Over the weekend I went through the Alto Trombone History Timeline and double-checked sources. I ended up adding several sources to the Alto Bibliography that had inadvertently been omitted (primarily 19th-century trade catalogs). With these additions, the Alto Timeline now features more than 100 primary sources, not to mention the numerous secondary sources. With the possible exception of Ken Shifrin’s excellent dissertation on the use of alto trombone in the orchestra, I don’t believe there is any other single document on alto trombone that utilizes as many primary sources.
I recently added this caption (below) to the Alto Trombone Timeline, bringing the total number of primary sources in that timeline to 93. The location is noteworthy; there are not many sources from Spain on the alto trombone.
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).
Today I added the below caption to the Alto Trombone Timeline, bringing the total number of primary sources for the timeline to 90. Noteworthy is the fact that the author clearly states that the alto trombone is pitched in F, a fourth above the tenor trombone, not simply in the same key as the tenor with a smaller mouthpiece.
1837—London, England: George Hogarth, Scottish music critic and musicologist, specifies the keys of the members of the trombone family in an article in The Musical World, the preeminent British music journal of the time: “Thus the bass trombone gives the fundamental note G…The tenor trombone is in C, a fourth higher than the bass trombone; and the alto trombone is in F, a fourth above the tenor trombone…” (Hogarth 132).
I just added the caption and diagram below to the Alto Trombone Timeline and the Alto in Treatises page. Another alto trombone primary source. Notice that the alto trombone is not merely a tenor trombone with an extra-small mouthpiece, but a smaller trombone in a clearly different key.
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).
I just added the caption below to the Trombone History Timeline (18th century) and the Alto Trombone Timeline. This brings the number of primary sources for the Alto Trombone Timeline to 89. I’ll be adding several more soon. The reader will notice not only that there are four different trombones in the family, but that Brossard mentions different sizes of instruments, not merely similar instruments with smaller or bigger mouthpieces.
1703—Paris, France: Sébastien de Brossard describes four different sizes of trombones under the “trombone” heading of his Dictionnaire de musique: “There are several sizes which are capable of serving in the performance of different parts in the music: There is a small one which the Italians call TROMBONE PICCOLO and the Germans KLEINE ALT-POSAUNE which can serve as the counter-tenor; the part for it is usually entitled TROMBONE PRIMO or 1o. There is another one, a little larger, which is called TROMBONE MAGGIORE or MAJORE which can serve as the tenor; its part is entitled TROMBONE SECONDO, IIo, or 2o. There is a third, even larger, which the Italians call TROMBONE GROSSO and the Germans GROSSE QUART-POSAUNE which can supplement our viola or oboe; its part is entitled TROMBONE TERZO, IIIo, or 3o. Finally, there is one which is the largest of all, one which the Italians call TROMBONE GRANDE and which is heard a great deal especially playing the bass; its part is entitled TROMBONE QUARTO, IVo, or simply TROMBONE without other addition. It is usually given the fourth-line F-clef, but also very often the fifth-line F-clef because of the depth and profundity of its notes” (paragraph breaks not shown) (Brossard-Gruber 196).
I recently added a new source to both the Alto Trombone Timeline and Alto in Treatises pages. I believe that brings the total number of alto trombone primary sources to 88, as you can see in the Alto Trombone History Bibliography. Here’s the caption, below:
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).
I recently added the below prefatory note about sources to the beginning of the Alto Trombone Timeline.
A note on sources: In historical research, primary sources are gold. Why? Because they bring readers closer to actual documented facts rather than individual interpretations and opinions. The timeline below draws from more than 85 primary sources, which is, I daresay, more primary sources than any other single document on the alto trombone (with the possible exception of bibliographies). In addition, the timeline utilizes numerous current secondary sources, including Early Music, Historic Brass Society Journal, Galpin Society Journal, and a number of recently-published books. If you notice a source in the timeline that you feel has been somehow discredited or improperly vetted, by all means, let me know, and I will consider correcting or deleting the related entry.
I recently added the two entries below to the Alto Trombone Timeline. They are especially noteworthy because of their early date. For other information on the alto trombone, see Extant Altos, which shows that fully a quarter of the existing historical trombones are alto trombones, and that these instruments are spread fairly evenly historically. See also Alto in Treatises, which suggests that, historically, the alto trombone was primarily an instrument pitched in the E-flat orbit. Finally, see Alto Quotes, which provides positive aesthetic opinions about the alto trombone spanning several centuries from prominent figures as musically and historically diverse as Kastner, Brahms, G.B. Shaw, Horatio Parker, and Stravinsky.
1594—Prague, Czech Republic, and Kassel, Germany: Alessandro Orologio, a composer and instrumentalist at the court of Rudolf II in Prague, visits the court of Moritz von Hessen in Kassel, Germany. After the visit, he recommends, through a letter, that the Kassel court purchase a large number of instruments. Included among the recommended instruments are the following trombones: “In Nuremberg, two Tromboni piccolo and one grosso…and two even smaller [piu piccolo] that serve as sopranos.” As Stewart Carter points out, the two “even smaller” trombones are probably alto trombones (Carter, The Trombone in the Renaissance 316-17).
1597—Barcelona, Spain: An inventory prepared for an auction features various sizes of trombones, including a sacabuche tiple pequeño, which is “probably an alto trombone,” according to Stewart Carter (Carter, The Trombone in the Renaissance 343-44).
I recently made a little trip to University of California-Santa Barbara to have a look at their trade catalog holdings. Their Romaine Trade Catalog Collection, which includes more that 40,000 items, is one of the largest such collections in the country. What I was particularly interested in searching was their collection of historical music catalogs (especially those from the 19th century) to see whether any included alto trombone. Below are several of the references I found and have included in the Alto Trombone History Timeline, in addition to the catalog references that were already featured in the timeline. To see scans of alto trombone images from many of the sources, see the Alto Trombone History Timeline.
