PhamoxMusic » The Trombone And Interesting History About The Slide Instrument

The Trombone And Interesting History About The Slide Instrument

The Trombone

The trombone is a unique member of the brass family just like the trumpet and the French horn. Only that is not as popular as the trumpet. However, it is one of the most significant instruments usually used in orchestras and marching bands. The trombone is also one of the most beautiful brass instruments. It has a cylindrical bore and a U-shape sliding tube.

While others are using keys or valves, the trombone uses in and out movement of its U-shape slide to change the pitch of its sound. This unique sliding instrument plays notes that are lower than the French horn but not as Tuba. On the other hand, its well-played sonorous tones can give life to music.

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The trombone is a unique member of the wind instrument family as a result of using the slide to produce different tones. Of course, the U-shape slide is used to change the length of the airflow in the tube for different pitch production. And with this slide, the trombone can smoothly move from one note to the other just like the violin or human voice.

Also, it can easily run through both diatonic and chromatic scales by just one movement of the slide. In particular, the trombone is the only instrument in the wind family that makes use of slides for tone production. When the U-shape slide of the trombone is pushed out, it will increase the length of the tune and make the notes lower. Also, the slide will make higher notes when the slide is pulling back because the tube is shortened.

History of Trombone

The trombone is regarded as one of the oldest classical orchestral instruments that are still being used today. The particular date that the first trombone came into existence is unknown. Nevertheless, there is a clue that it appeared around the early to mid-15th century.

This pull-push instrument evolved from the early trumpet. The trumpet is a brass wind instrument that originated around the 11th century in southern Italy. The trombone immediately succeeded the Renaissance slide trumpet in the 15th century as sackbut.

The resolution to change the S-shaped of the slide trumpet and shorten it gave birth to the U-shaped slide. This simple U-shaped slide construction we have in sackbut then has never changed till now. Also, the sackbut generally has become a little different since then.

Sackbut To Trombone Transition

Interesting History about Trombone
Bass-Sackbut Model Hainlein with sterling -silver (925) set (image source)

The early trombone was known by many different names in different places. In particular, it was known as a sacabuche or saquebute that means draw-trumpet in Spain. Sacabuche is the combination of two Spanish words “sacar” which means to withdraw or pull out, and “buche” which means inside. Likewise, German called trombone the Posaune which literally means “pull and push”.

And in England, the trombone was normally referred to as sackbut and in France as “saqueboute“. The exact word history and meaning of “sackbut” and its variations were not well established. Notwithstanding, it seems to be from the Old French word sacquer that means to draw out.

This particular slide-instrument known as the trombone was called sackbut in English until the early part of the 18th century. Above all, when the term trombone became more prominent to use in place of sackbut is around the 18th century. This was the period that the sackbut came back to common usage in England.

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Actually, the impact of Italian music during that period was the major factor in calling the instrument trombone. Because the word trombone is from the Italian word “Tromba” which is trumpet and one. Therefore, the trombone literally means a “large trumpet” in Italian.

The sackbut was constructed in a slightly smaller measure and size than the trombone we have now. The sackbut had a bell that was less flared and more conical compared to the modern trombones. Of course, the bell on the sackbut is narrower than the modern trombone.

Also, the sackbut wall is thicker and imparting a softer tone than the trombone of todays’ world.  However, the modern trombone still maintained the telescoping slide mechanism used in sackbut. Again, the sackbut solved the lower-pitched trumpet issue that the composer of that era actually wanted.

Trombone In Music

Interesting History about Trombone

The trombone later became famous in the 16th century. Generally, it was used in most instrumental ensembles throughout Europe in the late 16th century. During that time, it was used in outdoor events, in concert, and in liturgical settings. The trombone was used in ecclesiastical works by Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli, as well as Heinrich Schütz in Germany.

Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata pian’e forte, in 1597 was an outstanding example of music printed for the trombone. Giovanni Gabrieli wrote the revolutionary Sonata for two groups of instruments. The first group comprises three trombones and a cornetto while the second group consists of a viola and three trombones. In addition, four trombones consisting of alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass, were used in the major opera work Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi in 1607.

However, by the middle of the 17th century, the usage of these push-pull instruments began to drop due to a complicated set of circumstances. The instrument only survived in a few Italian cities and in some Lutheran church and theatre music and declined completely in England.

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The trombone came back to the limelight in the 18th century through its usage in Viennese composer’s sacred music. For instance, Handel used trombone in his 1738 Israel in Egypt and in an entirely new manner in his work Saul. Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) initiated the use of trombones in the classical opera orchestra.

The 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck seems to be the first opera in the 18th century that makes use of the trombones. Gluck’s action actually paved the way for the resurgence of the trombone in the orchestra. The 1773 Sabinus by François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was also a known orchestras use of trombones as well as opera work Isamenor by Jean-Joseph Rodolphe (1730-1812).

In the early 19th century the trombone encountered significant advancement with its usage in the symphony orchestra. The earliest symphony that makes use of trombone in the orchestra seems to be the one by the Salzburg composer Joseph Krottendorfer in 1768.

Also, the Swedish composer Joachim Eggert used 3 trombones in his symphony in 1807. That was some year before Ludwig van Beethoven composed his 5th symphony that he wrote between 1804 and 1808 with a trombone section.

