Alto in Treatises



Introduction: Below is a chronological listing of what many written sources have recorded about the alto trombone throughout history, beginning in the 17th century and continuing through the first quarter of the 20th century. These sources offer much useful historical information about key, use of the instrument, clef, etc. Three things should be stipulated: 1) Not all sources are of equal importance. For example, Hector Berlioz’s treatise carries significantly more weight than that of William James Henderson.  2) Sources are often derivative. For example, much of the information in late 19th and early 20th century orchestration treatises derives from Berlioz’s treatise. While the fact that a particular source is derivative rather than strictly original may mitigate its historical worth to a certain extent, it can also illustrate influence. 3) Finally, it goes without saying that not all sources contain accurate information, which is one reason that looking at broad overall patterns (rather than falling in love with one or two favorite sources) can be useful. All of the below references are listed in the  Alto Trombone Bibliography, most of them in the “Primary Sources” section.

Summary of Alto Trombone Keys:


51        D/E-flat

8          F

2          B-flat

1          E


GERMANY: 18 D/E-flat, 1 B-flat

Praetorius (1619)—D

Speer (1697)—D

Niedt (1721)—D

Majer (1729)—D

Christoph and Stössel (1736)—D

Eisel (1738)—D

Koch (1802)—D

Fröhlich (c. 1811)—B-flat/E-flat (contradictory)

Schilling (1840)—E-flat

Gleich (1853)—E-flat

Schubert, F.L. (1862, 1865)—E-flat

Riemann (1882)—E-flat

Saro (1883)—E-flat

Jadassohn (1889)—E-flat

Schroeder (1889)—E-flat

Hofmann (1893)—E-flat

Pochhammer (1897)—E-flat

Mayerhoff (1913)—E-flat

UNITED KINGDOM: 13 E-flat, 3 F, 1 E

Bertini (1830)—E-flat

Mandel (1859)—E-flat, E, F

Wirth (1870)—E-flat

Prout (1877)—E-flat

Stone/Grove (1879-90)—E-flat, F

Hunter (1879-88)—E-flat

Niecks (1884)—E-flat

Encyclopaedia Britannica (1888)—E-flat, F

Clarke (1888)—E-flat

Corder (1896)—E-flat

Vincent (1897)—E-flat

Fitzgerald (1902)—E-flat

Forsyth (1913)—E-flat

FRANCE: 7 E-flat, 3 F

Braun (c. 1795)—E-flat

Kastner, Traite (1837)—E-flat

Kastner, Supplement (1844)—E-flat, F

Hartman (c. 1840)—E-flat

Berlioz (1844)—E-flat

La Fage (1844)—F

Gevaert (1863)—E-flat

Clodomir (1889)—F

Lavignac (1895)—E-flat

AUSTRIA: 1 E-flat, 1 B-flat

Seyfried/Albrechtsberger (1826)—E-flat

Nemetz (1827)—B-flat

BELGIUM: 3 E-flat

Mahillon (1897)—E-flat

Ergo (1908)—E-flat

Gilson (1921)—E-flat

ITALY: 1 E-flat

Galli (1898)—E-flat

SPAIN: 1 E-Flat

Lacál (1899)—E-flat

US/CANADA: 7 E-flat, 2 F

Coon (1883)—E-flat

Claus (1884)—E-flat

Dodworth (1853)—F

Clappé (1888)—E-flat

Olker (1889)—E-flat

L. Elson (1890)—E-flat

Henderson (1899)—E-flat

A. Elson (1922)—F

White (1924)—E-flat

Conclusions: Obviously, one of the things that becomes most readily apparent upon examining these sources is the key of the alto trombone. Throughout trombone history, the vast majority of written sources have considered the alto trombone an instrument in the E-flat orbit (D, E-flat, F). This fact becomes clear from both the written materials and the many diagrams pictured with them (see below). Another noteworthy matter concerns the ubiquity of the alto trombone; the number and variety of authors who have included alto trombone in their discussions of the trombone is striking. (On these two subjects see also Extant Altos and Alto in 19th Century Trade Catalogs). Finally, although plenty of exceptions can be found (particularly in printed music), it would appear that writers of historical treatises have very consistently associated alto trombone with the alto clef.

The Sources:

Praetorius II 311619—Wolfenbüttel, Germany: Michael Praetorius writes the following about alto trombone in the second volume of his treatise, Syntagma Musicum: “Alto or discant trombone (trombino, trombetta picciola), which can play discant parts perfectly well although the musical quality produced by its small body is not as good as that of the ordinary trombone, which can be used to play equally high parts after steady practice.” Although Praetorius seems to equivocate about alto trombone in this volume, the next volume, intended for the “practical musician,” provides numerous recommendations for using the alto trombone, and names the range of e to a (above the bass clef) as the register at which he recommends switching from tenor to alto (see below) (see facing image; public domain) (Praetorius II Crookes 43).

Praetorius III 1621619—Wolfenbüttel, Germany: In the third volume of his treatise, Syntagma Musicum, Michael Praetorius discusses use of alto trombone in several different settings. The first is in the context of the cornett and violin choir: “But if another C-3 clef is used besides the one for the basset and other clefs noted above, it is better to use a sackbut together with the cornetts (if an alto sackbut player who plays really well is available), and a Viol da bratio…” (Praetorius III Kite-Powell 159). Later he mentions alto trombone in the context of choirs of trombones and curtals, naming it as a possible instrument for the top voice of an ensemble “with six sackbuts, curtals, or shawms” (Praetorius III Kite-Powell 165). Praetorius III 164Finally, while discussing clefs and transpositions, Praetorius remarks, “Not everyone playing in the alto clef on the ordinary tenor sackbut [gemeinen tenor- posaun] can reach g’ and a’ lamire and even fewer on a chorist [double] curtal. If the first part is intended to be played a fourth or fifth lower as an alto, that part must be played either on an alto sackbut [alt-posaun] or treble [single] curtal [Zingel Corthol], that is, a small discant curtal [kleinen Cant-Fagot], or sung by an alto. Above all, one must see to it when composing that no part ascends much more than an octave. Even though some chorist [double] curtal players can play a g’ and tenor sackbut players [tenor-posaunen] can reach an a’—even higher at times—most players generally cannot. For curtal players the highest note must remain d’, and for sackbut players, e’ (or at the highest, a’)” (Praetorius III Kite-Powell 167; see also original document, above). Lampl’s translation is similar: “Nobody can reach the ‘g1’ and ‘a1 la-mi-re’—in alto [clef]—on a common tenor trombone, let alone on a Chorist-bassoon, when the first part, the cantus, is to be played a fourth or fifth lower, as an alto. Therefore this part should be played either on an alto trombone or Zingel-corthol, which is a little Cant-bassoon, or sung by an alto. But one has to be careful in composing not to let any part ascend far beyond the octave. For although some players manage to go up to ‘g1’ on Chorist-bassoons, to ‘a1’ on tenor trombones and still higher yet, only a few are capable of doing this. Everyone else has to stop at ‘d1’ on the bassoons and at ‘e1,’ at the most ‘a1,’ on trombones” (Praetorius III Lampl 276). This is an extremely important piece of performance practice information, one not traditionally highlighted by scholars, that offers significant clarification of Praetorius’s mixed statement in Volume II of the treatise. In all practicality, most tenor trombone players cannot reach even an a above the bass staff, he says, so most trombonists will need to begin playing alto trombone somewhere in the range of e-a above the bass staff. This practical information tempers Praetorius’s earlier statement from Volume II considerably.

