The Forgotten Trumpets
Slide Trumpets between 1480 and 1836


Having a lifelong interest in brass instruments and a particular fascination for historical brass, I recently picked up Art Brownlow’s book “The Last Trumpet – A History of the English Slide Trumpet” (Published by Pendragon Press, New York, ISBN 0-945193-81-5). This essay owes a lot to that book: for providing me with interesting references to recheck; and for rekindling an interest that has been set aside for some years. I thank my many teachers, who have enabled me to accumulate much other information – taught, assimilated and committed to memory – over the years. I have included as many references as I am able.

Al Garrod, 2007


All the evidence points to one probability: The Slide Trumpet evolved as an improvement to the Natural Trumpet.

The first slides in trumpets were developed as tuning devices – to correct the badly out of tune, 11th note in the harmonic series.  That is, f in the key of C and g in the key of D.  Another way to use the slide was to fix it in one (new) position in order to re-pitch the instrument without the need for swapping crooks (or swapping instruments) repeatedly.  The possibilities for expanding the collection of available notes to a (near) chromatic compass followed later.1

Today, many early music performers and enthusiasts are familiar with the Natural Trumpet. So why is the Slide Trumpet so often overlooked? Let us correct that oversight: The Slide Trumpet, or should I say, the various forms of Slide Trumpet, in different periods of history, were as important, as popular and as utilised as the Natural Trumpet itself. In fact, some performers positively preferred the Slide version and some composers wrote particularly with the Slide Trumpet in mind, rather than the natural Trumpet.

The Slide Trumpet of the Renaissance

The idea that a slide trumpet may have existed during the Renaissance was first put forward by Curt Sachs in his “Hanbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde” (1920). In fact several other experts also agree. 2, 3

No diagrammatical or iconographical evidence has been found to prove the existence of a double slide instrument before 1450, but there are many illustrations of 15th century instruments that appear to be single-slide trumpets. At first glance, these look like folded natural trumpets – either looped or S-shaped. It is not their basic shape that leads us to believe they had telescoping slides. It is the way they are depicted. Movement, of the trumpet along a slide, is suggested by the way the trumpets are painted, particularly in the unique way that these instruments are being held. In the Triptych of Nájera (painted by Hans Memling) the angel with the long trumpet holds the mouthpiece lightly between two fingers (cigarette-style), whilst the Angel holding a Slide Trumpet positions its hands very differently. The hand on the slide-trumpet mouth-pipe is making a fist around the tubing, gripping it firmly, whilst the other hand seems to be steadying the instrument and sliding the trumpet forward and back.

Triptych of Nájera

It is thought that this trumpet would have played the (largely improvised) contra-tenor line in Alta Capella shawm bands, alongside the treble and tenor shawms.

According to Keith Polk, Alta Capella bands emerged soon after 1350, first using the straight natural trumpet in combination with shawms.

Later this straight trumpet evolved into a straight slide-trumpet, with a simple, single telescoping slide. Then by about 1375, the technology was available to bend brass tubing. That made it possible to create the S-shaped (single slide) trumpet. Soon after 1400 the folded trumpet emerged, still with a single slide. Polk goes on to say that this type of slide trumpet became widespread by about 1430 and remained popular with musicians until at least 1500. Players seemed not to adopt the double slide trumpet until the latter years of the century, despite the double-slide trumpet being available before 1450.4

S-shaped trumpet

In fact, Art Brownlow confirms that archival evidence shows that a brass slide instrument was used in Alta Capella bands around 1400.1

Virdung (1511) and Agricola (1528) both wrote extensively about the music and instruments of their time. They both mention the Tower Horn. This is thought to be the same instrument as the Slide Trumpet.5, 6

The Tower Horn, Thurnerhorn or Tümerhorn, was used for calls at certain times of day and for performing during civic parades or ceremonies.

Edward H. Tarr tells us that the slide trumpet was still being used well into the Baroque period. He says that musicians chose this instrument because of its versatility: it could be used to play simple signalling calls, but the same instrument could also be used to perform the more complicated Tower Music of the 15th and 16th centuries. Tower music consisted of a lot of Chorales or similar pieces, which could be played easily on a slide trumpet with 4 positions. Tower music also included Abblassen (fanfares).7

There is further evidence of the existence of the slide trumpet in the 16th Century. Anthony Baines quotes a Kassel Hofkapelle inventory (1573), listing “three German trumpets with their slides and mouthpieces”. Furthermore, the inventory from the palace of Marburg (1601) lists “two Zugk Trometten”.8

One reason for the Slide Trumpet being intrinsically different from a traditional Natural Trumpet may be that the “Trumpet Guilds” would only permit Guild Members to perform on the Natural Trumpet. The owners of Slide Trumpets found themselves able to perform similar (if not exactly the same) pieces as those playing Natural Trumpets, without going to the trouble and expense of joining the Guild(s). I expect Guild members would have thought these slide-trumpets to be a fad, a passing phase that could never displace the heroic sound of the Natural Trumpet and the privileged standing of a Trumpet Guild Member. The Trumpet Guilds thought themselves a class above these Tower Trumpeters.

