The wimpy modern "trumpet" vs the mighty contra-alto

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by gsmonks, Mar 8, 2016.

  1. gsmonks

    gsmonks Piano User

    I play both bass trumpet and all forms of the alto/contralto/contra-alto. If I put two of my contra-altos in the hands of some guys I know who can really blow, they'll (A) hold their own with bass trumpets at full blastissimo, and (B) completely drown out a full section of either modern trumpets or cornets or a mixture of both.

    You're right that it's not really fair to compare the two. The Achilles' Heel of the contra-alto, in a nutshell, is range, which is why the Bb/C overtook it ca 1910.

    However, the process of overtaking is not as simple as all that. It was mostly due to the composers, who were writing parts that were ever higher in register.

    It would be disingenuous of me to claim that the contra-alto is all smooth-sailing in terms of playability. It's a temperamental instrument in the high range. F above high C is high C on the Bb trumpet, so consider where you are in terms of stability. And each horn has its little idiosyncrasies, so from the 2nd octave up, you'll be using various alternate fingerings, just as you do when playing "French" horn. And despite how free-blowing the instrument is, it's a small-bore horn. BUT- the rewards vastly outweigh the cons. The sound is raw, visceral, exciting, has character. And in terms of playing, it's like flying a biplane, with no instruments, and with an open cockpit. You're always on the verge of losing control. And that's how I like it.

    The late Artie Shaw once said, "If you aren't making mistakes (he meant playing beyond your ability), then you aren't really trying."
  2. gsmonks

    gsmonks Piano User

    Heh- "more or less" describes it perfectly. My Stowasser is very different from my Odina is very different from my Amatis, Hoyers, Bach 187f (contralto, uses Bach's alto horn mouthpiece or a 9AT), Cervenys, and other assorted horns in this range. Bell-size ranges from 4 3/4" to 6 1/2". Several horns are unplayable from low C (on the horn) on down, and are made to favour the high range. Some horns play well in all registers, some horns are stuffy in the low end but in tune, some horns are spectacularly unstable in the high register . . .

    I've been looking for the Germanic marching band music you referenced and have yet to track down any. Also arrangements that used Bb bass trumpets, like those made by Lidl, in marching bands. My horns are vintage- 1950's and earlier, so I'm guessing the music is long gone.
  3. gsmonks

    gsmonks Piano User

    I can hear a huge difference between the Wiener boys and the Londoners. The boys in Lederhosen knickers are playing rotary trumpets. I don't know what the Londoners are playing, but my Spidey sense is detecting wimpy Perinet horns, and they are producing a sound comparable to the 1st example I posted.

    Rotary trumpets are very different from the Perinet-valve variety. Perinet horns are 65% conical, 35% cylindrical. Rotary horns are close to 50-50.
  4. gsmonks

    gsmonks Piano User

    Well, here's the Berlin Phil's brass section. I see rotary tweedle-trumpets again, and in the video:

    Berlin Philharmonic Brass

    I wish we could all get together in real time and play with all the horns in question.

    The bass-drum roll in that last recording gave me a chubby. Was it wrong for that to happen?
  5. rettepnoj

    rettepnoj Fortissimo User

    Feb 22, 2009
    So both time- and impro skills suddenly disappear when switching to a F-contra alto?
  6. gunshowtickets

    gunshowtickets Forte User

    Mar 11, 2015
    Tidewater, VA
    I say we all flip composers the bird and go back to 100% natural trumpets, to rot with modern tuning!

    Not srs.

  7. A.N.A. Mendez

    A.N.A. Mendez Utimate User

    Oct 25, 2005
    Sunny Ca.
    Aw, you're all whimps.......

  8. A.N.A. Mendez

    A.N.A. Mendez Utimate User

    Oct 25, 2005
    Sunny Ca.
    Rough crowd........

  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Some of us will get together in June in Vienna........
  10. Lukarino

    Lukarino Pianissimo User

    Dec 8, 2015
    San Diego, CA
    Cimbasso, right?

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