Praetorius plate 81620— Wolfenbüttel, Germany: Woodcuts of the various members of the trombone family appear in Michael Praetorius’s Sciagraphia, a collection of illustrations appended to his treatise, Syntagma musicum. The trombones pictured include alt or discant posaun (comparable to modern alto), gemeine posaun (comparable to modern tenor), quart- or quint-posaun (bass trombones, fourth and fifth below tenor), and octav posaun (contrabass, an octave below tenor). See facing image (Praetorius II, plate 8; public domain image).

c. 1650—Instrumentälischer Bettlermantl, an anonymous musical compendium written in both German and Latin, offers illustrations of 4 sizes of trombones with their respective slide positions (Campbell, Instrumentälischer).

Speer alto1697—Ulm, Germany: Daniel Speer mentions alto trombone along with tenor and bass trombone in his treatise, Vierfaches Musikalisches Kleeblatt. His description and position charts show four diatonically-numbered positions for each member of the trombone family and indicate that, at this time, tenor trombone is probably pitched in A, alto in D, and bass in D (see facing image; public domain). The author provides, along with his trombone description, two 3-part sonatas for trombones (Speer Vierfaches 179-83). In a separate section of the treatise, Speer discusses how to organize music performances in a small town, saying, “Since the middle voices (alto, tenor, and bass) are most commonly played on viols or trombones in the churches, the guild musicians suffer only the slightest disadvantage in their accustomed wages by the students playing these parts, though the guild musicians make many idle complaints” (Speer Vierfaches 204).

1713—Hamburg, Germany: Johann Mattheson writes the following in his Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre: “The most magnificent-sounding trombone…is a type of trumpet, on which the notes are produced by pulling out and in, in conjunction with blowing. There are large and small trombones, namely: small alto, large alto, tenor or large quart, and bass trombone, which can form a full choir by themselves, but are used very rarely, except in church pieces and solemn music” (Guion, Trombone 25).

1721—Hamburg, Germany: Friedrich Erhard Niedt discusses trombone in his treatise, Musicalischer Handleitung, including mention of alto, tenor, and bass trombones. In the second edition, edited by Johann Mattheson and published in 1721, Mattheson appends the following: “Because the trombone is an instrument which is known to few, except for trained wind players, I would like all the more to present its precise compass, especially since, in the First Edition, it was dreadfully skipped over, and since many composers, who would like to write music for trombones, because they sound so splendid, do not know how to write for them.” The alto trombone is discussed as an instrument in the key of D, the notes available in first position being listed as d, a, d’, f’, a’, etc. (Niedt 151-152).

Majer 42Majer 431729—Schwabisch Hall, Germany: Joseph Friedrich Bernhard Caspar Majer, organist at St. Katharina in Schwabisch Hall, Germany, discusses the trombone family in his treatise, Museum musicum. He shows and describes a tenor in A and alto and “quint” trombones in D (see facing 2 images; public domain) (Majer 42-43).

1736—Chemnitz, Germany: The treatise Kurtzgefasstes musicalisches Lexicon, usually attributed to Johann Christoph and Johann David Stössel, is published. Heavily influenced by Walther’s Musikalisches Lexikon, it mentions that alto, tenor, and bass trombone parts can all be played on tenor trombone. However, it also discusses the pitch and positions of the true alto and bass trombones, clearly instruments considered to be in the key of D: “Alto and bass trombone have the same three positions, with d, a, d’, f’, a’, and d” in first position; c, g, c’, e’, g’, c” in second; and f and b in third” (Guion 36-39).

1738—Erfurt, Germany: Johann Philipp Eisel, in his text Musicus autodidactos, oder der sich selbst informirende Musicus, describes the alto trombone as an instrument pitched in D: “What kind of slide positions do an alto and bass have? As anticipated, they also have three positions, which are done in one and the same way as the first ones described. The first position, or to speak more clearly of it, if the trombone is not extended at all, the range has D, A, D, F#, A, D, and in the alto clefs or notes after each other are D, A, D, F#, A, C, D” (Eisel 72; translation from Guion, Trombone 43). Eisel also includes the following comment about clefs, indicating a strong correlation between trombone type and clef: “What is to be noted concerning the clefs? Nothing more than this, that the alto trombone has the alto clef as prescribed in the parts, where as the quint and quart trombones generally have the bass clef as prescribed in the parts. Whoever understands then that which was stated before will also be able to find their way easily in this” (see below image; public domain) (Eisel 72; translation from Guion, Trombone 44).

