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York Slide Cornet (or Soprano Trombone) c.1922

In 1998, while visiting my house in St Pete Beach Florida,  I saw an ad in a  tourist flyer advertising a "Slide Cornet". It turned out the fellow was a trombonist who lived just around the corner from me, and has had this instrument for years.  It turned out to be a beautiflul instrument with perfect finish - and I had to have it, of course.  After some  coffee and haggling with my newly met neighbor, I bought it and carried it back to Bangkok where I was living at the time!   I once let a semi-professional British cornetist have a go at it- and within 30 minutes, he was playing creditable tunes!    It is 22" long and has a 4.5" bell. Inscribed on bell:

J.W York and Sons
Grand Rapids Mich.
#73126 York &Sons (on slide assembly)



Slide Trumpet or Soprano Slide Trombone??

The technology to make brass sackbuts (early slide trombones) was available since  the 15th Century.  In those days,  an ensemble could consist of a treble shawm, Bombard, and a brass instrument - initially a natural trumpet. From the 16th century on, the instumentation would usually include 1-2 wooden Cornetts or Cornettos above 2-3 brass Sackbuts (usually an alto, tenor and bass).  The earliest example of a Soprano Sackbut is said to have ben made in 1670. 

A "slide trumpet" evolved mid 1600s in an attempt to fill in the gaps between the normal harmonics of a natural trumpet. The issue of the Renaissance slide trumpet is touchy and much has been written about it, The main difference is that the slide trumpet was a single slide instrument- where the player held the mouthpiece still and actually moved the entire instrument back and forth. These proved unsatisfactory and enjoyed limited use. There are surviving Medieval trumpets that a case can be made that they were single slide trumpets.

It had always seemed to me that since the slide sackbut technology was already available in the Renaissance, then the use of a soprano sackbut (trombone) to play the high end in works by Gabrielli etc. would have been a natural  development.  My misconception has now beeen corrected by Arnold Meyers of the Edinbrough Museum of Musical Instruments, as well as by Jeff Nussbaum, President of the Historical Brass Society, that the high end was always played by cornetti (see a cornetto being played).  Arnold contends: "Venetian music by the Gabriellis (uncle and nephew), Monteverdi and their contemporaries can be effective played on modern brass instruments, but are more satisfying when played on the original instruments with cornetti as the soprano-register "brass"instruments alongside the trombones. Having played this repertoire now with good cornettt players, I wouldn't want to be bothered any more with valve trumpets. "

Early true hand slide instruments (Trombones or Sackbuts) , had very small bells, limited flares and a small mouthpiece and bore.  The sound of these instruments was therefore much thinner than modern trombones. These instruments were usually paired with the voices in a choir. Mozart & Bach wrote several pieces for three Trombones- (S, A, T.)  However, in trombones of those days, the Soprano was in pitched in G, the Alto in D, and the Tenor in A (same as the Natural trumpets of the day). See an example of a modern sackbut reproduction.