quarter-tone trumpets



quarter-tone trumpets
A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
Quarter-tone (24-div) trumpets 1 generally use an additional fourth valve with a slide half the
length of the second valve slide (a semitone) as a means to produce the quarter-tones. The
earliest known 24-div trumpet was built in 1893 and is housed in the Odessa Conservatory,
Ukraine.2 There is also an early 20th century 24-div cornet made by Josef Sediva in Odessa
in the instrument collection of the Czech Museum of Music. 3 Unfortunately, we don’t know
who these instruments were made for, why they were made, or if any music still exists which
was written for them.
Alois Hàba (1983-1973), a Czech composer who established a department of quarter- and
sixth-tone (36-div) music at the Prague Conservatory from 1924-1951 4 commissioned 2, 24div trumpets for the first performance of his opera Matka (Mother) in 1927-9 (the first performance was in 1931). One of these is housed in the instrument collection of the Prague
Conservatoire (pictured below); it was made in Dresden by F.A. Heckel, is pitched in C and
uses rotary valves. 5
Example 1: Hába quarter-tone trumpet (showing both elevations) of 1931 6
we are grateful to Patrick Ozzard-Low for inspiring much of the research in this section through his
‘Alternative Tuning Projects’ and his book ‘21st Century Orchestral Instruments’ (publication forthcoming, Ashgate)
Hugh Davies, ‘Microtonal Instruments’, The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, xi, 653-9
We are indebted to Dr Bohuslav Cizek of the Czech Museum of Music for this information
the Prague Conservatory was closed after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in the 2nd World War
(from 1941-1945 and performances of Hába’s work were banned from 1941); Hába’s department was
finally closed by the Communist party in 1951
We are indebted to Dr Bohuslav Cizek of the Czech Museum of Music for this information.
Picture used with permission of the Prague Conservatory
Short History – 1 of 7
A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
The jazz trumpeter Don Ellis (1934-1978) commissioned a four-valve 24-div trumpet from
the Frank Holton Company in America, the first instrument being produced in September,
1965. Larry Ramirez designed the instrument. The Holton instrument had a fourth, piston
valve which was played with the little finger of the right hand:
Example 2: Don Ellis with the Holton trumpet7
Ellis also wrote a well-researched book of instruction for the Holton trumpet 8 which contained a short historical overview of the development of quarter-tones and their notation,
fingering charts and many useful basic exercises intended to develop the ear and technique
and nine, blues-style studies.
Ellis mentions, in Quarter Tones, that he was coincidentally made aware (by the German
jazz critic Eric Vogel), at the same time that he first approached the Frank Holton Co. that
Pavel Blatny (b. 1931), a Czech composer writing in an advanced jazz idiom (which he called
‘third stream’ composition), had already written for quarter-tone trumpet in Study for
Quarter-tone Trumpet, 9 1963. The Study was written for the distinguished Czech jazz soloist Jaromir Hnilicka who owned a quarter-tone trumpet, and was later performed in America
by Don Ellis. 10
The Frank Holton Co. was taken over by Leblanc in 1964 although the Holton name continues to be used as a brand name for certain models. The 4-valve, 24-div trumpet continued
to be produced in small quantities until being phased out with the introduction of the Firebird
(first produced in 1976). The Firebird has three valves, a distinctive upturned bell and a
small trombone-style slide which can be used to lower the pitch by up to a fourth. It was
made for Maynard Ferguson (and, again, engineered by Larry Ramirez) and is still a very
popular instrument among jazz trumpeters: 11 the trombone slide allows flexible intonation
which could include discrete microtones. Rajesh Mehta uses a Firebird for improvisation and
for Indian music.
reprinted with permission from John Killoch
Don Ellis, Quarter-Tones: a Text with Musical Examples, Exercises and Etudes (New York, 1975)
Pavel Blatney, Study for Quarter-Tone Trumpet (1963). We are aware from the composer (personal
correspondence, 24.06.03) that the only surviving copies of the work are in the hands of various musicians world-wide – the manuscript copy has been lost. There was a recording made in 1969 by Jaromir
Hnilcka with the Czechoslovak Radio Jazz Orchestra conducted by Pavel Blatny (Supraphon, 1969).
The work is for solo trumpet and jazz orchestra, is 50% written and 50% improvised and uses a 24
tone row in a non-rigorous serial manner
Pavel Blatney later wrote Pour Ellis for Don Ellis in gratitude for playing the Etude, although this
wasn’t a quarter-tone composition
it is still available by special order
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A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
Example 3: Rajesh Mehta with the Firebird trumpet 12
Perhaps less well known is the 24-div Arabic trumpet invented by Nassim Maalouf during the
1970s. Maalouf studied trumpet with Maurice André in Paris then returned to his native Beirut to teach at the Conservatoire there. During the 1970s he worked on many different
variations of the four-valve design in an attempt to access more easily the quarter-tones
which make up the maquams of Arabic music. After reaching a near-satisfactory outcome,
he worked for a further two years with Michel Wikrikaz at Selmer to perfect the design, after
which two trumpets (which are interchangeable as C and B flat instruments) were made.