1790—Vienna, Austria: Johann Georg Albrechtsberger writes his treatise, Sämmtliche Schriften über Generalbass, wherein he says the following about trombone: “The first trombone should go with the alto, the second with the tenor, and the third, which is now scarcely in use, with the vocal bass. This instrument requires rather slow than quick notes, and admits of but few forced notes, which the trumpets alone produce readily. A quick movement must never be given to it in obligato pieces” (Albrechtsberger 264). He also writes, “The Trombone (Posaunen, tromboni) are of three kinds: bass, tenor, and alto. In every position of the slide, the trombone yields four, five, or six different sounds….The compass of the bass trombone is from E1, through every semitone, up to G3; and of the alto trombone from F2 up to E-flat4. Braun and Frölich have written methods or schools. Ahlsdorf, Bolke, Braun, Dueller, Frölich, Hörbeder, Micke, Schmitt, Seeger, Segner, Ulbrich, etc. have handled this instrument skillfully” (Albrechtsberger 290). Albrechtsberger’s alto trombone range chart (see below image; public domain), which includes a low e in 7th position on an E-flat alto trombone that was generally considered to only have 6 positions at that time, should not necessarily be seen as an indication that it was actually intended for a B-flat instrument, as “falset” tones (or lipped notes), had been in widespread use since as early as Praetorius, particularly in the lower harmonics (Albrechtsberger 440). In addition, later editions of the treatise clarify, clearly showing an alto trombone pitched in E-flat (see 1855, below).

Braunc. 1795—Paris, France: Trombonist André Braun writes his method, Gamme et Méthode pour les Trombonnes. The earliest modern trombone method, it specifically states that the alto trombone is in E-flat, the tenor and bass in B-flat. An influential method book–it informs several later methods, including Fröhlich and Nemetz (see 1811 and 1827, below)–the method book also provides an alto trombone position chart clearly showing an instrument in E-flat (see facing image; public domain). Editions are subsequently published in German and Italian (Weiner, Braun; Weiner, Braun Revisited).

c. 1795—Paris, France: The earliest book of etudes written specifically for trombone, François René Gebauer’s Six trios pour trios trombones extraits de 50 leçons pour la trombone bass, alto & tenor, is published. It is issued as a companion to André Braun’s Gamme et Méthode pour let Trombones, which specifically states that the alto trombone under consideration is pitched in E-flat (see above). In addition to the top voice of the 6 trios, alto trombone material includes 7 alto trombone studies set in a relatively high register or f to e-flat” (see below image; public domain) (Weiner, Gebauer).

1802—Frankfurt, Germany: Heinrich Christoph Koch writes about the trombone family in his Musikalisches Lexikon: “There are different sizes for this instrument which are called alto and tenor trombones. [Footnote:] Years ago, they also had, aside from the then quite common trombone, another alto, or discant, trombone, a quart trombone, and an octave trombone, which was one octave lower than the normal or common trombone.”  He then describes the alto trombone as an instrument pitched in the key of D: “On the alto or quint trombone, the notes receive a different relationship to each other with the three just-described slide positions, for the first provides d, a, d’, f’, a’ and c”; the second c, g, c’, e’, g’, and b’; and the third f and b” (Guion 82).

c. 1811—Bonn, Germany: Joseph Fröhlich writes his method, Vollständige theoretisch-pracktische Musikschule, which includes extensive pedagogical material for the trombone family. Fröhlich is somewhat contradictory. While he says, “In modern times, the three kinds of trombone are made similar in size in many places, and always similar in construction,” he later clearly states that the alto trombone is an instrument in E-flat: “Almost all of the foregoing  [about the tenor trombone] is also true of the alto trombone, except that it is a fourth higher, making the high notes even easier to get, and its fundamental is E-flat” (Guion, Trombone 112-113). Finally, in his trombone position charts, he clearly shows a tenor trombone in B-flat and an alto trombone in E-flat (Guion 114-117, 300-309).

1819—London, England: Charles Burney, author of the musical entries in Abraham Rees’s Cyclopaedia, mentions the entire family of trombones: “The instrument is made of brass, of which there are five sorts: canto, alto, tenor, base, and double-base. It is much used in the large churches of Germany. They can produce all the tones and semitones in gradation. The manner of writing for them is the same as for different voices, and on the same staff of five lines” (Guion, Trombone 92).

Alb Seyfried1826—Vienna, Austria: Ignaz von Seyfried, in his revision of Albrechtsberger’s treatise of 1790 (Sämmtliche Schriften), clarifies the pitch of the alto trombone as E-flat, appending the facing alto trombone position chart (see facing image; public domain) (Albrechtsberger-Seyfried). Not only was Seyfried in the unique position of having been a pupil of Albrechtsberger’s, but he proceeded to become an active Viennese composer and conductor as well. “His versatility,” explains Grove’s, “won him a unique place in Vienna’s musical life.” He regularly conducted at least 2 orchestras in Vienna, supplying them with numerous works himself, and was on friendly terms with many prominent musicians of Vienna, including Mozart and Beethoven. Seyfried conducted the premiere of Fidelio, along with many other early performances of important works of the era (New Grove, Seyfried 184).

1827—Vienna, Austria: Andreas Nemetz writes his trombone method, Neueste Posaun-Schule. A mostly unoriginal work derived from earlier methods of Fröhlich and Braun, it differs from those methods (and the vast majority of other written works) in that it categorizes all 3 trombones (alto, tenor, bass) as B-flat instruments, supplying only a single position chart (Weiner, Nemetz).

1830—London, England: Auguste Bertini, a musician active in France, Italy, and England, publishes New System for… All Musical Instruments, an instruction book for a variety of instruments. He mentions alto, tenor, and bass trombones, the alto pitched in E-flat (Myers, Fingering Charts).

1837—Paris, France: Jean-Georges Kastner, the French composer and theorist, writes Traité Général d’Instrumentation, an orchestration treatise that predates that of Berlioz and is adopted into the curriculum at the Paris Conservatory. He provides a position chart for alto trombone clearly indicating an instrument pitched in E-flat (see below image; public domain) (Kastner-Woodward, Traité 313). Kastner also writes about the security and purity of sound when using alto trombone in its middle register instead of tenor in its upper register: “If they are used in their middle register as much as possible, both alto and tenor trombone create a superb effect, because the tones can always be attacked with frankness and purity [franchise et pureté]” (Kastner-Woodward, Traité 250).