These new catalog references that I have added, combined with the ones already included in the timeline, amount to 16 examples from 19th century England, France, Germany, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the US. I have only included examples in which pitch is clearly indicated. What they suggest is 1) the mid-late 19th century alto trombone was an instrument primarily pitched in E-flat or F*, and 2) the alto trombone was common enough in the mid-late 19th century to at least warrant inclusion in numerous commercial catalogs.
*For additional evidence of the alto trombone as an instrument primarily pitched in the E-flat orbit, see Extant Altos and Alto in Treatises. See also this noteworthy recently-published letter by Johannes Brahms from the year 1859, wherein Brahms advocates very strongly for a “genuine little alto trombone.”
THE CATALOG REFERENCES
1857—England: Henry Distin’s instrument catalog shows offerings of slide and valve alto trombones in E-flat and F (Myers, Horn Function 250).
1878—Paris, France: A catalog from Jérome Thibouville-Lamy, French instrument manufacturer and distributor, offers alto valve trombones in F and E-flat (Thibouville 1878, p. 130).
1878—Chicago, Illinois: Lyon & Healy, an instrument distributor and manufacturer, includes an alto valve trombone, specifically labeled an E-flat instrument, in its commercial catalog (Lyon & Healy 1878, p. 23).
1880—New York: The catalog for Busch & Dodworth’s “Band Instrument” holdings indicates that the manufacturer offers a valve alto trombone pitched in E-flat (Busch & Dodworth 13).
1880—Chicago, Illinois: Lyon & Healy, an instrument distributor and manufacturer, includes 2 alto valve trombone models in its catalog. Both are labeled as E-flat instruments (Lyon & Healy 1880, 33).
1885—London, England: A price list for London manufacturer Silvani & Smith lists slide alto trombones in E-flat and F. Also offered are B-flat tenor (both slide and valve) and G bass (both slide and valve) (University of California Santa Barbara Romaine Trade Catalog Collection).
1886—New York: An “Illustrated Catalogue” for C. Bruno & Son offers three different E-flat alto valve trombones (“Style A,” “Style B,” and “Style C”), as well as a slide alto trombone in E-flat (Bruno 17, 31, 52-53).
1887—Paris, France: A catalog from manufacturer Jérome Thibouville-Lamy targeting “American patrons” includes 3 different valve alto trombones, all pitched in the key of E-flat (one each under the categories of “Good Ordinary Quality,” “First Quality,” and “Superior Quality”) (University of California Santa Barbara Romaine Trade Catalog Collection).
1894—Chicago, Illinois: The catalog for Lyon & Healy, an instrument distributor and manufacturer, advertises numerous valve alto trombones, all specified as E-flat instruments. Several bear a resemblance to valve alto trombones offered by other US distributors during the same time period, such as Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck (Lyon & Healy 1894, 35, 39, 43, 50). In addition, the catalogue offers a slide alto trombone in E-flat (Lyon & Healy 1894, 53).
1895—Chicago, Illinois: The popular and widely-distributed Montgomery Ward mail order catalog includes offerings of 2 different types of valve alto trombones, the first under the subheading of “German Piston Valves” and the other under the subheading of “Improved French Piston Instruments.” Both alto trombones are listed as E-flat instruments (Montgomery Ward 249).
1895—Wildstein, Bohemia (Czech Republic): Hermann Trapp’s musical instrument catalog, 12th edition, offers alto trombones in both F and E-flat (University of California Santa Barbara Romaine Trade Catalog Collection).
1897—Boston, Massachussetts: The John C. Haynes Catalog offers an E-flat alto valve trombone under the label “Hileron.” Under the label “Special,” their least expensive brand, they also offer an E-flat alto valve trombone (University of California Santa Barbara Romaine Trade Catalog Collection).
1897—Königgrätz, Czech Republic: The trade catalog for V.F. Cerveny & Söhne includes an alto trombone pitched in E-flat (University of California Santa Barbara Romaine Trade Catalog Collection).
1897—Chicago, Illinois: The popular and widely-distributed Sears & Roebuck catalogue includes offerings of 3 different types of alto trombone: one slide alto (according to the catalogue description, an instrument “by the leading French manufacturer”) and two valve altos (one of them “furnished with German silver mouthpiece, German piston valves, water key and music rack,” the other a very compact instrument with “French Light Action silver piston valves” and “German silver mouthpiece”). All three are advertised as instruments in the key of E-flat (Sears 1897, 530).
1899—Leipzig, Germany: A catalog of brass instruments for the firm of Julius Heinrich Zimmermann shows a fairly diverse offering of trombones, including alto (in E-flat), tenor, and bass trombones in both valve and slide models (Moeck 106).
1899—Tilburg, Netherlands: Musical instrument manufacturer M.J.H. Kessels offers alto trombones in E-flat and F, both slide and valve, in his catalog (Kessels 1899, 23).
Really beautiful alto trombone playing! Added the following two clips to the 18th Century Timeline of Michael Mulcahy’s solo premiere with the Chicago Symphony, playing Leopold Mozart’s Concerto.
Mulcahy’s alto playing encompasses many of the best elements writers have historically found in the alto trombone (see Alto Quotes): purity (Kastner, 1839); soft brilliancy (William Alexander Barrett, 1879); admirable timbre (Charles Widor, 1904); a certain transparency, even gracility, in general effect; (Horatio Parker 1917); and a lighter, sweeter sound than the tenor (Blatter, 1980).