Between 1825 and 1829, three different British travelers, all musicians, took separate journeys throughout Europe, recording specific musical events and impressions in their “travel diaries.” The trips took place in 1825, 1827, and 1829, and centered around Germany and Austria. Here are three different first-hand accounts from the same five-year period. The authors’ mention of trombone is surprisingly frequent, and their first-hand observations about the instrument provide a fairly detailed snapshot of the trombone’s history in the early 19th century.
Trombone plot lines presented by historians in relation to this particular time span often include the trombone gaining a foothold in the symphony orchestra, the trombone continuing to participate in the opera orchestra and military band, and the alto trombone beginning its decline. The accounts of our three travelers flesh out details for some of these plot lines, while perhaps introducing some other noteworthy stories as well. Diary entries that may interest some readers, for example, highlight the trombone’s continued use and relative prominence in sacred music, the trombone’s continued prominence in the traditional Stadtpfeifer, comments about trombones (and music ensembles in general) getting too loud, and use of the trombone as a solo instrument.
Also noteworthy in all three accounts is simply the frequent mention of the trombone, a fact in direct contrast with travel writings immediately before the time span under consideration: compare them with the extensive travel writings of Charles Burney of only half a century earlier (his memoirs and two books) and the travel writings of Louis Spohr from just a decade earlier. (For full bibliographic citations, see Trombone History Bibliography.)
THE ACCOUNTS (trombone entries only)
Sir George Thomas Smart (1776-1867) was a British conductor, organist, composer, and longtime teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. He was knighted in 1811 after conducting a highly successful series of concerts in Dublin (New Grove, 388). His travel diary was published under the title, Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart. Smart’s account, which includes an amusing visit with Beethoven in Vienna, as well as numerous details about the makeup of the orchestra, conducting techniques, and opera production, has long been valued by historians.
1825—In Belgium, Smart observes, “We heard a very good military horse band which was all trumpets, bugles and tromboni” (Smart 66).
1825—Smart hears the Darmstadt opera and very briefly mentions the trombones: “Three tromboni (these had not much to do and were not conspicuous)” (Smart 77).
1825—Smart attends a church service in Stuttgart, where he is impressed with the trombones: “After breakfast I went into what I believed was a Protestant church….A few men singers were singing a tune exactly like our psalm tunes, accompanied by a soprano and three tromboni, with the organ—the effect was grand—they were dressed in black gowns and played excellently” (Smart 82).
1825—Smart hears a military band in Munich: “I was delighted with the military band when they were mounting guard at twelve o’clock at the palace, they played several pieces which were new to me. The band seemed about forty strong with four trombones, etc., but I have not yet heard a good sounding trumpet (Smart 84).
1825—Smart hears a performance of Weber’s Der Freischütz in Munich: “The tromboni were good but I have not yet heard a trumpet equal to Harper” (Smart 90).
1825—In Dresden, Smart attends a performance of Weber’s Euryanthe, noting the makeup of the orchestra: “The strength of the Dresden theatre band is as follows: “Five first violins, five second violins, two viole, two ‘cellos, two basses, two of each wind instrument—the flutes taking the piccolo—four horns and three tromboni.” Smart also observes the specific layout of the orchestra: “All the strings were on the right and all the wind instruments on the left of the conductor, who beat time with a roll at a square piano-forte. The tromboni were one behind the other, each in the centre of the oboe desks” (Smart 140).
1825—Just outside Dresden, at the monument of the celebrated French general Moreau, Smart hears a military band: “We saw the guard mounted between eleven and twelve o’clock, there were plenty of officers but not many men. The band numbered twenty-two and was good, but nothing extraordinary. There were three tromboni and two bassoons. Several of the marches and airs were in the minor and one of them was very chromatic and ineffective” (Smart 147).
1825—Smart attends the Berlin Opera and records that the orchestra includes three trombones (Smart 168). Of a performance of Spohr’s Jessonda, he notes: “The wind instruments were so much out of tune in the overture that the effect was ruined, the rest however was very good. The playing of the tromboni in one of the songs was beyond all praise” (Smart 175).