Kastner alto

c. 1840—Paris, France: Hartman’s Méthode elémentaire de trombone includes the following information about the pitch and usage of the alto trombone: “There are three types of trombones, alto, tenor or bass, and contrabass. The alto trombone is in E-flat, a fourth above the tenor, tenor trombone is in B-flat, and contrabass trombone in E-flat, a fifth below the tenor trombone. The tenor trombone being nearly the only one in use, it will then be, without question, only about this [one] in this work.” The method book is dated by University of Cambridge’s library catalog as c. 1840, and by Trevor Herbert as “1845?” (Hartman, Methode; Herbert, The Trombone 327).

hartman title page

hartman paragraph

1840—Stuttgart, Germany: As recorded in his Danses des morts, Jean-George Kastner reportedly hears a chorale played each day from a balcony by a quartet consisting of cornett, alto trombone, tenor trombone, and bass trombone: “In 1840, while I was in Stuttgart, I heard every day a concert of sacred music performed by four musicians who, according to custom, climbed the balcony of the tower to play a chorale, of which the first voice was played by the cornett, and the others by alto, tenor, and bass trombones” (Kastner, Danses des morts 213). Kastner specifically describes the alto trombone elsewhere as an instrument pitched in E-flat (see 1837, above).

1840—Karlsruhe, Germany: Gustav Schilling, a German music lexicographer, author, and editor, publishes his Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Musikwissenschaft. The book provides information about the alto trombone, including a position chart, shown below, clearly showing an instrument in E-flat. The chart, which starts with seventh position (labeled a) and proceeds chromatically up to first (labeled g), seems to be inaccurate for seventh position, but clearly points to an e-flat alto trombone with all the other positions (see below image; public domain) (Schilling 59).

1844—Paris, France: Jean-Georges Kastner, the French composer and theorist, writes a Supplement to his Traité Général d’Instrumentation.kastner supp title

As in the original treatise, Kastner places the alto trombone clearly in the E-flat orbit: “In general, in France, the first position of the alto trombone provides the following notes [E-flat harmonic series], but one finds others that feature a first position that is a tone higher [F harmonic series], and consequently all the degrees in the same proportion” (see below image; public domain; p. 40).kastner supplement harmonic series

Likewise, Kastner places the valve alto trombone in E-flat and F (p. 42). Kastner also mentions that, unfortunately, the alto is much more common in Germany than in France: “The alto trombone is in general use in Germany, but is only found in France in very few orchestras, which is very unfortunate because the tenor trombone may not play as high, and composers are deprived of using [notated B-F], notes that would benefit them greatly” (p. 40). He reiterates on the following page that this absence of alto trombone is a negative: “And the alto trombone and bass trombone, which are widespread in Germany, are most unusual in France. It is understood that this is a great disadvantage for our composers” (p. 41). Finally, he adds that, in general, 3 tenor trombones are used in French trombone sections, reiterating that this is negative (difficulty/embarrassment): “In general, French composers use only tenor trombone, for which they write in three parts, but they often continue to indicate by the designations of alto, tenor, and bass, which has given rise to some singular difficulty [embarras], especially in the bass part” (p. 41).

1844—Paris, France: Composer-musicologist Adrien de La Fage’s entry on trombone in the Encyclopédie des gens du monde offers the following information about the key and usage of alto trombone: “Those dimensions are those of the most used trombone, which is to say the tenor trombone—which in practice is used as a bass trombone; that which is used in orchestras where there is only one trombone…But in the large [or great] orchestras, where three trombones are used, other than the preceding that effectively plays the tenor part, there is the alto trombone, in F, which is a fifth above, and the bass trombone at the inferior octave from the alto trombone; although the bass part is most often played on a tenor trombone” (special thanks to Maximilien Brisson for the translation) (vol. 22, part 1, 292).

Berlioz alto1844—Paris, France: Hector Berlioz describes the alto trombone in E-flat (“small trombone, or alto trombone in E-flat”) in his highly influential Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration (see facing image; public domain) (Berlioz-Clarke 152). About the use of the alto trombone he says, “There are four types of trombone, each bearing the name of the human voice to which it most closely approximates in range and tone…. These last three [alto, tenor, and bass] are the only ones in general use. Still it must be said that the alto trombone is not found in every French orchestra and that the bass trombone is almost unknown in France” (Macdonald 208). About clef he states, “The alto trombone is written on the alto clef…” About key and nomenclature he says, “With its slide in closed position the notes which may be obtained with the lips are shown in Ex. 141a, the same series as that produced by the natural resonance of the tube on horns, trumpets, cornets and all other brass instruments in E-flat. Hence the name ‘little’ or ‘alto’ trombone in E-flat, as players call it, though this need not be specified in scores since it sounds at its written pitch and is not one of the transposing instruments…” Although Berlioz offers a mixed opinion about the alto trombone, he does have a few positive things to say, mentioning that the instrument’s high notes are “very useful” and thus bemoaning, “it is a matter for regret therefore that the alto trombone is now to be found in very few of our French orchestras” (Macdonald 208). In his discussion of valve alto trombone (which he explains is pitched in E-flat or F), he is also complimentary: “Melodic solos are frequently written for the alto valve trombone. If well phrased, a melody can have considerable charm on this instrument.” Although the statement is in reference to valve alto trombone, Berlioz adds, “But it is a mistake to believe it would have any less charm on the slide trombone in the hands of a true virtuoso…” (Macdonald 228).

1844—Hector Berlioz, in his orchestration textbook, includes 4 alto trombones (in E-flat; see above), 6 tenor trombones, and 2 bass trombones in his “dream orchestra” (Macdonald 329).

1848—Paris, France: Jean Georges Kastner’s treatise on military music, Manuel Général de Musique Militaire, includes prints of a number of different types of trombones used in military music, including rear-facing trombone, double-slide trombone, and several types of valve trombones (see below image; public domain). The note on the bottom of the page reads, “There are, as we know, three types of trombone, alto, tenor, and bass; but it is simply a difference in size and not in the shape of the instrument (Kastner, Militaire Pl. XVII).

