There are two theories for the source of the name: it is either derived from the Middle French sacquer (to push) and bouter (to pull) or from the Spanish sacar (to draw or pull) and bucha (a tube or pipe) (Herbert 2006, p. 57). The term survives in numerous English spelling variations including sacbut, sagbut, shagbolt and shakbusshe. In France, the instrument was called sacqueboute; in Germany, Posaune, in Spain, sacabuche, and in Italy, trombone.
The trombone developed from the trumpet. Up until 1375 trumpets were simply a long straight tube with a bell flare (Herbert 2006, p. 47). The name for this instrument derive from the Latin 'tromba' and include 'trombone' (for a large one) and 'drompten'. Other names derive from the Latin 'busine' and include 'posaune' and 'bason'. There are various uses of these words in the Bible, which has led past musicologists, such as Galpin, to suggest that trombones date back as far as 600 BC, but all the iconology suggests straight instruments at this time and no evidence of slides (Herbert 2006, p. 56-7).
From 1375 we see them being made with bends, and some in 'S' shapes. Around 1400 we see the 'loop' shaped trumpet appear in paintings and at some point in the 15th century, a single slide was added. This slide trumpet was known as a 'trompette des ménestrels' in the alta capella bands (Herbert 2006, p. 52-3).
The earliest clear evidence of a double slide instrument is in a fresco painting by Filippino Lippi in Rome - The Assumption of the Virgin, dating from 1488-1493. (Herbert 2006, p. 60)
From the 15th to the 19th centuries, the instrument designs changed very little overall, apart from a slight widening of the bell in classical era. Since the 19th century, trombone boresizes and bells have increased significantly.
Sackbuts come in several sizes. According to Michael Praetorius, these were:
|Voice||Praetorius' name||Praetorius' pitch||Modern pitch|
|alto||Alt oder Discant Posaun||D or E||E♭|
|tenor||Gemeine recht Posaun||A||B♭|
|bass||Quart-Posaun or Quint-Posaun||E and D||F(quart) and E♭ (quint)|
|double bass||Octav-Posaun||A (octave below tenor)||B♭ (octave below tenor)|
The pitch of the trombones has (notionally) moved up a semi-tone since the 17th century, and this is explained in the section on Pitch.
Because the tenor instrument is described as "Gemeine" (common or ordinary), this is probably the most widely used trombone.
The basses, due to their longer slides, have a hinged handle on the slide stay, which is used to reach the long positions.
The giant Octav-Posaun / double bass trombone / contra-bass trombone in the style of the those made in 16th/17th centuries is represented by only two instruments in existence. There is an original instrument made by Georg Nicolaus Oller built in Stockholm in 1639 and housed in the Musikmuseet . In addition, Ewald Meinl has made a modern copy of this instrument, and it is currently owned and played by Wim Becu.
The bore size of renaissance/baroque trombones is approximately 10mm and the bell rarely more than 10.5cm in diameter (Fischer 1984). This compares with modern tenor trombones which commonly have bores 12.7mm (0.500in) or 13.9mm (0.547in).
Compared to modern trombone mouthpieces, early mouthpieces had narrow, flat rims, shallow cups and narrow apertures (Herbert 2006, p. 16).
Modern reproductions of sackbuts sacrifice some authenticity to harness manufacturing techniques and inventions that make them more comfortable for modern players, whilst retaining as much of the original character of the old instruments.
Some original instruments could be disassembled into the constituent straight tubes, bowed tubes, bell flare, and stays, with ferrules at the joints. Mersenne has a diagram. (Little imagination is needed to see how it could be reassembled - with an extra tube - into something approaching a natural trumpet.) There is a debate as to whether they used tight fittings, wax or other joining substance. Modern sackbut reproductions are usually soldered together. Some modern sackbut reproductions use glue as a compromise to give a loose fitting for high resonance whilst knowing it won't fall apart.
