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Haydn (1732-1809) - Trumpet Concerto

Only rarely is a musical work composed specifically to exploit some new-fangled instrument. Mozart's Clarinet Concerto apart, the only one I can think of is Haydn's Trumpet Concerto, written at the behest of his friend, Anton Weidinger, a Viennese trumpeter. Like several others, Weidinger was fed up with the limitations of the natural trumpet, and experimented with possible improvements. These were hand-stopping, keys, and slides (apparently used in England until well into the 19th. century: just imagine, an ensemble of slide trumpets and trombones!). Weidinger eventually developed his “organised trumpet”, incorporating keys similar to those of woodwind. It must have been judged a success, or Haydn would surely have stayed well clear. 

All that, of course, is history. The keyed instrument only appeared successful, at the time, because it was better than what already existed. Changing the effective tube length using keyed holes bypassed the bell, damaging the trumpet's power and liquid golden sonority. The invention of the valve solved that. Recently, members of the “original instruments” fraternity have tackled this concerto. The results are fascinating, if only to show why we've abandoned keyed trumpets. 

The music itself is so well-known, not to mention consummately clearly laid out, that further description would be tedious. But, do listen how Haydn, particularly in the Andante, designs his melodies to highlight the features of the keyed instrument, concentrating unusual chromatic intervals in the low and middle registers, right where the poor old Heineken-free natural trumpet couldn't get. This is what gives it so distinctive a sound, making it a kindred spirit more of the Mozart Horn Concertos than any contemporaneous trumpet work. And there is that special delight, Haydn's endearing habit of slipping in a little joke. After the first movement's grand cadenza, and hearing the big build up in the finale, the pregnant pause positively screams “another cadenza coming!” . . . and then it doesn't. Unless the soloist has slipped in one of his own, in which case the joke will be on those that know this joke.

© Paul Serotsky
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