1853—New York: Allen Dodworth shows position charts for alto trombone in F, tenor trombone in C, tenor trombone in B-flat, and bass trombone in G, in his book, Dodworth’s Brass Band School (see below image; public domain).dodworth book trns

1853—Leipzig, Germany: Ferdinand Gleich, a German composer and author, writes his Handbuch der modernen Instrumentirung für Orchester und Militairmusikcorps. In his section on alto trombone, he mentions that music for alto trombone is notated in alto clef, that the alto trombone is an e-flat instrument (although it is non-transposing), and that it has the following chromatic range (public domain image; Gleich 48-49):

1855—England/Austria: In Novello’s translation of Albrechtsberger’s collected writings, J. G. Albrechtsberger’s Collected Writings on Thorough-bass, Harmony, and Composition, edited by Seyfried, the overtone series and range of the alto trombone is diagrammed, clearly showing an instrument in E-flat. The overtone series diagram begins with 6th position and proceeds to 1st (see below image; public domain) (Albrechtsberger-Novello 253).

1859—London, England: Charles Mandel, Professor at the Royal Military School of Music, discusses alto trombone in his Treatise on the Instrumentation of Military Bands. Although he describes altos in E-flat, E, and F, as well as offering position charts for each, he comments that “at the present time, instead of an alto, tenor, and bass trombone, three tenor trombones are employed…” (Mandel 65). Later he mentions that “[the alto] is superseded by valved alt-horns, or by the tenor trombone; while, again, the bass trombone, being too troublesome, is replaced by the bass valved instruments, or the tenor trombone” (Mandel 67). However, he concludes with his own unique proposal of a section of different sizes of trombones in relatively close keys: “For my own part, therefore, I should be inclined to employ the three trombones, with a slight difference of key; choosing the first in C or D flat, the second in B flat, and the third as tenor-bass, supported by a bass trombone, on which some of the bass notes might be doubled by means of the lower octave (Mandel 68).

1862—Leipzig, Germany: Franz Ludwig Schubert’s Katechismus der musik-instrumente includes the following alto trombone position chart, clearly showing an instrument pitched in E-flat (public domain image) (Schubert, Ketechismus 72). This is in agreement with the author’s Die Instrumentalmusik of 1865 (see below). The question posed above the position chart,  just below the heading, is, “Which notes do the seven positions produce?”

Gevaert 241 altoGevaert 242 alto1863—Paris, France: François Gevaert, who later becomes director of the Brussels Conservatory, writes his influential Treatise on Instrumentation, which includes a slide position chart and range diagram of the alto trombone, revealing an instrument in E-flat (See facing 2 images; public domain; Gevaert 241-242).

1865—Leipzig, Germany: Franz Ludwig Schubert’s Die Instrumentalmusik: in ihre Theorie und ihrer Praxis oder die Hauptformen und Tonwerkzeuge der Concert-, Kammer-, Militär- und Tanzmusik includes the following alto trombone position chart, clearly showing an instrument pitched in E-flat (public domain image) (Schubert, Instrumentalmusik 122). This is in agreement with his Katechismus der musik-instrumente of 1862 (see above).

1867—London, England: F. J. Fetis, in his orchestration guide published in the periodical The Musical World, says, “The compass of the trombone alto, like the bass trombone, is not alike in all countries; in Germany the dimensions of the tubes being larger than in France, and the manner in which some portions of it are disposed being different, the bass trombone descends to C, while in France, it only descends to E…The alto trombone is a fifth higher than the bass trombone, and descends to B-flat, reaching up to E-flat….Three parts are generally written for the trombones, which are called bass trombone, tenor trombone, and alto trombone. The tenor trombone part is sometimes played upon the bass trombone. Some composers write these three parts on the one set of lines, with the F, or bass clef; others the tenor part with the key or C upon the fourth line; others write upon the same set of lines, the tenor and bass trombone parts, and on the next lines write the alto trombone part. Others again write each part separately, and in the key of each instrument” (Fetis 477).

1870—London, England: Adam Wirth’s trombone method, Posaunen-Schule für Alt, Tenor und Bass-Posaune…Instruction Book of the Simple and Valve-Trombone, written in both German and English, is apparently intended for a wide audience. It includes a “Table of the different Trombones” that shows alto trombone in E-flat, valve and slide tenors in B-flat, and bass in F (see facing image; public domain) (Herbert, Trombone 192).

1877—London, England: Ebenezer Prout, soon to become professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music and later Guildhall School of Music, writes the following about alto trombone in his text, Instrumentation: “Formerly a soprano trombone seems to have been known, as we find it indicated in some of Bach’s scores. It is now, however, entirely obsolete; and even the alto trombone is not employed in France, though in this country and in Germany it is frequently to be met with in the orchestra. THE ALTO TROMBONE is in the key of E-flat—i.e., the natural sounds produced by the difference of embouchure when playing with the slide closed for part of the harmonic series of that key….Three trombones are usually employed in the orchestra: in England and Germany, an alto, a tenor, and a bass; and in France, three tenor trombones. If a student bear this fact in mind he will see the reason for the difference in the treatment of the instruments which he will find in French scores (e.g., those of Auber or Hérod), as compared with those of German masters.” (Prout, Instrumentation 87-88). Regarding notation and clef of the trombone family, he mentions several different practices, while concluding that “many give a separate line to each instrument, and write each with its proper clef” (Prout, Instrumentation 88).

1879—London, England: William Alexander Barrett, British writer, critic, choirmaster, and Vicar-Choral of St. Paul’s Cathedral, writes the following about alto trombone in his An Introduction to Form and Instrumentation: “The Alto Trombone is not so frequently used in the orchestra as it should be, the players preferring the convenience of the Tenor instrument, the tone of which, though good, lacks the soft brilliancy of the Alto” (Barrett 73-74).

Grove alto1879-1890—London, England: Sir George Grove publishes the first edition of his influential Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The trombone article, written by William Stone, includes a position chart for alto trombone, tenor trombone, bass trombone in G, and bass trombone in F. Stone mentions that the alto trombone is pitched in F or E-flat, and the alto positions shown in the position chart are clearly for an instrument in E-flat (see facing image; public domain) (Grove 1st ed. 177).

1879-1888—London, England: Robert Hunter’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary, one of the most influential English dictionaries of its type during the 19th century, mentions that the alto trombone is known as an E-flat instrument: “There are three kinds of trombones, called after their compass the alto, tenor, and bass trombones….The alto trombone has a compass of more than two octaves and a half, and is also known as the trombone in E-flat. It is written in the c clef, third line” (Hunter 215).