Tuning slides came in during the very late 18th century. Early trombonists adjusted pitch with the slide, and by adding variously shaped and sized crooks. Modern reproductions often have a bell bow tuning slide or telescopic slide between the slide and bell sections. Crooks are still used, as are variously sized bell bow sections for larger changes (Herbert 2006, p. 22).
The stays on period sackbuts are flat. While the bell stay remained flat, from about 1660 the slide stays became tubular. On many modern reproductions round slide stays are much more comfortable to play and easier to make.
A loose connection between the bell stay and the bell is thought to be key to a resonant bell and thus a better sackbut sound. Original instruments have a hinge joint. Modern copies which have a tuning slide in the bell can need more support for operation of the slide, so either an extra stay by the tuning slide is provided or a joint without play in only one axis is employed.
The original way to make the slide tubes was to roll a flat piece of metal around a solid cylinder mandrel, and the joining ends soldered together. Modern manufacturers now draw the tubes. They also tend to have stockings, which was only invented in around 1850. In addition modern made slides are usually made of nickel silver with chrome plating, giving a smoother finish and quieter action than simply the brass that would have been used originally.
Aureleo Virgiliano's Il dolcimelo (c. 1600) teaches trombonists that first position gives A, E, A, C, E and G (Herbert 2006, p. 35). In 1687, Daniel Speer's Grund-richtiger concurs with these notes for the slide all the way in (whilst describing pushing the slide out a bit to get the C). Praetorius describes an alto in D, tenor in A, and bass in D.
The tenors that survive are more or less pitched at B♭ at A=440 (or slightly higher). This tallies with the historical evidence suggesting tenor trombones were pitched in A and that was about one half-step higher than A we know today at 440. So what we now think of as a tenor trombone with B♭ in first position, pitched at A=440 was actually thought of as a trombone in A (in first position), pitched at A=466.
Some groups now perform at A=466 Hz for the sake of greater historical accuracy.
The alta capella bands are seen in drawings as entertaining outside with ensembles including shawms, trumpets and trombones. Modern reproductions of sackbuts are well capable of making a loud brassy sound.
The sackbut responds very well to rather soft playing - more so than a modern trombone. The sound is characterized by a more delicate, vocal timbre. The flat rims and shallow cups of the older mouthpieces are instrumental in providing the player with a much wider palette of articulations and tonal colours. This flexibility lends itself to a vocal style of playing and facilitates very characterful phrasing.
Mersenne wrote in 1636, "It should be blown by a skillful musician so that it may not imitate the sounds of the trumpet, but rather assimilate itself to the sweetness of the human voice, lest it should emit a warlike rather than a peaceful sound."
The Lorenzo da Lucca was said to have had "in his playing a certain grace and lightness with a manner so pleasing" (Haar 2006, p. 64).
Another key use of the trombone was in ceremonies, in conjunction with the trumpet. In many towns in Germany and Northern Italy, 'piffari' bands were employed by local governments throughout the 16th century to give regular concerts in public squares and would lead processions for festivals. Piffari usually contained a mix of wind, brass and percussion instruments and sometimes viols (Selfridge-Field 1994).
Venice's doge had his own piffari company and they gave an hour-long concert in the Piazza each day, as well as sometimes performing for services in St. Mark's. Each of the six confraternities in Venice also had their own independent piffari groups too, which would all play at a lavish procession on the feast of Corpus Domini. These groups are in addition to the musicians employed by St. Mark's to play in the balconies with the choir (the piffari would play on the main level) (Selfridge-Field 1994).
It also was used in church music both for instrumental service music and as a doubling instrument for choral music. The treble and high alto parts were most often played by cornetts or shawms, with the violin sometimes replacing the cornett in 17th century Italian music (Selfridge-Field 1994).
The first record of trombones being used in churches was in Innsbruck 1503. Seville Cathedral's records show employment of trombonists in 1526, followed by several other Spanish cathedrals during the 16th century, used not only for ceremonial music and processionals, but also for accompaniment of the liturgical texts as well, doubling voices (Herbert 2006, p. 101).
