to the modern brass horns, it should not be confused with the valved – and much later developed – cornet.
Construction and Playing Technique
The cornett is a long tube, usually around 60 cm (20 in) in length. It is normally curved, like an animal horn, so that the player’s hands can reach the finger holes more easily. At the top is the mouthpiece, vibrated by the player’s lips. It is this that causes the cornett to be classified as a brass instrument rather than woodwind, despite its other characteristics. This also made it difficult to play. Although the main tube is only of around the same length as a typical woodwind instrument, the player has to use his or her lips to form the sound. Modern brass instruments have much longer tubes, which makes the pitch easier to control.
The Renaissance Cornett
In the Renaissance ensemble, the cornett was typically partnered with the sackbut (a sixteenth-century version of the slide trombone). There was an entire family of cornetts, from the bass cornett to the high-pitched cornettino. However, little music composed for the cornett is extant. Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714–87) was among the last to include the cornett in his scoring – for Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). Gradually the cornett was replaced by other instruments that provided similar effects more easily in the orchestra, but were simpler to play.
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