1882—Leipzig, Germany: Hugo Riemann, influential musicologist and professor at Leipzig University, publishes his Dictionary of Music, wherein he specifically mentions that “the alto trombone in E-flat (orchestral compass A to E-flat)” is “now somewhat rare” (Riemann, Dictionary 809). Riemann also mentions E-flat alto trombone in his Handbuch of 1919 (see below).

Saro alto1883—Leipzig, Germany: Heinrich Saro, German composer, military bandmaster, and trombonist, publishes his text on instrumentation for military bands, Instrumentations-Lehre für Militair-Musik, which describes an alto trombone in E-flat (see facing image; public domain): “The alto trombone is rarely represented in military music. It has an effective range of two octaves and is written in alto clef. If the slide is closed, we obtain the following series of notes [see diagram, above]. The second position gives the pitch of half a tone lower, etc. Trills are not written for the alto trombone; likewise it is not possible to play the following figure: [see diagram, above]” (Saro 17).

Coon 73 alto1883—Cincinnati, Ohio: Oscar Coon publishes his text, Harmony and Instrumentation, and says the following about the trombone in the orchestra: “In this country, the Alto and Bass are seldom seen, and the three Trombone parts are played on Tenor Trombones.” He indicates that the alto trombone is an E-flat instrument, offering a diagram of the pitch range (see above; public domain). About notation, he says, “Music for the Trombone is written in different ways; some authors using the Bass clef for all three Trombones, while others write the three parts on different staves, giving to each the proper clef—Alto, Tenor and Bass. Others, again write the 1st and 2nd on one stave in the Alto or Tenor clef, and the 3rd in the Bass clef” (Coon 73).

1884—Boston, Massachessetts: J. B. Claus, whose “The Structure of the Orchestra,” appears in Musical Herald, states, “In the old scores, the trombone parts are written in alto, tenor, and bass clef respectively, and the instruments used were of corresponding registers. The alto trombone, the smallest in size, was in the pitch of E-flat.” (Claus).

1884—Scotland: Frederick Niecks, a German music scholar who spends the bulk of his career in Scotland, holding positions in the Mackenzie String Quartet and, later, at the University of Edinburgh, writes his Concise Dictionary of Musical Terms. In the trombone entry, he specifies the key of the alto trombone (“alto trombone in the key of E flat”) and makes the common connection with alto clef: “The alto trombone is generally noted in the alto clef.” He also points out, “Three is the usual number of trombones employed in the orchestra. But the bass trombone is becoming more and more rare, and instead of it a second tenor trombone is frequently employed. In France we find even three tenor trombones. Besides the slide trombones there are also valve trombones, which, however, are inferior with regard to tone” (Niecks 246).

1888—London: Hamilton Clarke, a composer, conductor, and arranger active at many London theatres, writes his orchestration text, Manual of Orchestration. In both the body of the text and the diagrams, Clarke puts the alto trombone unambiguously in E-flat, while also associating the alto, tenor, and bass trombones with their respective alto, tenor, and bass clefs. He says, “Formerly, and indeed until quite recently, alto, tenor, and bass trombones were used, each written for in their respective clefs, and on a different line” (Clarke 68). The range diagrams are from p. 119 of the text, and the position chart from p. 120 (see below 2 images; public domain).

1888—New York: Arthur Clappé, a former faculty member of London’s Royal Military School who eventually becomes an influential bandmaster in England, Canada, and the United States, publishes his treatise, The Band Teacher’s Assistant. In his discussion of the trumpet family, he labels the alto trombone an E-flat instrument: “The trumpet family consists of a complete quartet as follows: Soprano trumpet (in almost any key), E-flat alto trombone, B-flat tenor trombone, and G, F, or E-flat bass trombone. It is to be regretted that this family is not used complete in our bands, since it imparts a richness and variety of tonal color, now deficient” (Clappé, Band Teacher’s Assistant 35).

1888—Edinburgh, Scotland: The Encyclopaedia Britannica article on trombone mentions the family of trombones, including alto in F and alto in E-flat: “At present six trombones are more or less in use, viz., the alto trombone in F, the alto in E-flat (formerly in D), the tenor in B-flat (formerly in A), the bass in G, the bass in F (formerly in E), the bass in E-flat (formerly in D)” (Baynes XXIII 587).

1889—Paris, France: Pierre-François Clodomir (1815-1884), a cornet player in the 11th Legion Band of the Paris National Guard and later a teacher at the Lycée Imperial Napoléon, mentions alto trombone in his Manuel Complet (6th ed.). He says the alto, no longer in use, was an instrument pitched in F: “There were formerly four slide trombones that formed a small family: 1) the soprano trombone in B-flat, 2) the alto trombone in F, 3) the tenor trombone in B-flat, 4) the bass trombone in F. The only one employed today is the tenor trombone” (Clodomir 21).

1889—Leipzig, Germany: Salomon Jadassohn, professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Leipzig, writes his orchestration text, A Course of Instruction in Instrumentation. The text, soon translated into English, includes information about the alto trombone, including a diagram of the overtone series of the E-flat alto trombone (see below image; public domain; Jadassohn 275). The author states, “Formerly we always had three trombones in the orchestra, namely: alto, tenor, and bass trombone. The last named instrument which is no more in use–as previously remarked above–is admirably replaced by the tuba. The alto trombone is of less frequent use, for its higher notes, such as one-lined B-flat, B and two-lined C can be taken much better by the valve-trumpet (Jadassohn 273).

1889—Hamburg, Germany: Carl Schroeder explains the following about alto trombone in his Handbook of Conducting: “There are alto, tenor and bass trombones, and with closed slide these have the following natural notes: Alto Tromb. [shows harmonic series in E-flat]….In many orchestras only tenor trombones are used, and frequently only these are indicated by modern composers. But where the alto and bass trombones are prescribed by the composer, it should be seen to that such are played.” (Schroeder 87).

1889—Quincy, Illinois: Pierre V. Olker’s Musician’s Hand and Text Book mentions alto, tenor, and bass trombones, noting the following about alto: “The E-flat Alto Slide Trombone with a notation in the Alto clef, derives its name from the fact that the tones produced in the closed (first) position, are all intervals of the chord of E-flat major” (Olker 77). An overtone series in E-flat is notated on the following page (see below; public domain image) (Olker 78).