The sacred use of trombones was brought to a fine art by the Gabrieli family and their contemporaries c.1570-1620 Venice and there is also evidence of trombonists being employed in churches and cathedrals in Italy at times during the second half of the 16th century in Bologna, Rome, Padua, Mantua and Modena (Herbert 2006, p. 101).
Since ensembles had flexible instrumentation at this time, there is relatively little music before Giovanni Gabrieli's publication Symphoniae sacrae (1597) that specifically mentions trombones. The only example currently known is the music by Francesco Corteccia for the Medici wedding 1539 (Herbert 2006, p. 91).
The seventeenth century brings two pieces of real solo trombone repertoire.
Giovanni Martino Cesare wrote La Hieronyma, (Musikverlag Max Hieber, MH6012) the earliest known piece for accompanied solo trombone. It comes from Cesare's collection Musicali Melodie per voci et instrumenti a una, due, tre, quattro, cinque, e sei published in Munich 1621 of 28 pieces for a mixture of violins, cornetts, trombone, vocal soloists and organ continuo. The collection also contains La Bavara for four trombones.
The other solo trombone piece of the 17th century, Sonata trombone & basso (modern edition by H Weiner, Ensemble Publications), was written around 1665. This anonymous piece is also known as the 'St. Thomas Sonata' because it was kept in the library of the Saint Thomas Augustinian Monastery in Brno, Czech Republic.
Francesco Rognoni was another composer who specified the trombone in a set of divisions (variations) on the well-known song Suzanne ung jour (London Pro Musica, REP15). Rognoni was a master violin and gamba player whose treatise Selva di Varie passaggi secondo l'uso moderno (Milan 1620 and facsimile reprint by Arnaldo Forni Editore 2001) details improvisation of diminutions and Suzanne is given as one example. Although most diminutions are written for organ, string instruments or cornett, Suzanne is "per violone over Trombone alla bastarda". With virtuosic semiquaver passages across the range of the instrument, it reflects Praetorius' comments about the large range of the tenor and bass trombones, and good players of the Quartposaune (bass trombone in F) could play fast runs and leaps like a viola bastarda or cornetto. The term "bastarda" describes a technique that made variations on all the different voices of a part song, rather than just the melody or the bass: "considered illegitimate because it was not polyphonic" (Selfridge-Field 1994, p. 309).
In the 17th century, a considerable repertoire of chamber music using sackbut with various combinations of violins, cornetts and dulcians, often with continuo, appeared. Composers included Dario Castello, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Giovanni Paolo Cima, Andrea Cima, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Matthias Weckmann.
Giovanni Paolo Cima, organist of S. Celso wrote the oldest known trio sonata and solo violin sonata. Contained in his Concerti ecclesiastici (Milan 1610) is his brother Andrea's Capriccio 'for cornett and trombone or violin and violone'.
Antonio Bertali wrote several trio sonatas for 2 violins, trombone and bass continuo in the mid 17th century. One such Sonata a 3 is freely available in facsimile form from the Düben Collection website hosted by Uppsala universitet . A "Sonata a3 in C" is published by Musica Rara and attributed to Biber, although the authorship is unclear and it is more likely to have been written by Bertali .
Dario Castello, a wind player at St. Mark's Venice in the early 17th century had two books of Sonate Concertate published in 1621 and 1629. The sonatas of 1-4 parts with bass continuo often specify trombones, as well as cornett, violin and bassoon. The numerous reprints during the seventeenth century affirm his popularity then, as perhaps now.
Tiburtio Massaino wrote a Canzona for eight trombones, published in Raverii's 1608 collection.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer wrote several sonatas which included trombones. For example, his Sonata à 7 for two cornetts, two trumpets, three trombones and basso continuo.
Daniel Speer in his 1687 publication Grund-richtiger... provides two three part sonatas for trombones and a four part sonata in Neu-gebachene Taffel-Schnitz (1685).
