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Ten facts about the cornet

Sometimes mistaken for the trumpet, a near relation, the cornet has had a fascinating and diverse history. Popular from military and jazz bands to the 19th century European stage, the cornet has had a home in the American music scene for generations of musicians and music styles.

  1. The “cornett”, a wooden wind instrument with a cup-shaped mouthpiece, appeared in the late 15th century and remained popular for about 200 years, even remaining in use through the end of the 19th To differentiate from the cornet, F. W. Galpin insisted on continuing to spell cornett with the extra “T”.
  2. At four and a half feet long, the cornet is a more compact and shorter instrument than its cousin, the trumpet.
  3. When the cornet was invented, nobody bothered to take a patent out on it. It can be traced to Jean-Louis Antoine, however, and was in use throughout Paris by the 1820s. By 1830s, horn player Dufresne performed solos on the cornet at regular gigs.
  4. In addition to Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and King Oliver were the best-known cornet players of the 20th century.
  5. Variations on the cornet began to appear in the late 19th century, such as the “butterfly model”, “circular cornet”, and “echo cornet”.
  6. During the Civil War, military band players often played with the cornet over their shoulders, bells facing backwards.
  7. Until the radio became mainstream around World War I, town bands were the most common form of local musical entertainment in the United States. They often featured the cornet, some of them even called “silver cornet bands”. John Herald, an American cornet-maker, provided many of these instruments at the turn of the century, and his cornets are still known as some of the finest ever made.
  8. After the decline of town bands, cornets found their vogue in African American musical groups and a new emerging style: jazz. Louis Armstrong famously switched from the cornet to the trumpet in the 1920s, possibly due to a recording environment that favored the latter instrument.
  9. In the Victorian era, cornets usually had deep, funnel-shaped mouthpieces; after the Second World War, mouthpieces gradually shrunk and became much more shallow, and thereby more similar to the trumpet. A more recent wave of “nostalgia” has entailed a revival of the Victorian mouthpiece.
  10. Although the popular French cornets of the 18th century pitched from C or B♭ down to D, or up to E♭, American cornets have since shifted pitches to E♭, C, and B.

The above are only ten facts from the extensive entry in Grove Music Online. Did we leave out any fun facts about the cornet?

Featured image: Cornet Patent Drawing from 1901. Photo by Patents Wall Art. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Recent Comments

  1. RandyG

    The shepherd’s crook refers to the back turn of the cornet’s tubing, NOT the mouthpiece.

  2. Alice

    Hi Randy,

    Thank you. We’ve corrected the post now.


  3. Thomas

    The Bb cornet and Bb trumpet are the exact same length of tubing. The Eb cornet is shorter.

  4. […] from it by its conical bore, compact shape and more mellow tonal quality. The instrument has a rich history and was initially derived from the post horn around 1820 in […]

  5. frank valdez

    A friend posted a photo of a cornet he recently acquired with this…
    “some help identifying this horn , cornet to be exact. no date stamped any where , no serial number either.The writing on the bell says; J. Rochaix, 8 Rue Pellart, Roubaix.”
    Do you have any information based on that information?

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