Cornett

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The cornett, cornetto or zink is an early wind instrument, dating from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was used in what are now called alta capellas or wind ensembles. It is not to be confused with the trumpet-like instrument cornet.

Contents

Construction

There are three basic types of treble cornett: curved, straight and mute. The curved (Ger. krummer Zink, schwarzer Zink; It. cornetto curvo, cornetto alto (i.e. ‘loud’), cornetto nero) is the most common type, with over 140 extant examples. It is about 60 cm long and made of a single block of wood (plum, pear, maple etc.) cut into a curved shape and split lengthwise. A conical bore is carved out of each half and the pieces are then glued back together, the exterior planed to an octagonal profile, and the longitudinal joints secured by a series of bindings and a covering of black leather or parchment. The socket for the mouthpiece, which is slightly tapered, was sometimes strengthened by an external brass ferrule, and both the upper and lower ends of the instrument were occasionally adorned with silver mounts. There are six finger-holes and a thumb-hole (nearest to the mouthpiece). The instrument is often curved to the right, and the player’s right hand is placed lowermost, but many specimens are ‘left-handed’, curving the opposite way. Mouthpieces are made of ebony, ivory, or horn, but it is difficult to ascertain which extant examples are original; many are known to be replacements.

One of the specimens generally accepted as original is that of the late 16th-century curved cornett from Ambras. It is turned from horn, 14 mm wide, and is similar to a small trumpet mouthpiece in the deep curvature of the cup, but the rim is very sharp, resembling an acorn cup. Many pictures of cornett players show just such a small mouthpiece, and these depictions, together with instructions in several treatises, suggest that the small cup mouthpiece was usually placed in the corner of the mouth, the centre position being occasionally employed as an alternative.

The straight treble cornett (Ger. gerader Zink; It. cornetto diritto) is made of wood – usually yellow boxwood – with a conical bore as in the curved cornett, but turned on the outside to a circular cross-section, usually without ornamentation. Finger-holes and mouthpiece are as in the curved cornett. This was evidently the least common type, with only 13 extant instruments, although it seems to have been widely used before 1550 especially in Germany.

The mute cornett (Ger. stiller Zink; It. cornetto muto) is made like the straight cornett, but its mouthpiece is not detachable, being turned in the wood at the top end of the instrument instead. The conical cup merges into the bore, usually without a sharp break, causing a softening and veiling of the tone quality. Many fine boxwood specimens are in the Brussels Conservatory museum; most of these are from late 16th-century Venice, where Vincenzo Galilei (Dialogo, 1581) said that the best cornetts of his day were made.

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