The cornet is a brass instrument very similar to the trumpet, distinguished by its conical bore, compact shape, and mellower tone quality. The most common cornet is a transposing instrument in B. It is not related to the medieval cornett or cornetto.
The cornet was originally derived from the post horn. Sometimes it is called a cornopean, which refers to the earliest cornets with the Stölzel valve system.
This instrument could not have been developed without the improvement of piston valves by Heinrich Stölzel and Friedrich Blühmel. In the early 19th century, these two instrument makers almost simultaneously invented the modern valves, as still used today. They jointly applied for a patent and were granted this for a period of ten years. The first notable virtuoso player was Jean Baptiste Arban, who studied the cornet extensively and published La grande méthode complète de cornet à piston et de saxhorn, commonly referred to as the Arban method, in 1864. Up until the early 20th century, the trumpet and cornet coexisted in musical ensembles. In symphonic repertoire one will often find separate parts for both trumpet and cornet. As several instrument builders made improvements to both instruments, they started to look and sound more alike. The modern day cornet is used in brass bands, concert bands, and in specific symphonic repertoire that requires a more mellow sound.
The name cornet is derived from corne, meaning horn, itself from Latin cornus.
Ensembles with cornets
Brass band (British style)
British style brass band
ensembles consist completely of brass instruments (except for the percussion
section). The cornet is the leading melodic instrument in this ensemble and trumpets are never used. The ensemble consists of about thirty musicians, including nine B cornets and one E cornet (soprano cornet
) in the higher registers.
The cornet also features in the British-style concert band
, unlike the American concert band or wind band, where it is replaced by the trumpet
. This slight difference in instrumentation derives from the British concert band's heritage in military bands
, where the highest brass instrument is always the cornet. There are usually four to six B cornets present in a concert band, but no E instrument, as this role is taken by the E clarinet.
Fanfare orkesten ("fanfare orchestras"), only found in the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France, use the complete saxhorn
family of instruments. The standard instrumentation includes both the cornet and the trumpet; however, in recent decades, the cornet has largely been replaced by the trumpet.
In old style jazz bands
, the cornet was preferred to the trumpet, but from the swing era onwards it has been largely replaced by the trumpet, although it has never passed completely out of use. The cornet is now rarely found in big bands
mainly because of its limited volume and less piercing tone in comparison to the trumpet. A growing taste for louder and more aggressive sounding instruments has been the chief cause of this trend, especially since the advent of bebop
in the post World War II
The legendary jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden played the cornet, and Louis Armstrong, probably the best-known jazz cornetist, started off on the cornet as well, but later switched to the trumpet. Cornetists such as Bubber Miley and Rex Stewart contributed substantially to the Duke Ellington Orchestra's early sound. Other influential jazz cornetists include King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Ruby Braff and Nat Adderley. Notable performances on cornet by players generally associated with the trumpet include Freddie Hubbard's on Empyrean Isles by Herbie Hancock and Don Cherry's on The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman.
Relationship to trumpet
The cornet was invented by adding valves to the post horn
in 1814. The valves allowed for melodic playing throughout the register of the cornet. Trumpets were slower to adopt the new valve technology, so for the next 100 years or more, composers often wrote separate parts for trumpet and cornet. The trumpet would play fanfare
-like passages, while the cornet played more melodic passages. The modern trumpet has valves that allow it to play the same notes and fingerings as the cornet.
Cornets and trumpets made in a given key (usually the key of B) play at the same pitch, and the technique for playing the instruments is nearly identical. However, cornets and trumpets are not entirely interchangeable, as they differ in timbre. Also available, but usually seen only in the brass band, is an E soprano model, pitched a fourth above the standard B. There is usually only one E cornet in a band, adding an extreme high register to the brass band sound. It can be effective in cutting through even the loudest tutti climax.
