The Golden Age of Brass
This article is from the program notes for the Summit Records
series of recordings The Golden Age of Brass
which take an American perspective on vintage brass music
The Keyed Bugle
At the dawn of the 19th century, the keyed bugle was invented in Dublin, Ireland. It caught the public's eye in 1815 when it appeared at celebrations following the Battle of Waterloo. This new chromatic brass instrument was an improvement on the common field bugle and soon became known as the "Kent Horn" because its inventor, Joseph Halliday, dedicated his creation to his military commander, the Duke of Kent. As various military bands adopted the chromatic bugle, the stage was set for a new musical ensemble, the all-brass band, to sweep Europe. As early as
1816, the keyed bugle can be documented in America at the Military Academy at West Point. Ensembles of all brass instruments became typical for military bands the world over.
The B-flat keyed bugle (and its smaller version in high E-flat) was the most popular solo voice in the brass band. This instrument should not be confused with the alto keyed trumpet (in E-flat or E) for which the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concerti were written.
In contrast, stringed instruments have always been the mainstay of symphony
orchestras. As strings dominate the indoor orchestra, so brass dominate the
outdoor band. Certainly there was military music before the brass band, but the
public's perception and appreciation of bands increased dramatically with the
keyed bugle's virtuosic display. Towards the end of the 18th century, rythmic
or "Turkish" instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells, and triangle were
added. For this lovely ensemble, Haydn, Mozart, and others composed music which
was used mainly for serenading royalty or marching in front of small armies. In
America, then and English Colony, such ensembles could be found in Boston,
Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Virginia, prior to the the Revolutionary War
and after until about 1850.
The Valve Development 1818-1838
The Ophicleide borrowed its technology from the keyed bugle and became the bass member of the brass family.
Families of trombones (including this B-flat soprano) have been used in brass bands, orchestras, and Moravian trombone choirs.
The 19th century brought about the industrial revolution with its many
technological inventions and mass migration to America. A new style of music
developed and found its expression in the all-brass band which took root in
America after the European Revolution of 1848. Edward "Ned" Kendall from
Boston, Richard Willis from West Point, New York, and a black
musician-composer-bandleader from Philadelphia, Francis Johnson, were pioneers
of brass bands in America. They were virtuoso keyed bugle players who became
the first public heros in the brass music world.
B-flat cornet with crooks to low F
Today, the B-flat flügelhorn is a popular jazz and brass band instrument. It was developed from the military "grand bugle."
Only five years after the invention of the keyed bugle, there was news about
another technical invention for brass instruments from Leipzig, Germany. Valves
had been added to a horn to make it chromatic and by 1818, a patent was granted
by the King of Prussia to two horn playters, Blühmel and Stoezel. This was an
invention which could be applied to all existing brass instruments. A young and
talented band leader in charge of all of Prussia's military music eagerly
grasped this idea and even developed a sturdier version of the valve. Wilhelm
Wieprecht's "Berlin Pistons" were added to existing horns, trumpets, and even
trombones. Also, larger and smaller sized brass instruments were designed which
led to whole families of new instruments. Wieprecht is also credited with
inventing a large bass instrument called the tuba which provided a much needed
big sound and voluminous base upon which a large ensemble of chromatic brass
instruments could be built.
Early Brass "Cornet Bands"
In France, valves were added to the circular posthorn in 1828. Halary's
"cornet ordinaire" thus became the first true cornet. The bell was later pointed
forward like a trumpet. This new instrument became knows as the
"cornet-a-pistons" and was immediately popular. Originally a high-pitched
(French) horn in Bflat, it soon attracted trumpet players and became the star
and solo voice of the all-brass "cornet bands" in Europe and America. After the
first valve patents in 1818, many other systems were developed up to 1838.
These first 20 years marked other improvements and many more patents were
granted up to the end of the century for all kinds of technical improvements on
brass instruments. With these improved brass instruments, composers such as
Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and later Franck, Wagner, and Verdi began writing beautiful
solo passages for brass.