Typically, Ludwig van Beethoven was the major composer of that era that significantly used a section of trombones in his symphonies. Beethoven’s use of trombone in his work influenced many composers of that era and this established the tradition of using trombone in orchestra.

This orchestral tradition of trombone playing continues through other composers like Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, and other composers of that era. And by the 1840s, the trombone had been fully integrated into the symphony orchestra.

Trombone Reconstruction

Generally, the construction of the trombone between the Baroque and Classical periods relatively changed a little. And the most noticeable feature was seen in the slightly more flared bell.

As time went on, the trombone with a wider bell and larger bore emerged. The instrument maker developed this to accomplish a richer and louder sound than the previous sackbut.

Also, the instrument makers developed a version with longer slides and larger bores that were later known as bass trombones. Nevertheless, the trombone of the Renaissance period with a considerably wider bell was still in use in the course of the classical period.

The Valve Trombone

Interesting History about Trombone-Valve trombone

Sometimes in the 19th century, a few instrument makers started assembling trombone versions that use valve mechanisms. This addition of valve was used to change the pitch of the instrument. In detail, the valves used for those models of trombone are very similar to the ones used in trumpet.

And the name given to those models of trombones is valve trombones. The shape of the valve trombones is completely different from the slide trombone. This makes them have a very loose connection with the slide trombone which is their parent instrument.

These new models of trombones with valves to lengthen the tube and also shorten it in order to adjust the instrument pitch found employment mainly in military bands. In addition, they were occasionally employed in symphonic and operatic orchestras of that era.

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However, the uses of this valve trombone were never universal and were used specifically in German and Italian military bands. Besides, some composers like Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, Antonín Dvořák, and Bedřich Smetana, make a score available for the valve trombone section.

The valve trombone was probably more efficient technology than its older instrument with the slide. However, it is distinctly inferior in the purity of tone and shapeliness. For these and other reasons, it could not successfully replace the parent instrument.

Again, the valve model trombone could not gain far-reaching acceptance mainly because it did not have the glissando typical feature of the slide trombone.

Buccin Trombone

Interesting History about Trombone - Buccin trombone
Visually distinctive trombones used in military bands in France Photo: Haupt & Binder

Also in the 19th century, a trombone with a round and dragon bell section known as buccin trombone emerged. The usage of this special trombone is peculiar to Napoleonic military bands tradition in Belgium and France around 1810 and 1845. And it was around that period that trombonists acknowledged the trombone as the instrument with seven chromatic positions instead of four diatonic ones.

The tone of buccin trombone is in between a French horn and trombone. Besides, it produces a delicate and warm sound at a soft volume as a result of very thin brass or hammered tin used for its bell. Notwithstanding, it was able to produce and smoothly perform an extremely loud sound. Eventually, the buccin trombone with zoomorphic bell section gradually grew faint and disappeared into obscurity.

Trombone in 19th and 20th Century

Again, the trombones of the 15th century are slightly different from the 20th-century version. Actually, many changes occurred in the construction of the trombone during the 20th century. The changes among other things are the use of different materials, increases in bore, bell, and mouthpiece dimensions. Also, the new valve model as well as different mute types.

Moreover, during the Baroque period (around 1600-1750), the tuning of trombones for Alto and Bass is on F or E-flat. And Tenor and Double-bass trombone are tuned in B-flat. In the classical period (around 1750-1820), trombones are normally tuned in E-flat or F for Bass, B-flat for Tenor, and E-flat for Alto.

Double-Slide Trombones

In 1816, a prominent German writer on music and composer Gottfried Weber proposed the construction of a double slide trombone. This is to increase the effect of the draw of the slide by using four tubes instead of the current two. And by 1817, he presented a finished set of double-slide trombones in F that he designed.

The double-slide trombones were made by Schott of Mainz and enjoyed 9 slide positions rather than 7. In 1830, the Paris instrument maker Halary used Gottfried Weber’s double-slide principle to make a contrabass trombone. Subsequently, other countries are using the same principle to construct the same type of instrument.

In the same manners, Carl Albert Moritz son of Carl Wilhelm Moritz built a double-slide contrabass trombone in Bb in Berlin around 1860. Wilhelm Richard Wagner was the first composer to use Carl Albert Moritz double-slide contrabass trombone for his work, particularly for the performances of the Ring des Nibelungen.

Addition Of Stocking And Drain Valve

Certainly, there was an additional improvement in trombone design in the 19th century. One of the improvements made was the incorporation of stockings at the end of the inner slide. These parts of the inner slide called stocking are thicker and rub and slide against the outer slide.

This further improved the trombone by reducing the friction and making it easy for the trombones to play melodies.

Another improvement in the 19 century is the development of a valve that can easily remove accumulated fluid from the instruments. This valve or tap is called a drain valve. Also, the trombone maker developed a valve that they used occasionally to purposely alter the pitch of the instrument known now as the F-valve.

Larger Horn And F-Attachment

Furthermore, the change in the way the trombone is constructed occurred as well in the 20th century. For instance, there was a change in terms of materials used. Other changes are increases in the instrument bore, bell, and mouthpiece. Actually, there was general adoption of a larger horn, many trombone makers in Europe prefer a bit smaller bore.

On the other hand, the American maker’s choice is the larger bore. Another significant change to the trombone is the universality of the F-Attachment trigger after the mid-20th century. The development of the F-Attachment takes care of lower range notes and provides another slide position for few notes.


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