Spiritato! will take you back through the centuries when they offer the latest concert in the Chichester Chamber Concerts series.
A Baroque ensemble of violins, viola, cello, bassoon, trumpets and harpsichord, they will offer Sound the Trumpet, music by Purcell, Biber, Matteis, Franceschini and others (The Assembly Room, Chichester Council House, North Street, Chichester, Thursday, February 16, 7.30pm).
William Russell, one of the two trumpet players, said: “We are a period-instrument ensemble and play music from the 17th and 18th centuries on original instruments or copies of instruments from that time. Instruments have changed a lot over the course of time, some more obviously than others. We think it gives the music a better chance of speaking for the composers.
“The trumpet has changed quite a lot. The instrument we are playing has no valves like you would see on a modern trumpet. You have to change the notes just with your lips. It is like a long bugle really. The bugle is short with a limited number of notes and was designed to play in battle. It had to be very compact. But the original buglers would also have been trumpet players, and there we have a much longer instrument. The instrument is twice the length of a modern trumpet.
“The trumpet players would have been playing on the battlefield to signal. They would have been telling the army where to go or which regiment needed to move. The reason why so much of the trumpet repertoire developed in the 1500s going into the 1600s was that suddenly you started to get a lot more use of firearms and there was lots more smoke. You couldn’t see flags being waved. The trumpeters had to develop their lips to play higher notes that you could hear over the noise of battle. The lower notes could not be heard.”
And with access to those higher notes, the possibility of melodies emerged, rather than just fanfares.
“Valves in trumpets are starting to be introduced from about 1820 onwards. With the natural trumpet, you can play only one key at a time. If you wanted to change the key, you had to change the length, exactly the same principle as the trombone. The modern system of valves is basically a way of shortening bits of tubing or not to make the trumpet longer or shorter. It is like having seven trumpets in one. That’s the number of combinations you can get out of a modern trumpet.”
The attraction of the early trumpet for William is, he says, “first and foremost the sound. That’s what really attracted me to it. When I was a student, I just discovered it. Somebody said to me ‘Try this!’ It is a very distinct sound. It is quite a burnished sound. It is not so piercing. A modern trumpet is built to play in a big orchestra or a big jazz band. You can play very loud very easily which has skewed the balance of the orchestra. You might have two trumpets, but you would need 20 string players. For this, we have got two trumpets, but we can have an ensemble of eight. It is about getting the balance of the instruments.
“It means that you can be a lot more intertwined with the inflections you can put into the music. It is not just playing notes. There is so much more you can play with because you are part of the orchestra rather than an add-on that is told be quiet all the time! The joke is that the conductor has already got his hand in the air to tell a modern trumpet to be quiet!”
Tickets for the concert from Chichester Festival Theatre on 01243 781312.
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