Only into the 17th Century did the Trumpet Guilds realise that the Slide Trumpet was here to stay, and that players of the slide-trumpet might even displace Guild Members. 9

The Baroque Zugtrompete

During the early Baroque period talented players such as Girolamo Fantini demonstrated that by playing “Clarino” (in the highest register) and “lipping” the notes of the 11th and 13th harmonics (correcting the tuning of those impure harmonics with the embouchure), it was possible to play diatonic major scales (and, actual melodies) on a natural trumpet. And thus the traditional Natural Trumpet continued to hold favour with some musicians, whilst others chose to perform on the more flexible, easier to play in tune, Slide Trumpet.

The slide trumpet remained popular during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Leipzig Kantor Johann Kuhnau and his successor J.S. Bach wrote parts for it – usually marked Tromba da Tirarsi in their Cantatas. The Leipzig trumpeter Gottfried Reiche had a Zugtrompete among his possessions at his death.10

Gottfried Reiche (1667-1734) was a Stadpfeiffer in Leipzig. Sometime between 1688, when he arrived in Leipzig, and 1706, he became Senior Stadpfeiffer. As with other Stadtpfeifers, Reiche also composed “Tower Music” (Turmmusik). His only published work is 24 Neu Qutricinia (1696) for Cornetto and 3 trombones. Reiche had also composed 122 Abblasen-Stücken, (Announcements/Fanfares) but only one survives today.

The first surviving example of a slide trumpet dates from 1651. This instrument was made by Huns Veit of Naumberg, Saxony. A Berlin museum acquired this trumpet in 1890 from the Wenzelskirche in Naumberg. In 1658, the church’s inventory listed two new Zugtrompeten.2

This instrument is very similar to many paintings of Renaissance slide trumpets. It is pitched in Eb and built in the two-folded shape. The mouthpiece shank is 22 inches long and forms the inner slide, with the first yard of tubing forming the outer slide. Watchmen and Kunstpfeiferen were permitted to play this type of trumpet because the Noble Trumpeter’s Guilds authority and rulings only extended to the use of the traditional Natural Trumpet.

It is reasonable to suggest that Gottfried Reiche and the other Leipzig Stadpfeiferen would have played their slide trumpets in church. Reiche was such an expert player of this type of trumpet that it seems inconceivable that he might revert to the natural trumpet when playing church music, especially as J.S. Bach wrote some of his most challenging trumpet parts with Reiche in mind. Would Reiche (or Bach) be willing to sacrifice the highly accurate tuning, the addition of (clear) tones outside of the normal harmonic series and the ease of movement between these tones, by choosing the old natural trumpet? Surely not! I would suggest that, for both Reiche and Bach, the Tromba da Tirarsi was their trumpet of choice.

In 1796, Johann Ernst Altenberg writes:
“The slide trumpet, which is commonly used by tower watchmen (Thürmer) and city musicians (Kunstpfeifer) for playing chorales, is constructed almost like a small alto trombone because it is pulled back and forth during playing, whereby [the trumpeter] can easily bring forth the missing tones.” Are we to assume that the instrument Altenbrg saw had a double, forward extending slide? His description certainly suggests little difference between this Slide Trumpet and an Alto Trombone.

Baroque composers such as Vivaldi, Telemann, Handel and JS Bach used trumpets in sacred, orchestral, and even solo works. Many of these trumpet parts are very difficult to play on a Natural Trumpet, and are far more suited to playing on a Slide Trumpet.

The Flatt Trumpet

The Flatt (or Flat) Trumpet was the first documented double-slide trumpet. It was English. The name “Flat Trumpet” was given because it could play in “flat” (minor) keys, whilst the Natural Trumpet is limited to playing in “sharp” (major) keys. The first datable drawings of this instrument date from 1687, and were drawn by Nicholas Yeates, for Francis Sandford’s book, “History of the Coronation of James II” (1687 was two years after the Coronation took place).  In those drawings, the Flat Trumpets are shown played by “The King’s Music” (Royal Waites? – the group consisted of 2 Trumpeters and one Cornettist). Confusingly, the drawing shows twice-folded trumpets, but is labelled “sackbutts”.  The trumpets are held in a downward position – the same way that you would hold a Renaissance slide trumpet.

