Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer's Guide to Trumpet History and Literature.
Fully grasping the rich and diverse history of the trumpet can be a bit overwhelming since it is an instrument that (more so than most stringed instruments) continually evolved for centuries before finally settling on what we now know as the modern trumpet. Elisa Koehler, an active trumpeter and professor of music at Goucher College, has masterfully succeeded in creating a book whose purpose "is to consolidate information about the trumpet family--some of it for the first time--into an accessible format and to render it easy to find" (p. xiv). Furthermore, rather than presenting this as a simple history of the instrument, Koehler instead brings historical scholarship and performance pedagogy together "to introduce techniques and issues related to playing period instruments" (p. 1), which makes this volume useful to the active trumpeter, not just the scholar.
The volume is divided into two main categories following a general introductory chapter. Chapters 2 through 11 deal with various predecessors to and variations on the trumpet along with some performance issues such as pitch and transposition. This first section has a plethora of pictures that are helpful to better understand many of the physical differences between these related instruments as well as proper playing positions. The latter portion of the book, chapters 12 through 21, focuses on the repertoire and performance practice issues. While each category of the book proceeds in a roughly chronological manner, I agree with Koehler's advice that the reader should "feel free to skip around and read the chapters out of order" (p. xv) after reading the first introductory chapter. Following that, each chapter is generally self-referential and on a fairly specific topic thereby standing alone. Whether one decides to read from cover to cover or only certain chapters, the author's passion and expertise is consistently apparent throughout the entire work.
Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 address the natural trumpet, modern baroque trumpet with vent holes, cornetto, and slide trumpet. Each chapter, with the exception of the fifth, treats its subject similarly. First, a factual and historical overview of each instrument is prodded. Next, these chapters present practical information about how a modern trumpet player can begin to approach playing these historical instruments and what benefits to modern playing a trumpeter might experience as a result. Despite this general formula, each chapter does not slavishly provide the same information for each new topic. For example, tips about starting to play the natural trumpet are covered, but the cornetto chapter focuses more on selecting an instrument and finger technique. The fifth chapter differs from the others in that it does not provide performance tips: instead it focuses on explaining technical aspects of the Renaissance, baroque, and English slide trumpets.
The next five chapters focus on instruments that generally include valves. Chapter 6 focuses on the evolution from natural instruments through hand-stopping and then finally the valve. Various types of bugles and flugelhorns are quickly discussed in the next chapter before a more detailed examination of the cornet in chapter 8. The real treasure of this section occurs in chapter 9, "Changing of the Guard: Trumpets in Transition." In addition to providing basic factual information about the development and introduction of the modern trumpet, Koehler also highlights several historic moments, such as virtuoso solo competitions pitting the trumpet against the cornet or keyed bugle, which spurred the adoption of the trumpet as the de facto choice for this instrumental voice. Information about the original instrumentation of standard works is also discussed, which is helpful for understanding what instrument one might choose to perform a piece or how to interpret the music based on the characteristics of the original instrument. A similar, but less detailed, discussion about "smaller trumpets" and their twentieth-century standardization occurs in chapter 10.
Chapter 11, the conclusion to the first half of the book, is a bit of an outlier. Briefly covering the topics of pitch, temperament, and transposition, this chapter provides helpful information for historically informed performance, such as how the tuning pitch has changed throughout the centuries. Some of the information presented here, particularly related to contemporary transposition, is presented more like a tutor than the previous sections providing practical information; however, this is a minor issue and it is easy to forgive the slight straying in tone.
The second portion of the book begins with three chapters focused on period-specific repertoire, including early repertoire (chap. 12), baroque (chap. 13), and classical (chap. 14). These chapters admirably cover the topics without becoming bogged down in too many details. They mention highlights of the repertoire from these eras, but more importantly, they discuss topics like historic articulation, ornamentation, and further reading from contemporaneous treatises, all of which can make an immediate difference for modern performers educating themselves about historical issues.
Chapters 15 through 18 focus on stylistically-specific topics and genres, with chapter 15 focusing on signals, calls, and fanfares; chapter 16 examining wind band music; chapter 17 looking at modern orchestral playing; and chapter 18 concentrating on jazz. While the information presented here is interesting, both the wind band music and jazz chapters are not as strong as other sections of the book. Koehler attempts to summarize the twentieth-century history of wind bands in a single paragraph. Furthermore, after thoroughly examining John Philip Sousa and the United States Marine Band of the late nineteenth century, no additional mention of the rich twentieth-century history of military bands is made. Upon close examination of the more problematic jazz chapter, Koehler states "it is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide a complete history of jazz trumpeters and the development of jazz styles," instead choosing to point the reader to several more comprehensive sources (p. 150). The purpose of the chapter instead is to "[outline] the major points that classical specialists will find useful in learning about jazz performance" (p. 150). Koehler is able to present a very brief introduction to this topic; however, it is too broad to be covered in the seven and a half pages dedicated to the topic. The book would be stronger if the scope had been narrowed to avoid this subject altogether.
The final three chapters return to a repertoire focus and cover solo repertoire after 1900, brass chamber music, and a very brief foray into trumpeting in the twenty-first century. The chapter on brass chamber music is particularly thorough, as it examines the Russian school of chamber music, the American brass quartet, and larger brass ensembles such as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, in addition to the standard brass quintet. One particular item of note is a list of significant compositions for trumpet that should be known by all modern trumpeters and could be used as a checklist by a librarian wanting to improve their standard trumpet repertoire holdings (p. 160).
Not to be ignored, the five different appendices also provide excellent information. While much of it could be easily found online, such as the period instrument resources in appendix E, the convenience of having this information in one place is certainly worth their inclusion in this volume. The list of important musicians found in appendix A only includes names and dates, however, and could benefit from some additional information about why the musicians are important, or from indexing to their previous mentions earlier in the book.
Despite the minor issues with the jazz and wind band chapters, this book is highly recommended for any moderately advanced trumpet player or for inclusion in any library serving even a small population of trumpeters. It will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding historically informed performance practice for the trumpet and its many predecessors.
University of California, Irvine
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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