Cornopeon (cornet) in B-flat with Stoezel valves. One of the first valve designs patented, the valve itself was an actual wind-way and caused the instrument to feel and sound congested
The soon popular Sunday convert in the park seems to have started in a big way
with the Germania Serenade Band, the brass section of a larger symphonic
orchestra from Berlin, who had excaped religious persecution and political
recuitment in 1848. This fine band introduced the East Coast of America to the
classics of Mozart, Beethoven, and other in the 1850s. P. T. Barnum engaged
them to accompany the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind, on her immensely
successful tour of the United States. From France came Monsieus Antoine
Jullien, a splendid conductor who starte outdoor concerts in New York's famous
Castle Gardens. Jullien brought with him a well known cornet soloist from
Germany, Herman Koenig, who later became famous for his composition, "The
Posthorn Gallop," a solo for the short Engligh posthorn (in A-flat) and band.
One of Koenig's best know students was Matthew Arbuckle (1828-1883), an Irish
immigrant later known as the "Gentleman Cornet Soloist." Arbuckle's lyric
playing and musical renditions of songs became a model for countless players to
The Germania Serenade Band brought the brass band concerts in the park to great popularity
Cornet with rotary valves operated by Allen levers
With the outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861, many soldiers wanted
to march to band music. In New York, a military bandmaster, Allen Dodworth, had
invented a new style of marching horn (patented in 1838) which was based on an
old style marching trombone where the bell pointed backwards over the player's
left shoulder. A complete family of "over-the-shoulder" horns became the most
popular band instruments of the Civil War period and were made almost
exclusively in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. There were drawbacks,
however, to the new design when it came concert formation. This led to
convertible designs where the bell could be taken off and a forward pointed one
Tenor over-the-shoulder horn with rotary string action valves
In Paris, a well known instrument maker named Adolphe Sax invented a family of
brasses which included seven different sizes. The names of these instruments
were borrowed from choral nomenclature and included the sopranino, alto, tenor,
baritone, and bass horn. Other Sax instruments included the flugelhorn, various
sized drums, and the family of saxophones. With the expansion of the Civil War
bands by the various families of brass instruments, the concert band was
exstablished and gradually enlarged by adding flutes, clarinets, and other
Civil War period band (family?) with cornets, saxhorns, and drums
After the long and bloody Civil War, the band movement soared to a new height
with "civilian" bands springing up everywhere. by the 1880s, the piston valve
became the fashion, and new brass instruments with silver and gold plating and
elaborate engraving could even be obtained through mail order catalogs. Also,
new designs such as the double-bell euphonium (the smaller, forward pointing
bell acting as a trombone substitue), orpheons, sarrousaphones, and echo-bell
instruments were often a part of enlarged bands. To celebrate the ending of the
Civil War, peace jubilees were held, and Patrick Gilmore, then unquestionable
the most famous conductor, organized huge concerts in Boston and Chicago with
thousands of singers and instrumentalists participating. Afterwards, he would
organize world tours for his enalarged band. What P. T. Barnum was to the
circus, Gilmore was to the American band.
Another man was destined to become the greatest of all, with lasting fame. John
Philip Sousa, the "March King," equally remembered as a composer and conductor,
became the most highly regarded musician of his day. Becoming a member or
soloist of his band represented the pinnacle of any musician's career. Sousa
was able to engage the finest brass musicians in the world including Herbert L.
Clarke, Ben Bent, Walter Rogers, Hermn Bellstedt, Arthur Pryor, and Simone
The late 19th century and the early 20th century constituted the Golden Age for
bands, brass instrument manufacturing, and brass soloists. Hundres of military,
civic, and private bands were formed and thousands of new compositions were
performed. Companies such as those started by Henry Distin, Adolphe Sax, E. G.
Weight, J. Lathrop Allen, Thomas Paine, Isaac Fiske, and later by C. G. Conn,
Vincent Bach, Tom King, and Frank Holton, manufacutred millions of high quality
brass instruments which were enjoyed by professional and amateur musicians the
world over. Music became the number one art and entertainment in the lives of
the middle class. Conductors such as John Philip Sousa, Patrick Sarsfield
Gilmore, Frederick Innes, Karl King, Edwin Franko Goldman, Giuseppi Creatore
and Victor Herbert became legends.