Unlike the trumpet, which has a cylindrical bore up until the bell section, the tubing of the cornet has a mostly conical bore, starting very narrow at the mouthpiece and gradually widening towards the bell. The conical bore of the cornet is primarily responsible for its characteristic warm, mellow tone, which can be distinguished from the more penetrating sound of the trumpet. The conical bore of the cornet also makes it more agile than the trumpet when playing fast passages, but correct pitching is often less assured. The cornet is often preferred for young beginners as it is easier to hold, with its centre of gravity much closer to the player.
The cornet in the illustration is a short model traditional cornet, also known as a "Shepherd's crook" shaped model. These are most often large–bore instruments with a rich mellow sound. There is also a long-model cornet, usually with a smaller bore and a brighter sound, which is closer to a trumpet in appearance. The Shepherd's Crook model is preferred by cornet traditionalists. The long-model cornet is generally used in concert bands in the United States, but has found little following in British-style brass and concert bands.
Like the trumpet and all other modern brass wind instruments, the cornet makes a sound when the player vibrates ("buzzes") the lips in the mouthpiece, creating a vibrating column of air in the tubing. The frequency
of the air column's vibration can be modified by changing the lip aperture or "embouchure
". In addition, the column of air can be lengthened by engaging one or more valves, thus lowering the pitch.
Without valves, the player could only produce a harmonic series of notes like those played by the bugle and other "natural" brass instruments. These notes are far apart for most of the instrument's range, making diatonic and chromatic playing impossible except in the extreme high register. The valves change the length of the vibrating column and provide the cornet with the ability to play chromatically.
Cornet mouthpieces differ from trumpet mouthpieces; they have a shorter shank, and smaller throat to fit the smaller mouthpiece receiver. The cup size of the mouthpiece is often deeper than the trumpet's.
Lists of important players
These are some influential cornet players in the world today.
- Olu Dara, jazz musician and father of noted rapper Nas.
- Dave Douglas, New York based jazz musician and composer, with a long association with John Zorn's Masada.
- Chris Howley, principal cornet of the Gloucester based Polysteel Band.
- Richard Marshall, principal cornet of the Black Dyke Band, formerly principal cornet of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
- Kevin Metcalf, former principal cornet of the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band.
- Ron Miles, Denver based jazz musician and composer; frequent collaborator with Bill Frisell
- Mark Roberts, Parramatta—based traditional style player and Parramatta Salvation Army's YP Band Master.
- Chris Tyle, traditional/swing jazz and recording artist, leader of the Silver Leaf Jazz Band of New Orleans.
- Warren Vaché, Jr., mainstream jazz and recording artist.
- Gordon Ward, principal cornet of the Salvation Army New York Staff Band.
- Roger Webster, current principal cornet player of Grimethorpe Colliery Band and formerly Black Dyke Band.
- Philip McCann, Ex-principal cornet player of Sellers International Band.
- David Daws, principal cornet of the Hendon Citadel Band, former principal cornet of the International Staff Band, and Enfield Citadel Band
Important players from the past
- Herbert Lincoln Clarke, one of the finest cornet soloists and band leaders at the turn of the 20th century.
- Jean Baptiste Arban, one of the most influential cornet performers and pedagogue.
- Leon Bix Beiderbecke, one of the best known jazz cornet players, he had a huge influence on many future jazz musicians
- Louis Armstrong, arguably the best known cornet player, also a skilled trumpet player and singer, and one of the most influential artists in the history of jazz and American music
- Nat Adderley, jazz artist and brother of the famous alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley
- Buddy Bolden, often considered the father of jazz, but his playing is unrecorded
- W.C. Handy, influential composer and band leader, has been called the "Father of the Blues"
- Joe "King" Oliver, the first important recorded jazz cornetist, he greatly influenced Louis Armstrong, who played in his band
- Brian Evans, virtuoso cornet player with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, Black Dyke Mills Band and Wingates Band. Best known for playing soprano cornet with Brighouse for the Floral Dance, which reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1977.