The Maalouf trumpet has a fourth valve aligned slightly to the left of the other three and is
played with the left hand. Selmer have no plans to make any more of these instruments.13
In 2002, an American company called Marcinkiewicz have produced a four-valve quartertone trumpet and a patented, ergonomic design of non-aligned valve positions. Joe
Marcinkiewicz played at one time with the Don Ellis Orchestra, which further demonstrates
the strength of Ellis’s (continuing) influence. American trumpeter Jeff Kaiser has been playing the Marcinkiewicz for a number of years:
Example 4: Jeff Kaiser with the Marcinkiewicz trumpet 14
photograph used with the kind permission of Rajesh Mehta
personal communication from Selmer, UK, 2004
photograph used with the kind permission of Jeff Kaiser
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A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
In the world of non-jazz new music, a number of players play instruments which are customised to allow for the easier production of microtones: Michael White (Array Ensemble, Canada), for example, has a modified B flat instrument with a quarter-tone valve operated by a
thumb trigger (designed by Toronto brass technician Ron Partch in 1989/90).
Example 5: Michael White’s modified B flat instrument 15
Example 6: Michael White’s modified B flat instrument (detail)16
German trumpeter Philipp Kolb has had an instrument re-built by Münchner Blech, a brass
company in Munich, in which the fourth valve is played with the little finger of the righthand. The string, incidentally, which is visible in Example 6, is to activate the valve with the
left-hand if the right-hand is needed for muted effects (for example, a wa-wa mute).
Printed with permission: photograph by Michael White
printed with permission: photograph by Michael White
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A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
Example 7: Philipp Kolb’s quarter-tone trumpet in C17
Example 8: Philipp Kolb’s quarter-tone trumpet in C (detail of valve)
Marco Blaauw’s own design double-bell trumpet of interchangeable parts has a quarter-tone
valve operated by the left hand (made by Dieter Gärtner of Gärtner und Thul in Düren, Germany) 18 and Markus Stockhausen plays a 4-valve quarter-tone flugel horn (in which the
quarter-tone valve is operated by the right hand).
Example 9: Marco Blaauw’s 5-valve double bell trumpet which includes a quarter-tone valve
printed by permission (Philipp Kolb, 2005)
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A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
Example 10: Markus Stockhausen’s 4-valve quarter-tone flugel horn
Various slide trumpets are also available which open up the possibility of theoretically unlimited microtonal possibilities. 19
In summary, we can describe some of the issues and solutions which have been developed
for 24-div as follows:
• a 4th valve is necessary; piston, rotary or trombone-style have been used;
• a slide trumpet can be used
• the 4th valve can be operated by the RH or LH; various fingers and the thumb
have been used
• in consideration of comfort and technique, experiments have been made to alter
the usual alignment of the valves
Swift and Yunick 20 have described a conversion of a standard 3-valve trumpet into a 19division instrument. They achieved this by replacing the standard valve tubing (which normally lowers the pitch by 1, 2 and 3 semitones respectively) with tubing which lowered the
fundamental by 1, 2 and 4/19ths of an octave. However, because it is necessary to bridge
the fifth between the fundamental and the third harmonic of the lowest series (with all
valves depressed) to achieve a chromatic scale and because Swift and Yunick’s instrument
fell short of that (with all valves depressed Swift and Yunick’s instrument would lower the
fundamental by 7/19ths of an octave which is 442 cents, 3 degrees short of the 10/19ths
Marco Blaauw uses the Jupiter slide trumpet to perform Gijsbrecht Roye’s "zonder titel" which is in
17-div (see Repertoire List for full details).
G.W. Swift & M. Yunik, ‘Modifying a Trumpet to Play 19 Tone Music’, Interval, Vol. 2, Nos 2 & 3 1980,
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A Short History of the Microtonal Trumpet
which is needed to bridge the 19-division fifth of 632 cents) a full chromatic range was not
This deficiency was corrected in David Cowie’s 12-, 24- and 19-division microtonal trumpet
(2001) made at the Centre for New Musical Instruments (CNMI), a research centre at London Guildhall (now Metropolitan) University. This instrument used replaceable tubing on a
Boosey and Hawkes student model trumpet to change between a 12- and 24-division setup
and a 19-division setup. It also incorporated a solenoid fourth valve 21 which was triggered
by a switch placed on the first valve casing and operated by the left hand thumb. This instrument was built as a prototype but, despite successful trialling, the professional model,
which was intended to follow, has not yet been commissioned.
The 19-division trumpet which is described in ‘Valve-Mechanisms’ was inspired by the CNMI
instrument although no attempt was made to progress with the solenoid valve mechanism
which substantially increased the weight of the instrument and, in the form used, proved to
be unreliable.
A battery powered electro-mechanical valve.
Short History – 7 of 7

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