1825—In Hanover, Smart attends a parade, where he hears several military bands that include trombone: “There was a mixture of bands on the parade, namely the guards band in white, the artillery in blue and the rifle band in a sort of dark green. Their instruments were chiefly bugles and trombones, besides drums and fifes, altogether they numbered about one hundred and fifty. I did not hear them play together” (Smart 203).
Edward Holmes (1797-1859) was an organist, music teacher, and music critic. He studied with Vincent Novello, another one of our three travelers. His biography of Mozart, still recognized for its accuracy, has been called “the first adequate account of Mozart in English” (Groves 656). Holmes was also well regarded for his music criticism: “More than any other English writer of his day he was responsible for giving music criticism both technical authority and intellectual respectability” (Groves 657). In addition, he was a friend and correspondent with Hector Berlioz. His tour of Europe resulted in A Ramble among the Musicians of Germany, initially by an anonymous “musical professor.”
1827—In Cologne, Holmes witnesses a church performance: “Two horns, clarionets, bassoons, and a bass trombone, played in a smooth manner and extremely subdued, supplied the place of an itinerant organ, and supported the voices in those parts where the modulation was somewhat more learned than suits merely vocal music” (Holmes 29).
1827—In Munich, Holmes hears outdoor instrumental music with virtuosic trombone playing: “For the benefit of the strollers and holiday-makers in Munich, bands play twice a week in the open square of the king’s palace, which both for look and accommodation may vie with the Palais Royal in Paris. Here, while the cooling luxuries of lemonade and ice are imbibed, there is a regale of excellent instrumental music. An overture in E minor attracted my attention from the brilliancy of execution and expression with which the trombone players accomplished some most unwieldy passages for their instrument. The faces of the performers appeared as if animated by a prophetic fury, and their distended cheeks would have reminded one of the fat-faced cherubim sometimes seen on a church organ, only that they were older, redder, and accompanied by a ‘jutting friz’ of mustacio that cast a shade. Their enthusiasm, and the earnestness of their manner, were delightful, as those qualities always lead to excellence” (Holmes 61-62).
1827—In Munich, Holmes attends a ballet by “Cramer of Manheim,” where he is disturbed by the orchestra’s performance: “There is something certainly absurd and contemptible in employing impassioned melodies, full of meaning and tenderness, to accompany balancing and feet-twirling; and it becomes very ludicrous when, to a solemn blast of trombones and horns, such as might prepare us to wait in silent dread the sentence of an oracle, the dancer, for some mysterious and inscrutable purpose, slowly and deliberately raises her limb to an altitude as little consistent with grace as dignity” (Holmes 70-71).
1827—In Munich, Holmes is moved to comment on Spontini’s orchestration: “They are right in saying that the French have spoilt what was originally good in this composer [Spontini]. Every fresh opera which was intended by Spontini to make a sensation among the Parisians had more horns or trombones than the last;…as if degrees of noise constitute those of excellence in music…” (Holmes 80).
1827—In Vienna, Holmes attends a church service, where he is impressed with the trombones: “After the requiem was finished, a whole procession of priests and choir paraded the cathedral, at distant intervals chaunting [sic] a Gregorian phrase, accompanied by four trombones, and I have heard nothing comparable to the delicious effect these instruments produce when heard at a distance in the cathedral; their tones are so softened in the space, and they join in the gradual swell of voices upon the silence with a sweet severity. Well might the hearer who had found a seat in the choir remain listening to their echoes as they died away in those arches, and cherishing the expectation of a fresh burst” (Holmes 140-141).
1827—In Dresden, Holmes hears a solo trombone performance at a public park: “In this garden it is not unfrequent that concertos or solos on the bass trombone (the pausan, in Germany) are to be heard. The other evening there was a waltz with variations played, which for tone, the rapid tonguing of the notes, and extraordinary shifting, was delightful. On my complimenting the youth who had thus signalized himself, he smiled and said, ‘It requires good lungs;’ a conviction which had pressed upon me before from seeing his inflated cheeks, and the suffusion of moisture on his skin. The cavity of his chest in supplying this enormous tube must have been at every blast as the exhausted receiver of an air-pump; and the appearance of exertion would have been laughable, had not the effect counteracted any tendency of that sort. It is no more possible to affect east in an achievement of this kind, than it was for a stout man whom I once saw scrambling up a garden wall to get out of the reach of a mad dog that was pursued in full hue and cry down a country lane” (Holmes 204-5).
