Jean Baptiste Arban 
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Jean Baptiste Arban

The majority of musicians know that the cornet is a comparatively modern instrument, which was developed in the nineteenth century from the Cornopean, and intermediate between the French horn and the trumpet, originally with several crooks and shanks, for the purpose of altering pitch. The first Cornopean was made with only two valves, but a third was added at a later date, and in 1824, a Mr. John Shaw of Glossop, Derbyshire, England, patented and endeavored to improve on the valves made by Charles Sax of Brussels, Belgium. Later on in 1835, this same John Shaw patented his lever cornet, the construction of which offered many advantages, but which had a very brief existence. Mr. Adolph Sax, a son of Charles, applied himself to improvements on the existing cornets and in 1842 produced a much better instrument than any then in use, which was adopted by both the French and English army bands.

The above information is intended to bring to mind how really incomplete the cornet was constructed when "Professor Arban" commenced playing upon it, and how he must have studied and practiced to have overcome so many obstacles, of which the present day cornetist cannot conceive although the present cornet is the result of many experiments which modern manufacturers have undertaken with the help of modern players resulting in the making of a cornet with a tempered scale, and an evenness in blowing from the extreme low to the highest register.

The subject of this chapter had not the opportunity to play on one of these modern instruments; one wonders what he might have accomplished on an instrument with such possibilities.

Jean Baptiste Arban was born in Lyons, France on February 28, 1825; as a boy he was always interested in music, especially the military bands; at an early age, after first taking a thorough course in the theory of music, he adopted the Cornopean as his instrument of study, devoting much time to study and practice, also in research to produce upon his instruemnt effects similar to the Flute. His perseverance was rewarded in later years by his being appointed the professorship of cornet at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857; about the highest honor a cornetist in those days could aspire to.

It was his ability alone that won this great distinction, not only understanding the theory of music, but having a natural talent to inculcate to his pupils the rudiments of a firm foundation which insures a proper knowledge of correct playing. He was said to have been a magnetic instructor, and ever ambitious for his students as well as himself.

There were no methods or instruction books published to study, thus Arban resorted to writing exercises for his pupils, and through this came the development of his later known Arban's Method for the Cornet, which was published in Paris during the year of 1864. This method was soon adopted by the Conservatoire. We quote from the report of the Conservatoire Committee for Musical Studies:

"The Committee of Musical Studies of the Paris Conservatoire has examined the method which was submitted by M. Arban. This sensible development is found on excellent principles, omits no teaching essential to the making of a good cornetist. It is actually a resume of the knowledge acquired by the author's long experience as a professor and executant, and also the exceptional results which have marked his career.

"In this wealthy mine of instruction where all musical questions are treated, we can readily observe M. Arban's profound knowledge of the difficulties and skill in overcoming them. The Committee desires to congratulate M. Arban and will adopt his method of instruction at the Paris Conservatoire. Signed: Mayerbeer, Kastner, Abroise Thomas, Reber, Bazin, Benoist, Dauverne, Coght, Prumier, Perrin, Edward Monaise, A. de Breauchesne."

Arban in his day was called a dreamer, but his ideas were really musical, and he devoted his time to atistic practice, so as to make the cornet even in his time, a musical instrument equal to the flute, violin, and even the voice, as he writes: "The Cornet should possess fine style and grand method, the precious knowledge of which has been preserved by a few professors, and in particular, the Conservatoire, the home of healthy conditions."

During Arban's career as a cornet soloist, playing through France, Germany and England, he victoriously pleaded for the cornet, and he proved that this instrument could compete with the most popular of instruments. In 1848, he performed before a group of the "Societe de du Conservatoire" the famous Air for Flute composed by Boehm, on a Swiss theme, comprosing, as is well known, an intentional combination of the most difficulties. In the number just mentioned, he performed the flute tongueing, in double staccato; also the treble staccato, and the triple tongueing; he has the distinction of being the first cornet player to have applied triple tongueing to the cornet; Arban taught that both double and triple tongueing are precisely the same as the system used for playing the flute.

Many of the teachers in the early 1900s believed the student should spend more time in the reading of Arban's explanations preceding each exercise, before attempting to play any given exercise, and that Arban himself stressed this.

Jean Baptiste Arban was a wonderful man, and his name will be handed down for many generations yet to come, not perhaps for his cornet playing, which has long been forgotten, but for his wonderful cornet method, which has become the cornet player's Bible.

Jean Baptiste Arban died in Paris, France, on April 8, 1889.

This article was excerpted from the book, Pioneers in Brass, by Glenn Bridges.

Permission has been granted by: Paul T. Jackson copyright owner/nephew, d.b.a. Trescott Research
Re-publication of this OP work in Digital CD-ROM format is in progress
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