Valved brass instrument. It evolved in the 1820s from the posthorn. Like the trumpet, it has three valves, but its bore is somewhat more conical. It is a transposing instrument (its music written a tone above the actual sound), usually built in the key of B-flat, though a higher-pitched E-flat instrument is used as well. Its range parallels that of the trumpet. Its agility made it a very popular solo instrument; it often displaced the trumpet in 19th-century orchestras, and it preceded the trumpet in modern dance and jazz bands. Recent developments have made the two instruments very similar, and the cornet's popularity has waned considerably as a result.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.