From One Duke to Another: Teach Your Trumpeter the Manner and Art of Playing the Trombone

Milan as it appeared in 1493 (from Nuremberg Chronicle)

Milan in 1493 (Nuremberg Chronicle)

I recently added the below entries to the Trombone History Timeline, 15th century (the 1471 entry was expanded from a previous entry). These entries are noteworthy because they refer to the first century of trombone history, and early details about the trombone are naturally somewhat more difficult to find than later information about the instrument. In addition, these entries supply some colorful background about the daily life of Renaissance musicians.

I find it particularly compelling that the following offer is made from one duke to another as a way to improve the quality of his wind ensemble: “Piero our trombonist will always be ready to teach Bartolomeo your trumpeter the manner and art of playing the trombone” (see 1490).

Also of interest is the imprisonment of the duke of Milan’s shawms and trombones for misbehavior. This recalls similar examples from Frank D’Accone’s book, Civic Muse, an excellent and vivid account of early music in Siena, Italy (see 1548 and 1570 in the timeline).

Another noteworthy element is the use the term trombono, yet another early variant of the word trombone, an Italian word simply meaning “large trumpet.” I have added this variant to my Hubpages article, Trombone Names Throughout History.

The Timeline Entries—

1469—Milan, Italy: By this date, the number of ducal pifferi is expanded to at least 6: 4 shawms and 2 trombones (Prizer, Music at the Court of the Sforza).

1471—Italy: Galeazzo Maria Sforza wants to take musicians with him on a trip to Florence; however, because he has imprisoned several shawms and trombones for misbehavior, he is forced to borrow musicians from the marquis of Mantua. Galeazzo writes, “In this our andata to Florence we lack our shawms and trombones, whom we had [originally] planned to take with us. We have put them in prison because they committed a certain offense, and, not wishing to free them at present, we ask your Lordship to be pleased to lend us yours for this trip, for which we shall be most grateful.” The request is honored (Broder; Prizer, Music at the Court of Sforza).

1490—Milan and Ferrara, Italy: After a request from Ludovico Sforza, Ercole d’Este of Florence writes him that “Piero our trombonist will always be ready to teach Bartolomeo your trumpeter the manner and art of playing the trombone” (el modo et l’arte del sonar el trombono) (Prizer, Music at the Court of the Sforza).