Distinguished by its unmatched timbre and unique assortment of physical traits, the trombone continues to remain one of Western music’s most popular instruments. The modern trombone traditionally is confined to roles in symphony ensembles, concert bands, or jazz groups, but the horn’s historical foundation proves much broader in nature. In this edition of The StickerTalk, join us as we meander through a medley of matters to take a closer look at the timeless trombone.
Although most listeners revel in the trombone’s soothing sounds, the instrument represents a tool of auditory torture to others. Famed author, Mark Twain, was a noted critic of the instrument, calling the horn itself “unholy” and its tones “discordant sounds.” A surprising counterpart to Twain in cynicism, Sigmund Freud claimed that the instrument caused him to feel “uncomfortable.”
While some scholars believe that an early predecessor of the trombone existed in biblical times, most historians agree that the first trombone, an instrument called the sackbut, was invented during the Renaissance. The first recorded appearance of a trombone occurred at the Duke of Burgundy’s wedding around the year 1470. Before long, instrument found its way into the first Protestant churches when Martin Luther published his belief that the angel Gabriel’s horn was, more specifically, a trombone. For centuries, the trombone was featured in sacred pieces as a tribute to the archangel’s alleged favorite instrument. Symphonic composers seemed reluctant to include trombones in their work until Beethoven utilized the unusual instrument in his now-iconic Fifth Symphony.
Most modern wind instruments possess multiple keys or valves to allow a musician the ability to produce a variety of pitches. The trombone, however, mainly relies on its characteristic slide when playing varying notes. The trombone’s sound results from the vibration of a musician’s lips against the mouthpiece and is amplified by the flaring bell.