The bass trumpet is a type of low trumpet which was first developed during the 1820s in Germany. It is usually pitched in 8' C or 9' B♭ today, but is sometimes built in E♭ and is treated as a transposing instrument sounding either an octave, a sixth or a ninth lower than written, depending on the pitch of the instrument. Although almost identical in length to the trombone, the bass trumpet possesses a tone which is harder and more metallic than that of the trombone. Although it has valves and the same tubing length as a trombone, the bass trumpet is very different from the valve trombone. Note that certain modern manufacturers offering 'tenor horns' in upright shape, 'valve trombones' and 'bass trumpets' are actually using the same valve cluster, bell, tubing and bell flare, just bent differently - in these cases the bass trumpet would be identical to the valve trombone.
The earliest mention of the bass trumpet is in the 1821 Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, in which Heinrich Stölzel's Chromatische Tenor-trompetenbaß and Griesling & Schlott's Chromatische Trompetenbaß are described. Several other variants were produced through the 1820s and were employed in military bands. Wide-bell versions in 9' B♭ are still used today in Austria and Bavaria under the name Baßtrompete, and narrow-bell versions in 9' B♭ are used in Italy under the name tromba bassa. They perform no melodic function, but are used solely to fill out harmonies.
Wagner's bass trumpet
Richard Wagner's first intention for Der Ring des Nibelungen was a bass trumpet in 13' E♭, based on the instruments he would have come across during his dealings with military bands. However, while the opening section of Das Rheingold might indicate the use of such an instrument, the part quickly rises to G♭5, which would be the nineteenth partial on this long instrument; Wagner understood brass instruments very well and saw that this was impractical.
While it was argued during the late nineteenth century (Oskar Franz: Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, 1884) that the instrument in question was actually pitched an octave higher, the instrument actually built by Moritz of Berlin on Wagner's personal instruction for the Munich theatre (according to Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, 1908) was pitched in 8' C with crooks for B♭ and A and sounded one octave lower than written. The records of Moritz were not preserved, though a wide-bell bass trumpet with military-band proportions in 8' C with B♭ and A crooks does make an appearance in their post-1900 catalogue, while Gebrüder Alexander of Mainz offered a narrow-bore model in either E♭ or C.
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