1827—In Leipzig, Holmes has praise for another trombone soloist, the well-known Carl Queisser: “Here, in one of the suburban gardens, may be occasionally heard the famed trombonist M. Queisser, by his townsmen vaunted the greatest performer of the whole empire. He is himself the proprietor of this rural retreat, having captivated the affections and wedded the form of its female possessor, thus enticing the inhabitants to discuss his viands, and enhancing his fortune, as host, by means of his music. I have heard nothing so soft, round, and deep as the tone of this extraordinary player, who has, at the age of twenty-seven, attained the most surprising mastery. At the last music meeting in Zerbst he performed a concertino on his instrument, which will not be soon forgotten. The palm of excellence for the knack in the management of wind instruments must certainly be given to Germany: in this performer there was no appearance of exertion, and the horrors of apoplexy with which swollen veins and starting eyes fill one in ordinary players, were here wholly dismissed from the mind” (Holmes 244-5).
1827—In Leipzig, Holmes hears music, including a trombone chorale, performed from a balcony by the local Stadtpfeifer: “From the balcony of the ancient Stadt-Haus in Leipsic the inhabitants are regaled three mornings in a week with an instrumental concert, which is played by the town musicians purely for the amusement of the citizens….The music, after a full overture or two, always concludes with a simple chorale, which, softly breathed from four trombones, produces one of the most delicate combinations I ever heard” (Holmes 255-6).
1827—In Leipzig, Holmes hears a performance of Spontini’s La Vestale, again motivating him to complain about the composer’s orchestration for brass: “But why Julia should, with the consciousness of broken vows, and even the fear of death upon her, be called upon to overpower four horns and three trombones, is hard to guess” (Holmes 258).
Vincent Novello (1781-1861) was an organist, choirmaster, conductor, editor, publisher, and composer. He is also recognized for providing assistance to Mozart’s family: “When news reached London in 1829 that Mozart’s sister was ailing and in want, Novello helped to organize a subscription on her behalf and, with his wife, traveled to Salzburg in order to present her with the money and collect material for his projected biography of Mozart, to him ‘the Shakespeare of music’. The book was never written, though his pupil Edward Holmes used the material in his Life of Mozart (1845).” The notes which Vincent Novello and his wife Mary Novello kept on their travels were published as A Mozart Pilgrimage (Groves 438).
1829—In Salzburg, Novello attends a Mass at the Salzburg Cathedral. Although he does not specify the complete makeup of the orchestra, he comments specifically on the trombones: “The best Performers were the three Trombone players, who produced a fine tone and added much grandeur to the general effect” (Novello 104).
1829—In Vienna, Novello attends a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Kärntnerthor Theatre. His evaluation of the orchestra’s winds is cursory, although the trombones draw brief praise: “The Oboe I did not like—but the Trombones were good—as were also the Bassoons and Clarionets…” (Novello 177).
1829—In Mannheim, Novello attends a performance of Aubert’s opera La Muette de Portici, complaining about the overbearing nature of the orchestra: “Finale to 1st Act too violent and noisy—the crowing, shouting, bawling, and the furious crashing of the Orchestra was enough to split our ears—it was absolutely frightful….The finale [2nd act] again consisting of more trumpeting, drumming, bursting of trombones and smashing of cymbals, and upon the whole the melodies want delicacy, sweetness and expression. Orchestra too violent and noisy throughout and, though accurate as to time, but coarse in execution” (Novello 265-7).
1829—In Munich, Novello hears the Royal Military Band, which includes trombones: “In the Evening at 6 we went to the Garden belonging to the King’s Palace (the Hof Garten) to hear the Military Band. It consisted of two Portions, the Brass Band and the Regular Military Band—which consists of about half a dozen 8ve Clarionets, the same number of common Clarionets, 2 Flutes, an octave Flute, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 4 Trumpets, 2 Trombones, 2 Bass Horns, Long Drum, Side Drum and Cymbals” (Novello 274).
1829—In Antwerp, Novello attends Mass at the Antwerp Cathedral, where he hears Eybler’s Third Mass, de Sancto Leopoldo, in D. His notes include the following brief remark: “at the Et Resurrexit, trombone good” (Novello 287-8).
