Instruments | Trombone | Early Romantic | Classical
The trombone developed the idea of the Renaissance slide trumpet. While the trumpet abandoned the slide in favour first of crooks and later of valves, the trombone pursued the slide method and perfected it. The trombone is shaped like a giant paper-clip. While the left hand holds the instrument close to the mouth, the right hand grasps a crossbar; by sliding a loop of tubing away from or closer to the body, the player can increase or decrease the distance that the wind travels between the mouthpiece and the terminating ‘bell’, thus lowering or raising the note.
In its early incarnation as the sackbut, the trombone led an honoured and busy life in ecclesiastical and royal music. It did not really settle into the orchestra until late in the eighteenth century. Retaining its ecclesiastical associations, the trombone was used to symbolize the afterlife, the descent into Purgatory or Hell. That had been its role in Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), and in similar vein it can be found in Mozart’s sacred works, notably in the ‘Tuba Mirum’ of his Requiem. But perhaps the decisive reason why the trombone finally secured its place in the Romantic orchestra was that it was used in two works which probably had as much influence over nineteenth-century music as any other. Three trombones are to be found in the enlarged orchestra which Beethoven employed for his Fifth Symphony; and the instrument features in the concluding ‘supper’ scene of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.
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