Understanding the Italian Trumpeters’ Method

The Trumpet Ensemble Contribution to Schütz’s Psalm Settings

Veröffentlicht: 05.05.2021     Autor/in: Peter Downey


Heinrich Schütz’ setting of Psalm 136 à 13 Mit Trometen vnd Heerpaucken (SWV 45) includes trumpet ensemble participation and supplies a single Principal trumpet part. This article examines the Italian style trumpet performance practice and shows how application of that practice to the printed trumpet part can result in a period-sensitive contribution to the polychoral composition by an ensemble of five trumpets, with timpani.

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Improvisation; trumpet ensemble


«... und machens nur aus dem Synn»


Peter Downey, "Understanding the Italian Trumpeters’ Method . The Trumpet Ensemble Contribution to Schütz’s Psalm Settings". Forschungsportal Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, 2021.
https://forschung.schola-cantorum-basiliensis.ch/de/forschung/improvisation-trompeten-ensemble/downey-italian-trumpeters-method.html (Abgerufen am TT MM JJJJ)


The text of this article is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Psalm 136 set for choir and “Trommeten vnd Heerpaucken”

“Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist Freundlich” (SWV 45) is set for three essential choirs, two four-part favorito choirs and a five-part Capella, plus basso continuo, together with an optional second Capella for trumpet ensemble. All of the parts are included for the three essential choirs. By contrast, the trumpet ensemble is only given a single part, which is found in the Capella IIII partbook, fols. Eijv–E[iv]r. A copy is available at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München with shelf number 4. Mus. Pr. 2680, online at https://stimmbuecher.digitale-sammlungen.de/view?id=bsb00089783 (19 Nov. 2020). This part includes a trumpet part at the ensemble entries which are indicated for “Trommeten” or “Trom.” (use of the C1 clef and the range c', e', g', c', d'' and e'' verifies that this is a Principal trumpet part) [1] and the bass line for the rest of the piece which is indicated for “Continuus” or “Cont.” (the F4 clef is used for these passages). The trumpet ensemble contribution is restricted to some passages which treat the refrain “Denn seine Güte währet ewiglich”; they also play at the Clausula finalis but no music is given for this embellishment.

Various trumpet ensembles have been proposed for SWV 45: Hans Joachim Moser proposed massed unison trumpets in 1936, [2] Wilhelm Ehmann added two lower trumpet parts and timpani in 1954, [3] Don Smithers’ suggested “probably two more” unspecified trumpet parts in 1973, [4] Detlef Altenburg in 1973 proposed the addition of between four and six trumpets and timpani, [5] as did Reine Dahlqvist in 1988, [6] three additional trumpet parts and timpani written in a late 17th-century style were used in a recording by the Dresdner Kreuzchor in 1980, [7] and Manfred Schmidt proposed the use of five additional trumpet parts (two Clarin, Alter-Bass, Volgan and Grob) and timpani (using church kettledrums in g and c) and a total of thirteen players (two six-part trumpet ensembles and one timpanist) in 1991. [8] For my own part, in 1983 I proposed the addition of four trumpet parts (Clarin, Alter-Bass, Volgan and Grob[9] and timpani. Clearly there is an issue to be resolved and it is best achieved by understanding the Italian style itself before applying the knowledge to SWV 45.


The Principal part only of the intrada is found in Bendinelli’s Tutta l’arte della trombetta and in Fantini’s Modo per imparare a sonare, and it is also found as the second highest part of the fully-notated, five-part trumpet ensemble Toccata to Monteverdi’s l’Orfeo favola in musica (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1609/r. 1615). [14] Example 1 shows the intrada music found in the two early sources. (Fantini’s music is not included since it post-dates SWV 45 by twenty-one years.)

The three sources present versions of a single Ur-piece. In Example 1 it can be seen that the Toccata to l’Orfeo presents a shortened and simplified intrada. Bendinelli explains that the players join in gradually (although without clarity) and it seems that the Clarino only enters at the point where the Principal part abandons a lively triadic engagement and concentrates on a rhythmic articulation of the pitch e', known as the mezopunto/mezzapunto. The Toccata to l’Orfeo includes the five trumpet parts throughout (the timpani part is not printed), possibly since it superimposes the Principal part of the intrada above an actual toccata in the third highest part, and it also allows some insight into the nature of the Clarino melody. No intrada is found in the Danish books.