1890—Boston, MA: “The trombone is at present made in three pitches, alto, tenor, and bass…The alto-trombone is called the E-flat trombone, as, with closed slides, it gives the harmonic series of E-flat…The tenor-trombone is the instrument of this family most used; although this is a faulty arrangement. This is a B-flat trombone, that note being its fundamental…As already seen, the alto-trombone is notated in the alto-clef, the tenor in the tenor, and the bass-trombone in the bass-clef. The trombone has been in use for many centuries, but it was poorly used, even in the last century. The old composers used it in unison with the contra-basses, a barbarous mode of strengthening the bass. Mozart appears to have been the first to have appreciated the instrument, and his use of trombones in his ‘Requiem’ and in the graveyard scene in ‘Don Giovanni’ was the beginning of real trombone-writing” (Elson, Theory 67-68).

1893—Leipzig, Germany: Richard Hofmann, professor at the Leipzig Conservatory, writes his instrumentation treatise, Praktische Instrumentationslehre. About the alto trombone Hofmann says, “The alto trombone is the smallest and most easily handled of the trombones now in use, and is written for in the alto clef. It is usually said to be an instrument in E-flat…” He includes an alto trombone position chart, showing an instrument clearly in E-flat (see below image; public domain) (Hofmann part 6, 26). Hofmann also mentions that the valve alto trombone is pitched in E-flat (Hofmann part 6, 45).Hofmann-alto

Lavignac alto1895—Paris, France: Albert Lavignac, professor at the Paris Conservatory, writes his treatise, La Musique et les Musiciens. About the trombone family he says, “There are three varieties of slide trombone: the alto trombone, the tenor trombone, and the bass trombone, which are each written in the clef suitable for the voice of which they bear the name…” He then offers the range for each, showing an alto trombone apparently in E-flat (he later confirms this, saying the alto is pitched a fourth higher than the tenor), the lowest note being the lowest pitch attainable on an E-flat instrument (excepting pedal notes), and the highest being the 8th partial in first position (compare the tenor trombone range offered, which shows comparable notes in B-flat) (see facing image; public domain) (Lavignac 142).

Corder alto1896—London, England: Frederick Corder, British conductor, writer, and professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London, publishes his orchestration text, The Orchestra and How to Write for It: A Practical Guide. Corder includes a diagram of the range of the alto trombone in E-flat (see above image; public domain), commenting on the rarity of the alto and bass instruments, “It is a great pity that practical reasons have conduced to the almost entire abolition of all save the B-flat trombone; but it cannot be helped, so we must accept the fact.” He bemoans that cornets have to be used to fill in “the valuable high notes of the Alto trombone” (Corder 58).

Mahillon1897—Brussels, Belgium: Victor-Charles Mahillon, Belgian musician, instrument builder, and curator of the Conservatoire museum in Brussels, writes an orchestration text that includes a fingering/position chart for the trombone family of alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass. The chart clearly indicates an alto trombone in E-flat (see above diagram–click to enlarge; public domain) (Mahillon 34).

1897—London, England: Charles Vincent, whose Scoring for an Orchestra had been originally appeared in The Organist and Choirmaster, says, “There are three trombones in general use in a complete orchestra, viz.: the alto, tenor, and bass, though frequently the alto instrument is omitted, an additional tenor taking its place (Vincent 30). Regarding the key and range of the alto trombone, he says, “The alto trombone is in E-flat, and has a compass, for practical purposes, from [notated c to d-flat”]” (Vincent 31). And finally, he includes a position chart for alto trombone, saying, “The following are the notes produced from the seven positions on the alto trombone in E-flat [position chart for E-flat alto trombone] (Vincent 32).

1897—London, England: Ebenezer Prout writes about alto trombone in his treatise, The Orchestra. His discussion is similar to his text, Instrumentation, from 20 years earlier, the main difference being his inclusion of Italy with France as places where alto is not in use. “Though the tenor trombone, of which we have been speaking, is the only one to be found in the orchestras of France and Italy, two other varieties are employed in this country and in Germany. These are the alto and the bass trombone. Except in pitch, they exactly resemble the tenor trombone, and will therefore need no lengthened description. The ALTO TROMBONE is a perfect fourth higher than the tenor, its fundamental note, with the slide closed, being E flat. The pedal notes of this instrument have never, so far as we know, been employed. Its tone, though somewhat less powerful than that of the tenor trombone, is also brighter, especially in its upper notes. Its compass is from [A] to [E flat] [notates on staves] with all the intermediate semitones; but its lower notes are of inferior quality, and are, besides, not needed, as they lie in the medium of the tenor trombone. Its upper notes, on the other hand, are far superior to the same notes on the tenor, and it is to be regretted that the instrument is not always to be found in our orchestras” (Prout, Orchestra 223-4). He later reiterates regional differences: “In the enormous majority of cases three trombones are employed in the orchestra. In France and Italy, as mentioned above, these are three tenor trombones, in England and Germany, either alto, tenor, and bass or two tenors and bass.” (Prout, Orchestra 225). Finally, he comments on notation: “There is no instrument in the orchestra as to which there is so much diversity of practice, as regards notation, as the trombone. In one respect it differs from all the brass instruments hitherto treated; it is always written at its real pitch, as a non-transposing instrument. The older masters mostly gave a separate staff to each trombone, using the alto, tenor, and bass clefs (Mozart: ‘Don Giovanni,’ second finale; Beethoven: Finale of symphony in C minor, Mass in D, &c.). In modern scores two staves are more frequently employed, the alto and tenor trombones being written on the one and the bass trombone on the other. Either the alto or tenor clef is used for the two upper trombones, the former being the more common, probably because fewer leger [sic] lines are required if the part for the alto trombone lies high. If there are two tenor trombones, instead of an alto and a tenor, the tenor clef is of course adopted. Examples of this will be seen in Wagner’s later scores, though he sometimes, when the parts lie low, writes all the trombones in the F clef (e.g. in the Prelude to ‘Tristan und Isolde’)” (Prout, Orchestra 225).

1897—Frankfurt, Germany: Adolph Pochhammer, writing in his Einführung in die Musik, states that the alto trombone is pitched a fourth above the tenor trombone and the bass trombone is pitched a fourth below tenor trombone. With the tenor trombone presumably in B-flat, this places the other instruments in E-flat (alto) and F (bass). Pochhammer also explains that each instrument is written for in its corresponding clef (Pochhammer 168).