Flatt Trumpet

According to both John Webb and Trevor Herbert this use of the name “sackbut” for a generic slide instrument seems to be fairly consistent at the time.  It is a habit of calling any slide instrument a sackbut. There are other instances of drawings of instruments which are obviously in trumpet form, but are labelled as sackbuts – primarily of the coronations of William & Mary (1689) and of Queen Anne (1702).  “Elisha Cole’s English Dictionary” (1695) upholds this confusing use of the name “sackbut” by defining “sackbut” as “a drawing trumpet”.11, 12

The best technical information and description of the Flatt Trumpet were left by James Talbot (a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1689 – 1704).  Talbot appears to have borrowed instruments from leading performers of the day – to study them.  In a letter to John Shore, the premiere English trumpeter in 1690 (and a close friend of Purcell), Talbot thanks him for lending the instruments.

 Extract from Talbot’s description:
“In a Flat Trumpet the mouthpiece stands oblique towards right.  2nd Crook (bow) placed near left ear and by it you draw out the inward yards, whereof one reaches to the boss of the pavilion, the other to the 1st crook.  Its size with the yards shut the same with the common trumpet.”13

A lot of music was written with this trumpet in mind.  Listing it here would be tedious, but it is worth mentioning one particular piece that is obviously intended for this type of trumpet: Purcell’s “Symphony of Flat Trumpets” (1699), from the play, “The Island Princess”.

St Cecilia’s Day Festival 1691:
“Whilst the company is at table the hautboys and trumpets play successively. Mr Showers (Shore) hath taught the latter of late years to sound with all the softness imaginable.  They plaid us some flat tunes made by Mr. Finger with a general applause, it being a thing formerly thought impossible upon an instrument designed for a sharp key.”14

The 18th Century Slide Trumpet

In Summer 1784, five huge concerts were held in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon in London, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Handel’s birth. Amongst the 3000 strong audience was King George III.

Perhaps the main reason for development of the (1779) Slide Trumpet was the scathing review of the Messiah Concert given in 1784. Music historian Charles Burney criticised eminent trumpeter James Sarjant for his performance of “The Trumpet Shall Sound”, saying: “the 4th and 6th of the key on these instruments, being naturally so much out of tune that no player can make them perfect, should never be used…” and that, “every time he was obliged to dwell upon G, the fourth of D, displeasure appeared in every countenance”.

The new Slide Trumpet, with its ingenious automatic slide return mechanism, was designed within 5 years of Burney’s criticisms.

Clockspring Slide Trumpet

John Hyde “invented” his new Slide Trumpet around 1799. Hyde’s reasons for inventing this new instrument were the same reasons that all instrument builders have modified the Natural Trumpet over the years. Whether the old style of Slide Trumpet had lost favour, or whether Hyde simply wanted to try a new solution to the problem, I don’t know. However, his new English Slide Trumpet certainly did the job.

Hyde set out to correct the defects (of the Natural Trumpet), namely, the poor tuning of the 5th and the limited tone range. Hyde wanted a more chromatic compass.  He converted existing natural trumpets – adding stays, a slide and his clock-spring mechanism. The clock spring slide-return mechanism is what makes this Slide Trumpet different from others. The spring effected an automatic return of the (double) slide to a closed position.

Unlike the earlier Slide Trumpets, Hyde’s made a slide that pushed out backwards past the trumpeter’s left ear.  The automatic slide closer would not damage your teeth because it was closing away from the musician. The problem with Hyde’s trumpet was that in cases where the spring was under too much tension, the spring closing action could jerk the trumpet away from the player’s lips.

The New Piston Valve

The first piston valve instruments were developed just after the start of the 19th century. The earliest type was the Stölzel valve, invented by Heinrich Stoelzel in 1814. Rotary valves were developed by 1818, by Friedrich Blühmel in partnership with Heinrich Stölzel. In 1827 the Berlin piston valve was invented, and in 1838 François Périnet invented the piston valve that most brass instruments use today.

In the early days, French and German players preferred the cornet á pistons and the old natural trumpet over the Slide Trumpet. But English players did not like the new valved cornet. They preferred the slide trumpet and continued to use a combination of Slide Trumpet and Natural Trumpet wherever possible. Eventually the valved trumpet completely displaced the natural trumpet in Europe, but in England the Slide Trumpet was heard, in Opera Houses and Concert Halls, almost to the end of the 19th century. Hyde’s Slide Trumpet was the standard (English) orchestral trumpet and evidence exists that it was a popular solo instrument as well.