Non-serious music, often based on dances for festive occasions, rarely had specified instrumentation. Often you find something like "per diversi musici". Indeed the groups that would perform them would often be full of multi-instrumentalists. (Herbert 2006, p. 98-99)
The first English piece scored for trombone is John Adson's Courtly Masquing Ayres (1611). Another light collection suitable for including trombones is Anthony Holborne's Pavans, Galliards, Allmains, and other short Aeirs both Grave and Light in Five Parts for Viols, Violins or Other Musicall Winde Instruments (1599).
This ensemble was used extensively by Giovanni Gabrieli in pieces substantially for brass, voices and organ in Venice up until his death in 1612. He was greatly influential in Venetian composers in other churches and confraternities, and his early baroque and cori spezzati style is seen in contemporaries like Giovanni Picchi and Giovanni Battista Grillo.
It is suggested that Monteverdi wrote his Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) as a pitch for employment at St. Mark's as successor to Giovanni Gabrieli. In addition to the Magnificat, two movements specify trombones: the opening Deus in adiutorium is for 6 voices, 2 violins, 2 cornetts, 3 trombones, 5 viola da braccio and basso continuo; Sonata sopra ‘Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis’ is for soprano, 2 violins, 2 cornetts, 3 trombones (one of which can be a viola da braccio), viola da braccio and basso continuo. Monteverdi also leaves the option to use trombones as part of the "sex instrumentis" of the Dixit Dominus and in the instrumental Ritornello a 5 between verses of Ave maris stella (Grove - Monteverdi).
From around 1617, when the maestro de' concerti at St. Marks changed to violinist Francesco Bonfante and correspondingly the ensemble changed from basically a brass ensemble to being more evenly mixed with brass, wind and string instruments (Selfridge-Field 1994).
Monteverdi arrived at St. Mark's in 1613 and it is unsurprising that he includes trombones and strings for several more sacred works during his time here, published in his Selva Morale e Spirituale 1641. Of the c.40 items in this collection, six specify three or four trombones (or viola da braccio, ad lib): SV268 Beatus vir I, SV263 Dixit Dominus I, SV263 Dixit Dominus II, SV261 Et iterum venturus est, SV258 Gloria in excelsis Deo, SV281 Magnificat I. Each is for 3-8 voices with 3 violins (apart from SV261), the trombones/violas and basso continuo. Monteverdi also specified trombones in two more sacred works: SV198 Laetatus sum (i) (1650) for 6 voices, 2 violins, 2 trombones and bassoon and SV272 Laudate Dominum omnes gentes I (1641) for 5 voices ‘concertato’, 4 voice chorus ad lib, 4 viola da braccio or trombones and basso continuo (Grove - Monteverdi).
A prolific composer for trombones in Germany in the 17th century was Heinrich Schütz. His Fili me, Absalon (SWV 269) and Attendite, popule meus (SWV 270), are both scored for bass voice, four trombones (of which two are optionally violins) and basso continuo, are well known. They are part of his first Symphoniae Sacrae collection dating from 1629 and commentators have noted that the style reflects his studies in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli 1609-1612. The other pieces which specify trombones (according to Grove) are (grouped by the collection they were published in): Concert mit 11 Stimmen (1618): SWV 21, Psalms of David Op.2 (1619): SWV 38, 40-46, Symphoniae Sacrae I Op.6 (1629): SWV 259, 269-271, 274, Symphoniae Sacrae II Op.10 (1647): SWV 344, Symphoniae Sacrae III Op. 12 (1650): SWV 398a, Historia (1664): SWV 435, 448, 449, 453, 461, 452, 466-470, 473, 474-476, Schwanengesang Psalm 119 (1671): SWV 500, although many others are suitable for trombones too .
Johann Hermann Schein specified trombones in some of his sacred vocal works in the Opella nova, ander Theil, geistlicher Concerten collection (Leipzig, 1626). For example, Uns ist ein Kind geboren is scored for violino, traversa, alto trombone, tenor voice, fagotto and basso continuo. Mach dich auf, werde licht, Zion uses Canto 1: violino, cornetto, flauto picciolo e voce, Canto 2: voce e traversa, Alto: Trombone e Voce, Tenore: Voce e Trombone, Basso: Fagotto Trombone e Voce and Basso Continuo, during which solos for each of the trombonists are specified. Of particular interest is Maria, gegrüsset seist du, Holdselige which uses soprano and tenor voices, alto trombone, 2 tenor trombones and on the bass line "trombone grosso" which goes down to pedal A, and a couple of diatonic scale passages from bottom C.