1829—In Antwerp, Novello hears Haydn’s Sinfonia in B-flat during the procession at the church of St. Jacques. Although the piece does not originally call for trombone, at least one is apparently used, as Novello is disappointed by the performance: “…it is in a very elevated style of writing and full of energy. Effect spoiled by the Trombone nearly ½ a tone too flat throughout” (Novello 289-90).
1829—In Salzburg, Novello attends Mass at the Salzburg Cathedral. The trombones, which include a full complement of alto, tenor, and bass, receive special praise and are the only wind instruments in the orchestra: “The Orchestra was placed in the right-hand Gallery near the Altar against one of the large Pillars which support the Dome. It consisted of two first Violins, a second Violin, Tenor [viola] and Double Bass (no Violoncello), three trombones (alto, tenor and bass), and the Organ….The best performers were the three trombone players, who produced a fine tone and added much grandeur to the general effect” (Novello 303-4).
1829—In Vienna, Novello attends Mass at St. Stephens Cathedral, where trombones are again the only wind instruments in the orchestra: “At 9 o’clock High Mass. The band consisted of about half a dozen Violins, Viola, Violoncello and Double Bass, and Trombones” (Novello 310).
Baines, Anthony. Brass Instruments: Their History and Development. London: Faber & Faber, 1976.
Baines, Anthony. “Trombone” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Stanley Sadie, ed. Vol. 19. London: Macmillan Publishers, Ltd., 1980. (pp. 163-170).
Burney, Charles. An Eighteenth-Century Musical Tour in France and Italy. Ed. Percy A. Scholes. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Burney, Charles. An Eighteenth-Century Musical Tour in Central Europe and the Netherlands. Ed. Percy A. Scholes. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Burney, Charles. Memoirs of Dr. Charles Burney, ed. Slava Klima, Garry Bowers, and Kerry S. Grant. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.
Cox, H. Bertram and C.L.E. Cox. Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907.
Holmes, Edward. A Ramble Among the Musicians of Germany. New York: Da Capo Press, 1969.
Cox, H. Bertram and C.L.E. Cox. Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907.
Novello, Vincent. A Mozart Pilgrimage: Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in the Year 1829. Transcribed and compiled by Nerina Medici di Marignano; edited by Rosemary Hughes. London: Ernst Eulenburg Ltd., 1975.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON:
1825—Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 (“The Great”) is probably the earliest orchestral work to use trombones for primary melodic material and on equal terms with the other winds of the orchestra (Wills Orchestra 160).
1825—In Germany, the Dresden Court Opera includes 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 333).
1825—In Germany, the Berlin Opera includes 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 333).
1825—In Germany, the Darmstadt Court Opera contains 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 334).
1825—In Dresden, Germany, the Hoftheater includes 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 333).
1825—In London, the Covent Garden Theatre includes 1 trombone (Herbert Trombone 333).
1825—In Milan, Italy, La Scala orchestra includes 3 trombones (in contrast to 1 in 1814) (Herbert Trombone 334).
1825—In Vienna, funeral services are held for Antonio Salieri, teacher of Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. Music at the services consists of Salieri’s own Requiem in C minor, originally composed in 1804, which requires 3 trombones. Regarding Salieri’s use of trombone in the piece, one commentator notes, “The bulk of the orchestration is for strings, but when the composer wanted to suggest solemnity, he used the trombones” (Chase 224).
1825—Carl Queisser performs the Meyer Concertino again at the Gewandhaus. The review in the Allgemeine musikalischeZeitung says, “Mr. Queisser performed very favorably with regard to sound and execution.”
- 1825-1830—Tuning slide at end of u-bend of bell pipe, water key at lower end of slide begin appearing on trombones (Carse Musical 258).
1826—In London, the Royal Academy of Music concerts utilize 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 334).
1826—Friedrich Belke’s Concertino first performed (by the composer). Breitkopf and Härtel publishes it a few years later (between 1826 and 1829).
1826—Carl Queisser performs for a benefit at the Gewandhaus. He plays a transcription of the Carl Maria von Weber Concerto for Horn.
1826—Carl Queisser’s transcription of the Carl Maria von Weber Horn Concertino calls for multiphonics in the cadenza (Wallace 250).