There are plenty of examples of dual cases in various collections (including John Webb’s) showing that trumpeters carried 2 instruments in one box. This was variously a Natural Trumpet, a Slide Trumpet or a Cornet á Pistons – in all combinations – depending on the player’s preferences.

The very first piston Cornet was invented in 1814. The piston Cornet was becoming more widely available and more popular amongst trumpeters (it provided an easy way to play fast, chromatically) by 1836. It was around this time that the Cornet started to be used in the Opera Houses of England. The piston was not “perfected” into its current form (The Perinet Piston Valve) until 1838. Dual cases were common form the late 1830’s onwards.

The Trombone (or Sackbut)

How interesting that I should be drawn to the Trombone. Reading back what I have written, I can’t help but think that the invention of the piston valve, although considered an improvement by many, has stolen the soul from the trumpet. A slide gives one the ease to switch between equal and mean-tone temperaments; to make fine adjustments to tuning as you play and to control the output in a way that a modern trumpet, with its many bends and curves simply does not allow. Yet there is still an instrument that gives all of this freedom and flexibility, and it is seen and heard in the modern classical orchestra as well as innumerable other ensembles and combinations. The Trombone is truly the last surviving relative of the Slide Trumpet, and carries on its title as Prince among Brass.


Appendix i. Timeline

Before 1350

Natural trumpets were known as early as Celtic times. They were used for signaling.


The straight Medieval Long Trumpet is used in Alta Capella Bands

1350 – 1375

A straight slide Trumpet is used in Alta Capella Bands


The Long trumpet gives way to a folded S-shaped version


The twice folded trumpet becomes a popular shape and soon displaces the earlier S-shaped trumpet.


By 1450, the double-slide trumpet had emerged.


Hans Memling depicts a (single) slide trumpet in his Triptych Nájera, Spain.


Virdung writes about the Tower Horn


Agricola writes about the Tower Horn


Inventory, Kassel Hofkapelle, lists “three German trumpets with their slides”


Inventory, the Palace of Marburg, lists “two Zugk Trometten”


The first surviving example of a slide trumpet – made by Huns Veit of Naumberg, Saxony

1684 – 1722

The Leipzig Cantor, Johann Kuhnau, scored parts for Tromba da Tirarsi in his Chorales


Nicholas Yeates draws a musician holding a Flatt Trumpet in his depiction of the Coronation of James II.


A drawing of what appears to be a Slide Trumpet, but is labelled “sackbutt” in a depiction of the Coronation of William & Mary


Hautbois and trumpets take turns to play during the feasting. The trumpeters amaze and delight onlookers with their Flatt Trumpets.


“Elisha Cole’s English Dictionary” defines “sackbut” as “a drawing trumpet”


Henry Purcell wrote his “Symphony of Flat Trumpets”


A drawing of what appears to be a Slide Trumpet, but is labelled “sackbutt” in a depiction of the Coronation of Queen Anne

1723 –

The Leipzig Cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach, began composing parts for Tromba da Tirarsi in his Chorales


The “Leipzig trumpeter Gottfried Reiche had a Zugtrompete (slide trumpet) among his possessions at his death”


Johann Ernst Altenberg writes:
“The slide trumpet, which is commonly used by tower watchmen and city musicians for
playing chorales, is constructed almost like a small alto trombone…”


John Hyde invented his new English Slide Trumpet

Appendix ii. The Separate Development of the Trumpet and the Cornet

You may not realise that the trumpet (with pistons) and the cornet (with pistons) are two distinctly separate instruments. They are. Here is a table of comparisons between these two instruments:

Some important differences



Development from:

The Trumpet (from natural trumpet – to piston trumpet – via slide trumpet) (don’t know what from originally – maybe a hollow stick (didgeridoo) or a long antelope horn).

The Cornet (from conical cow horn – via cornett – via keyed bugle).



Conical. The only bit of cylindrical tubing (out of necessity, not choice) is the piston section.

Flare (Bell)

A slight flare that doesn’t start until near the end of tubing (although the bell flare today is bigger than its ever been before). The bell flare is purely for amplification

The bell flare is an integral part of the overall cone shape.

Tonal Qualities

Gives an open sound, can be brassy, noble, trombony, fanfary.

The conical shape gives a more French horny sound which is more muted and mellow than the Trumpet (I think of it as someone playing whilst shut in a cupboard).

This leads us neatly to the reason why the Slide Trumpet lasted so long in English Opera Orchestras: English Trumpet Players of the 19th Century did not like the muffled sound of the cornet á pistons. They did not want to compromise, even though it was easier to play faster passages with pistons, they only used this new-piston-thing as an absolute last resort (British conservatism (small “c”)). They valued the noble sound of REAL (ENGLISH) trumpets!!!