The Dazzling Soloists
Crowds of thousands would mass for concerts by well known bands.
Highlighting these concerts were solo performances by famous cornetists, trombonists, and b
aritone horn players who had b ecome public heros. Some brass soloists would
receive fabulous salaries, such as the extreme egoist, Jules Levy, who received
a fantastic sum of $10,000 per year.
Jules Levy (1838-1903), the most celebrated corenetist of all time
Each soloist was a self styled performer who specialized in certain acrobatic
techniques such as triple tonguing, flying fingers, or incredible intervallic
leaps. Each soloist had a title (often self-endowed), such as the "Paganini of
the Cornet," the "Cornet King," or the "World's Greatest Cornetist," and donned
magnificent uniforms garnished with silver and gold medals.
Some of the greatest cornet soloists included Jean Baptiste Arban, Henry Maury,
and Saint Jacome from France, Allesandro Liberati from Italk, Hermann Bellstedt
and Theodor Hoch from Germany, John Hartmann, George Swift and Jack Macintosh
from England, Bohumir Kryl from Bohemia, and Del Staigers, Herbert Clarke,
Walter Rogers, Framk Simon, Walter emerson, Ben Bent, W. Paris Chambers, and
Walter M. Smith from America. Other great brass soloists included Arhtur Pryor,
Henry Filmore, Somone Mantia, Frank Holton, and Leo Zimmerman on trombone, and
Joseph DeLuca and Thomas D. van Osten on the double-bell euphonium.
The Double-bell Euphonium was also introduced as the "Doubleophone" and the "Wonderphone." The fourth valve diverts sound from the main bell to a smaller, trombone-like bell
End of an Era
John Philip Sousa once said that the phonograph record ("canned music," as he
called it) was the doom of live music. In reality, the invention of the
grammophone in 1877 was only a small link int the chain of modern events which
ultimated spelled disaster for the Golden Age of the cornet and its ilk.
Modern conveniences and electronic wonders such as the radio, television, and
motion pictures pampered the public and gave many new entertainment options.
Soon every houselhold owned a telephone and an automotobile. Collegiate and
professional sports became increasingly popular through new mass communication
technology. The Sunday stroll in the park, capped off by a band concert in the
gazebo, was gradually replaced by a drive through the countryside followed by
an afternoon of opera on the radio or a basebll game on the television.
The popularity of jazz and swing music after World Wr I profoundly influenced
the public's taste towards brass music. Jazz, which Herbert Clarke called the
"devil in music," would soon bring the trumpet and its more brilliant tone to
great popularity, paving the way for such artists as Lous Armstrong, Bix
Beiderbecke, and Harry James. Other brass stars included Glenn Miller, Tommy
Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden.
By the 1930s and 1940s, most public schools and colleges had active music
programs. The sounds of the stage band and marching band influenced the tonal
concepts of the brass musican. Instrument manufacutrers, eager to capitalize on
this new demand, began glamorizing the trumpet and trombone. Eventually, the
cornet and baritone were considered old fashioned. Even the deep, funnel-shaped
mouthpieces of the cornet and baritone were given up for shallower,
bowl-shaped cup mouthpieces which added brilliance and ease of upper range to
these instruments. Subsequently, the mellow, sweet sound of these conical bore
instruments became piercing and harsh.
While it is true that the Golden Age has passed, it is important to note that
many bands and brass performers still preserve the original instruments, music
and performance styles associated with the likes of Gilmore, Sousa, filmore,
and clarke. Indeed, nearly all of the published methods of technique
development used by brass players today were from this early tradigion (i.e.,
Arban, Saint-Jacome, Clarke, Goldman, Williams). Like the paintings of Claude
Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Norman Rockwell, the culptures of Constantin
Brancusi, or the architecture of Lous Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the
music and musicians of the Golden Age deserve their rightful spotlight in the
annals of social evolution. It is an age well worth remembering.