1826—Marriotti, Smithies, and Schoengen are trombonists in the orchestra at Weber’s funeral at Moorfields Chapel (Carse Orchestra 491).
1826—In London, 3 trombonists are included in the Royal Academy of Music 6th concert at the Hanover Square Rooms (Carse Orchestra 491).
1827—In Paris, the Opéra Comique contains 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 334).
1827—Beethoven’s trombone quartet, Drei Equali, is performed at his own funeral procession (a trombone quartet alternates with a vocal version retroactively set with a Miserere text). A contemporary watercolor by Franz Stöber depicting Beethoven’s funeral shows 4 trombonists leading the enormous procession.
1827—Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor, which calls for 3 trombones, is performed at Beethoven’s funeral (Chase 191).
1827—Carl Queisser performs the Meyer Concertino.
1827—In Vienna, Edward Holmes, an English traveler, observes a trombone ensemble in St. Stefan’s Cathedral: “After the requiem was finished, a whole procession of priests and choir paraded the cathedral, at distant intervals chanting a Gregorian phrase, accompanied by four trombones, and I have heard nothing comparable to the delicious effect these instruments produce when heard at a distance in the cathedral; their tones are so softened in the space, and they join in the gradual swell of voices upon the silence with a sweet severity” (Whitwell 19th Century 243).
1827—In Leipzig, Germany, English traveler Edward Holmes describes a trombone performance in the old Stadtpfeifer tradition: “From the balcony of the ancient Stadt-Haus in Leipsic the inhabitants are regaled three mornings in a week with an instrumental concert, which is played by the town musicians purely for the amusement of the citizens….The music, after a full overture or two, always concludes with a simple chorale, which, softly breathed from four trombones produces one of the most delicate combinations I ever heard…” (Whitwell 19th Century 150).
1827—In Leipzig, Germany, English traveler Edward Holmes hears trombonist Carl Queisser: “Here in one of the suburban gardens, may be occasionally heard the famed trombonist Queisser, by his townsmen vaunted the greatest performer of the whole empire….I have heard nothing so soft, round, and deep as the tone of this extraordinary player, who has, at the age of twenty-seven, attained the most surprising mastery. At the late music meeting in Zerbst he performed a concertino on his instrument, which will not be soon forgotten. The palm of excellence for the knack in the management of wind instruments must certainly be given to Germany: in this performer there was no appearance of exertion, and the horrors of apoplexy with which swollen veins and starting eyes fill one in ordinary players, were here wholly dismissed from the mind” (Whitwell 19th Century 150).
- 1828—Wilhelm Wieprecht, charged with reforming the bands of the Prussian Cavalry Guards, includes only 3 trombones—basses—in his first band (Bates 141).
1828—In Paris, there are 3 trombonists in the Société des Concerts (Conservatoire Concerts) (Carse Orchestra 493).
1828—Nemetz writes a method for trombone (Dudgeon 195).
1828—Carl Queisser performs a new work by C.G. Müller, the Concertino für Bassposaune, at the Gewandhaus.
1829—Rossini, William Tell. Virtuosity required of trombones.
1829—Carl Queisser performs the Müller Concertino at the Gewandhaus. The review in the Allgemeine musikalischeZeitung says simply, “Mr. Q. performed masterfully.” He performs the same work there again later in the year.
- 1830—Uhlmann, a Viennese brass manufacturer, improves on Riedl’s valve design, making B-flat and G trombones with the double Vienna valve (Carse Musical 258).
- 1830—Mendelssohn, referring to trombone’s roots in sacred music, says, “The trombones are too sacred for frequent use” (Shapiro 89).
1830—In Leipzig, Germany, the Gewandhausorchester contains 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 334).
1830—In Paris, the Royal Music orchestra contains 1 trombone (Herbert Trombone 334).
1830—In Germany, the Dortmund Concert Orchestra contains 3 trombones (Herbert Trombone 334).
1830—Correspondent for Allgemeine musikalischeZeitung says, “Truly we live in an age of trombones.”
1830—Hector Berlioz writes Symphony Fantastique. It is one of the first orchestral works to give the trombone a major, independent role. Regarding the orchestration of the top trombone part, Berlioz says, in an early document listing the instrumentation, “The alto trombone part must not be played on a big trombone, as is often done in France: I demand a true alto trombone” (Macdonald 210).