Appendix iii. Slide Trumpet or Trombone?

Question: Why do people today insist on calling a Soprano Trombone a “Slide Trumpet”? Surely this must be wrong?

Answer: A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square. But in this case, it probably is!Allow me to draw some comparisons….

(a) A Slide Trumpet has a slide, and so does a Soprano (or any) Trombone.
(b) You form the sound in the same way on both instruments.
(c) Elisha Cole’s English Dictionary names the Slide Trumpet, “Sackbut”.
(d) The Germans and Dutch have “State Trumpeters”, not state trombonists.

If a Trombonist is really a trumpeter, isn’t a Trombone (any Trombone) really just a big (Slide) Trumpet? The fact that the slide trumpet’s development is intertwined so closely with the Trombone (so much so, that even a dictionary could not successfully separate them) might be why the Soprano Trombone is so often called a “Slide Trumpet” today.

Appendix iv. After the 1830s

Merris Franquin – trumpet professor at the Paris Conservatory from 1894 – 1925 says that the natural trumpet remained in use at the Paris Opera even until 1891. “The players had a box under their music stands, containing both a natural trumpet and a valved trumpet, together with crooks fitting both”.15 For the most part, conductors left the choice of instrument to the individual players, after all, they were the experts. A chromatic passage obviously required pistons, whilst passages consisting of natural tones would be played on the natural trumpet.

Walter Morrow says: “[The Cornet] quickly became popular…it has caused the [natural] trumpet proper to become almost obsolete. Students perceived that showy results were easy of attainment and forsook the study of the trumpet. Experienced players of the older instrument, when they were called upon to play parts written for the valve trumpet, instead of adapting themselves to the valve trumpet resorted to the cornet. Consequently the Cornet has crushed the trumpet out of the orchestra altogether. One rarely hears the sound of a real trumpet now”.16 By 1895, the usual pitch for Valved Trumpets was F, but the old Natural Trumpets would have been pitched (or crooked) in E, Eb, D and C. Is Morrow referring to some difficulty in adapting to an instrument pitched in F (because of inexperience in reading/transposing the music for a F instrument)?

Instrument cases give us a lot of clues as to how trumpeters coped with the growing and varied repertoire put in front of them. John Webb has a case in his collection that held an 1835 Kohler Slide Trumpet and a Cornet. John Webb writes, “This player (in 1835) doubled on valved Cornet. Another case in my collection contained a slide trumpet and keyed bugle… Yet another case housed a Slide Trumpet and a valved F Trumpet, exemplifying the reluctance with which the valved trumpets, even at the end of the 19th Century, were accepted by the ever-conservative British”.17


1) Art Brownlow, The Last Trumpet: A History of the English Slide Trumpet Pendragon Press, Stuyvesant, NY. (1996).

2) Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments: Their History and Development Dover Publications (1976)

3) Ross W. Duffin, The Trompette des Menestrals in 15th Century Alta Capella, Early Music 17 (1989): 397-402.

4) Keith Polk, The trombone, the Slide Trumpet and the Ensemble Tradition of the Early Renaissance, Early music 17 (1989): 395-396)

5) Sebastion Virdung, Musica Getutscht [Basles: 1511]

6) William Wood Holloway, Martin Agricola’s Musica Intrumentalis Deudsch: A Translation (Ph.D. diss.), North Texas State University, 1972).

7) S. E. Plank and Edward H. Tarr, trans. The Trumpet (1988), 56-58.).

8) Anthony Baines, Two Cassell Inventories, Galpin Society Journal 4 (19510: 31-34)

9) Don L. Smithers, The Music and History of the Baroque Slide Trumpet before 1721, 2ND Ed. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale (1988)

10) Edward H. Tarr, Slide Trumpet, The New Grove Dictionary of Instruments.

11) John Webb, The Flat Trumpet in Perspective, Galpin Society Journal 46, (March 1993).

12) Trevor Herbert, The Sackbut in England in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Early Music 18 (1990).

13) Anthony Baines, James Talbot’s Manuscript, Galpin Society Journal, March 1948, No.1 pp9-26 ;

14) Gentleman’s Journal (January 1692) quoted in William H Husk, “Shore, John”, in A Dictionary of music and Musicians, ed. George Grove (1883)).

15) Edward H Tarr, The Romantic Trumpet, Historic Brass Society Journal 5 (1993): 213-261

16) Walter Morrow, The Trumpet as an Orchestral Instrument, Proceedings of the Musical Association 21 (1895): 133-147

17) John Webb, The English Slide Trumpet Historic Brass Society Journal 5 (1993): 262-279.