- Trumpets and Other High Brass: A History Inspired by the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection. Volume 3: Valves Evolve by Sabine Katharina Klaus
Sabine Katharina Klaus's projected five-volume series surveys the technical development of the high-pitched brass instruments of Western music since antiquity. Klaus uses brass in its conventional sense to mean aerophones with lip-vibrated air columns, regardless of the material forming the tube. Volume 1 (2012), which won the Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize of the American Musical Instrument Society, introduces simple instruments from various cultures, limited to pitches of a single harmonic series. Volume 2 (2013) explores ways to expand the harmonic series by means of crooks, slides, tone holes, or keys. Forthcoming volumes include Heyday of the Cornet, and the final volume will cover the modern trumpet and its relatives.
Volume 3 focuses on brasses of mainstream European and American orchestral and band practice spanning the long nineteenth century. These instruments, especially American examples, are strongly represented in the late Joe R. Utley's personal collection, now part of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, where Klaus serves as curator of brasses and professor of music. Klaus bases her study on the museum's more detailed but unpublished catalog of the Utley collection but includes examples from other private and public holdings to fill gaps and expand coverage. Where extant instruments are lacking, patent drawings and other graphics complete the picture. Except for Périnet valves—the prevailing type used today, to be discussed in volume 4—Klaus describes every important innovation in nineteenth-century valve design, citing their advantages or shortcomings, and explores many dead-end byways. Propelled by the Industrial [End Page 145] Revolution and growth of a middle-class market for instrumental music, this rapid diversification of types, followed by swift extinction of those that found no favor, exemplifies a developmental model advanced by the paleontologist and cornet collector Niles Eldredge. Klaus cites Eldredge's work and that of other highly specialized scholars in extensive endnotes and an up-to-date bibliography that targets only the nineteenth century, not brass history in general.
Manufacturers applied the valve systems described here in relation to high-pitched brasses also to lower-pitched instruments such as bass horns and tubas, making Klaus's narrative more broadly relevant than the book's title indicates. Along with analyzing the acoustics, mechanisms, and construction of trumpets and related types (explicated by numerous diagrams, graphs, tables of measurements and bell profiles, and hundreds of photographs), Klaus untangles confusing nomenclature and provides new biographical information on inventors and makers. She calls attention to aspects of craftsmanship that can be useful in attributing anonymous instruments and identifying alterations.
Klaus shows, often by implication, how improvements in brass manufacture went hand in hand with—and often preceded—changes in musical styles, for example by enabling greater virtuosity and improving intonation in remote keys. Despite promotional assertions of tonal superiority, manufacturers aimed chiefly at making instruments less expensive, more efficient, and easier to play. As valves and their appurtenances multiplied, ergonomics increasingly dictated their arrangement, but visual appeal, tight performance spaces, and desire for novelty influenced instruments' overall shapes. Achieving uniform tone quality throughout the chromatic scale persistently challenged makers and players, but missing or transplanted mouth pieces and individual players' characteristics complicate discussion of timbre.
This not being a history of brass music, Klaus mentions playing technique, brass idiom, and repertoire only in passing to elucidate progress in instrument technology and commerce, but she stresses the importance of military bands as proving grounds for new mechanisms and forms and critically evaluates dubious patent and marketing claims. Outside this volume's scope is much background on industrial fabrication methods and fundamental advances in metallurgy, such as the introduction of durable, corrosion-resistant nickel-silver (Klaus uses the term "German silver" [e.g., p. 234]) in the 1820s and tougher, more resilient steel used for valve springs.
In the first of nine...