German composer Johann Rudolf Ahle wrote some notable sacred pieces for voices and trombones. Höre, Gott uses five favoriti singers, two ripieno choirs (which double other parts at intense moments) and seven trombones, with basso continuo. And his most famous Neu-gepflanzte Thüringische Lust-Garten.. (1657-65) contains several sacred works with 3 or 4 trombones, including Magnificat a 8 for SATB soloists, cornett, 3 trombones and continuo and Herr nun lässestu deinen Diener a 5 for bass, 4 trombones and continuo.
Dieterich Buxtehude specifies trombones in a few sacred concertos using style derived from polychoral Venetian works and one secular piece. For example, Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (BuxWV33 from CW v, 44) is scored for SSB voices, 2 vn, 2 va, trbn, 2 cornetts, 2 tpt, bn and bc.
There are a few vocal works involving trombones in works by Andreas Hammerschmidt. These include Lob- und Danck Lied aus dem 84. Psalm for 9 voices, 5 tpt, 3 trbn, 5 va and bc (Freiberg, 1652). There is also Hochzeitsgesang für Daniel Sartorius: Es ist nicht gut, dass der Mensch allein sei for 5 voices, 2 vn, 2 trbn, bn and bc.
Johann Schelle has numerous sacred vocal works that use trombones. For instance Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar is scored for soprano, tenor, SSATB choir, 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cornetts, 3 trombones, 2 trumpets, timpani, basso continuo, and Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele is for two choirs of SSATB and similar instruments to the previous work.
The lesser known Austrian composer Christoph Strauss, Kapellmeister to the Habsburg Emperor Mathias 1616-1620, wrote two important collections for trombones, cornetts and voices. His motets published in Nova ac diversimoda sacrarum cantionum composition, seu motettae (Vienna, 1613) are in a similar tradition to Gabrieli's music. Of the sixteen motets in the collection, all are titled "concerto" apart from the "sonata" Expectans Expectavi Dominum for 6 trombones, cantus voice and tenor voice. In 1631 he published a number of masses which were much more baroque, with basso continuo, rhetorical word painting and obligato usage of instruments.
Later in the 17th century, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber composed sacred works for voices and orchestra featuring trombones. His Requiem mass (1692) uses an orchestra of strings, 3 trombones and basso continuo. A similar ensemble accompanies 8 vocal lines in his Lux perpetua (c1673), and three more similar works in the 1690's.
Monteverdi ushers sackbuts into the first great opera - 'L'Orfeo' 1607. The orchestra at the first performance, as shown in the first publication, the list of "stromenti" at the front of the score specifies four trombones, but at one point in Act 3, however, the score calls for five trombones.
There is relatively little repertoire for the trombone in the late baroque.
But Johann Sebastian Bach uses trombones in fourteen of his church cantatas - BWV 2, 3, 4, 21, 23, 25, 28, 38, 64, 68, 96, 101, 121, 135 as well as motet BWV 118. He uses the trombone sound to reflect the (by now) archaic sounds of the Renaissance trombones doubling voices (with cornett playing the soprano line), yet he also uses them independently, which John Eliot Gardiner says prepares the way for their use in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 . The cantatas were either composed in Leipzig during 1723-1725, or (for BWV 4, 21 & 23) the trombone parts were added to the existing cantata during the same period. The cornett and trombone parts would have been played by the Stadtpfeifer.
In England, George Frideric Handel includes trombones in three of his oratorios: Saul (1738), Israel in Egypt (1738) and Samson (1741). There are no other documented groups or performances with trombone players in England at this time, and it has been suggested that the premiers took place with a visiting group from Germany, as was the custom in Paris at this time.