1898—Milan, Italy: Amintore Galli, professor at the Milan Conservatory, writes his orchestration text, Strumenti e Strumentazione, in which he describes an alto trombone in E-flat (trombone contralto), explaining that the instrument is comparable mechanically to the tenor trombone, and showing the instrument’s pitch range (see below image; public domain). He also comments, “In the orchestra, three trombones are used in chorus, in full harmony and sometimes majestic drawn melodies, especially the alto trombone and tenor trombone” (Galli 107-108).

1899—Toronto, Canada: William James Henderson says the following in his orchestration text, The Orchestra and Orchestral Music: “In respect of register there are three principal kinds of trombones—alto, tenor, and bass. The alto has a compass extending from A at the bottom of the bass clef to the E flat in the top space of the treble clef…The alto trombone is in E flat….The tone of the trombone is grave and majestic, but it may be made to rage hoarsely. In all solemn or broadly dignified music trombones play a conspicuous part” (Henderson 34).

1899—Madrid, Spain: Luisa Lacál, discussing the trombone family in her lexicon, Diccionario de la música, téchico, histórico, bio-bibliográfico, states that the alto trombone (trombone contralto or alt-posaune) is pitched in E-flat (Lacál 549).

1900—Boston, MA: Louis C. Elson, author of the orchestration chapter of Famous Composers and their Works writes, “The alto, tenor and bass trombones are used frequently in modern music although not regular instruments of the classical orchestra…..the clarinetist often uses the B flat clarinet in defiance of the will of the composer, and many orchestras whose scores call for alto, tenor and bass trombones present all three parts upon tenor, or B flat, trombones….The alto trombone is the smallest of the group and possesses the shortest tube, therefore, the highest tone-series; its deeper register is weak, but the instrument is brilliant and effective in its higher tones; it is called the E flat trombone from the fact that (with closed slides, or without touching its keys) it gives the harmonic series of E flat.” He then provides a position chart for alto trombone in E-flat (Elson, Famous 137).

Fitzgerald alto1902—London, England: John Fitzgerald, London conductor and arranger, writes his Modern Instrumentation for String, Military, and Brass Bands, in which he clearly shows ranges for an alto in E-flat, tenor in B-flat, and bass in G (see facing image; public domain) (Fitzgerald 35).

1904—Paris, France: Charles Widor, author of the influential orchestration text, Technique de l’orchestre moderne, comments on the “admirable timbre” of the alto trombone, ranking the instrument as an “indispensable voice” in the traditional quartet of cornetto and 3 trombones: “Despite its admirable timbre, akin to that of the Trumpet in F, the Alto Trombone has now become more or less obsolete, because its compass being much the same, it is almost a duplicate of that magnificent instrument…. It was a characteristic German custom, on Sundays and Church holidays, to have the Choral for the day played by a band of Cornet and Trombone players, standing in the tower of the principal church. Bach introduced this effect into his Cantatas, the brass instrument group playing alone or doubling in unison each of the vocal parts. So, the Cornetto and the Trombones were grouped together, and the Alto became an indispensable voice in this robust quartet” (Widor 78).

1905—Boston, MA: Louis Charles Elson, author of Elson’s Music Dictionary, mentions alto trombone in E-flat and shows the instrument’s harmonic series in E-flat (Elson, Dictionary).

1908—Ixelles, Belgium: Emile Ergo, Professor of Harmony, Counterpoint, and Instrumentation at the Institute of High Musical Studies, Ixelles, Belgium, authors the treatise, Dans les propylées de l’instrumentation. About the family of trombones and use of clefs he says, “After the traditional rule, each species of trombone uses the clef of the corresponding voice.” He also clearly describes an alto trombone in E-flat, with the label “Trombone-alto (mi flat),” followed by a staff with alto clef and a notated e-flat on the staff. He labels tenor clef “Trombone-ténor (si flat),” followed by a staff with tenor clef and a notated b-flat on the staff (Ergo 38).

1911—Clappé, in his text, The Wind Band and its Instruments, mentions “Eb alto,” showing its harmonic series in E-flat.

Mayerhoff alto1913—Berlin, Germany: Franz Mayerhoff writes his instrumentation treatise, Instrumentenlehre, in which he shows an alto trombone position chart for an instrument that is clearly in E-flat (see facing image; public domain) (Mayerhoff 57).

1914—London, England: Cecil Forsyth writes the following about the alto trombone in his orchestration text: “The Alto (or E-flat) Trombone: This Trombone is now practically obsolete. It is built in the key of E-flat, a perfect fourth higher than the Tenor….The part was almost invariably written in the alto-clef, but the bass-clef was used occasionally and conveniently for the lowest notes” (Forsyth 139).

1919—Berlin, Germany: Hugo Riemann, influential musicologist and professor at Leipzig University, writes his Handbuch der Musikinstrumente, in which he diagrams the range and pedal register of the alto trombone, clearly an instrument in E-flat (see below image; public domain) (Riemann Handbuch 87).

1921—Brussels, Belgium: Belgian composer and teacher Paul Gilson, former Professor of Composition at Brussels Conservatory, writes the following in his treatise, Le Tutti Orchestral: “The alto trombone, which has fallen into disuse, was in E flat–a fourth above tenor trombone in B flat; the latter is the only one that remains of the old trio of trombones. The alto trombone therefore climbed with relative ease up to E flat (see the 4th movement of the 3rd Symphony by Schumann, 4th measure; this passage is cited by Gevaert in his Traite d’Instrumentation)” (Gilson 58).

1922—Boston, Massachusetts: Arthur Elson remarks in Orchestra Instruments and Their Use, “The alto trombone stands in F; that is to say, its fundamental tone is F, and its harmonic series with closed slides is based on that note. Its lower register is inferior in quality, and as it corresponds to the best part of the tenor trombone, it is never needed. But its upper notes are superior to the same tones on any other instrument of this family, and they might well be included in some of our extensive modern orchestras” (Elson, Orchestra 240).

1924—Boston, Massachusetts: William C. White discusses the trombone family in his treatise, Military Band Arranging, clearly stating the key of alto trombone: “Trombones are built in E-flat alto…” (White 23).