Vienna's Imperial court used trombones in church music:
Johann Joseph Fux was Hofkapellmeister in Vienna from 1715 until 1741. Many of his masses use the choir strengthened by strings, cornetts and trombones, often with independent moments for the instrumentalists and sometimes. Missa SS Trinitatis uses two choirs which again points to the traditions going back to Gabrieli. His highly successful Requiem is for five vocal parts, two cornetts, two trombones, strings and continuo. He also uses the trombone in smaller motets and antiphons, such as his setting of Alma Redemptoris mater for soprano, alto trombone, strings and continuo. Some of his chamber music involves trombones, as do many of his operas, used as an obbligato instrument.
Also in the Vienna court was Antonio Caldara, vice-kapellmeister 1717-1736. Among his output are two Holy Week settings as Da Capo arias: Deh sciogliete, o mesti lumi for soprano, unison violins, bassoon, two trombones and organ and Dio, qual sia for soprano, trombone, bassoon and basso continuo.
Again this period suffers from a lack of trombone players. Most of these works derive from Vienna and Salzburg.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart uses trombones in connection with death or the supernatural. This includes the Requiem (K626, 1791), 'Great' C minor mass (K423, 1783), Coronation Mass (C major) (K317, 1779), several other masses, Vesperae Solennes de Confessore (K339, 1780), Vesperae de Dominica, his arrangement of Handel's Messiah plus two of his three great operas: Don Giovanni (K527, 1787) and Die Zauberflöte (K620, 1791). Mozart's first use of the trombone was an obligato line in the oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des ersten und fürnehmsten Gebots (K35, 1767)
Christoph Willibald Gluck includes trombones in five of his operas: Iphigénie en Aulide (1774), Orfeo ed Euridice (1774), Alceste (1776), Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) and Echo et Narcisse (1779), as well as ballet Don Juan (1761).
Some chamber music in this period includes trombone in an obligato role with voice, and also as a concerto instrument with string orchestra. Composers include the likes of Leopold Mozart, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Albrechtsberger, Michael Haydn and Johann Ernst Eberlin.
For works for trombone post-1800, please see trombone.
|Date||Maker||Made in||Category||Modern copies|
|1576||Anton Schnitzer I||Nuremberg||Tenor|
|1579||Anton Schnitzer I||Nuremberg||Bass|
|1581||Anton Schnitzer I||Nuremberg||Tenor|
|1593||Pierre Colbert||Reims||Bass in G|
|1594||Anton Schnitzer II||Nuremberg||Tenor|
|1595||Anton Drewelewcz||Nuremberg||Tenor||Ewald Meinl 'small bore'|
|1607||Simon Reichard||Nuremberg||Bass in E-F|
|1612||Isaac Ehe||Nuremberg||Bass in D-Eb||Egger (bore 11.5-12.0mm, bell 124mm)|
Other notable ones:
|Date||Maker||Made in||Category||Modern copies|
|1627||Sebastian Hainlein I||Nuremberg||Tenor||(Munich) (1932?) Egger 'tenor-bass' (bore 11.5/12.0mm bell 120mm)|
|1631||Sebastian Hainlein||Nuremberg||Tenor||Egger (bore 10.5/11.0mm, bell 98mm)|
|1639||Georg Nicolaus Oller||Stockholm||Bass in F||Ewald Meinl|
|1653||Paul Hainlein||Nuremberg||Tenor||Ewald Meinl 'wide bore'|
|1670||Hieronimus Starck||Nuremberg||Alto||Egger (bore 10.0/10.0mm, bell 94mm)|
|1677||Paul Hainlein||Nuremberg||Tenor in C||Lindberg has one|
|1785||Johann Joseph Schmied||Pfaffendorf||Alto in Eb||Egger 'classical'|
|1785||Johann Joseph Schmied||Pfaffendorf||Bass in F||Egger 'classical'|
|1778||Johann Joseph Schmied||Pfaffendorf||Tenor||(private collection in Basel) Egger 'classical'|
For more information, see Herbert (2006).