Ex. 1: Principal parts of the intrada found in the Toccata to Monteverdi’s l’Orfeo and in Bendinelli’s method.


The Rotta is a formal ‘breaking-off’ piece from a given Sonata and it begins after the ‘bridging system’ has been employed. The surviving sonatas normally conclude with incipits only of the rotta. Lübeckh, Bendinelli and, later, Fantini also supply complete Rotta pieces. These again indicate an origin in a single Ur-piece (see Example 2). The rotta is usually performed without the participation of the Clarino player – Bendinelli’s confused attempts to include Clarino parts help explain why. It is also possible for the player of the Principal part to rest, however, the written Principal part still controls the other lower parts.

Ex. 2: The complete Rotta according to by Heinrich Lübeckh and Cesare Bendinelli

A complete Rotta contains seven sections, each of which has its own motif. The sections occur in a slightly different order in the versions given by Lübeckh and Bendinelli, in each of the first six sections the motif is subjected to diminution until it produces the stock “Rotta theme” which had triggered performance of the rotta itself, while the seventh section gradually slows down to the sustained final note c' in preparation for the return of the intrada.


Sonatas are the only variable piece in the intrada-sonata-rotta-intrada complex. Disregarding post-1617 sources, over eight hundred sonatas survive with approximately equal numbers in common-time and in triple-time; a few sonatas include change of mensuration. The Tactus symbol varies and the quarter note, half note and whole note, dotted as appropriate, are all used; a small group of sonatas is in 12⁄4. Varying degrees of notational orthodoxy are found between different sonatas and even within single pieces. The surviving manuscripts include groups of sonatas that have been copied from other trumpet books, and the existence of many concordances between the two Danish sources and, especially, between the Danish and Bavarian manuscripts calls into question the meaning of what Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria meant when he told Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria on 25 August 1584 that “dasselbig ist nit geschribenn, vndmachens nur aus dem synn”: his trumpeters may have performed from memory, but they practised the sonatas with reference to written – and codified – Principal parts. Table 1 summarises the sonata content in the sources of Italian style trumpet music.

Table 1: The Sonata Content Found in the Sources of Italian Style Trumpet Music

A sonata is typically based on an eight-measure unit called a “Post”’. Each Post includes two standard components: a single-measure “half-close” figure (sometimes a replacement is used), initially in measures 2 and 6, and later in measure 4, and a single-measure “close” figure, initially in measures 4 and 8, and later in measure 8. The sole variable constituent is the single-measure ‘sonata motif’ that is first presented in measure 1 of the first Post and is then developed by a controlled, progressive increase in its rhythmic activity until it metamorphoses into the single-measure “Rotta theme” (sometimes a similar replacement is employed). The usual notation of these components is given in Table 2. Each Post may be repeated – this is particularly the case when two or more trumpet ensembles perform a given sonata - although the sources differ on this point and this may indicate that such repetition was being abandoned by the turn of the seventeenth century.

Table 2: Some Standard Components of Italian Style Trumpet Ensemble Sonatas

Once the Rotta theme has appeared and has spread across the entire second half of the final Post a transition to the rotta itself begins. A four-measure unit called “Rotta 1” presents the Rotta theme three times and follows it with the “close” figure, a two-measure unit identified as “Rotta 2” then presents the Rotta theme followed by the “close” figure, and a “link measure” supplies the first half of the Rotta theme together with a “close” figure that has had its note-values reduced by 50%, before the rotta follows. Examination of the entire sonata repertory shows that the occasional replacement Rotta themes tend to recur in groups of sonatas and this fact may then be used to identify the work of individual trumpeter-composers or potentially the individual courts from which the pieces have been obtained.

The detailed application of diminution is found to be very regular in the sonatas. The largest group of sonatas follows the following “type 1” musical form, ignoring any repetition of the Posts themselves:

Table 3: Type 1 Sonatas Diminution Patterns

Where “close” represents the close figure, “half-close” the half-close figure, “motif” the sonata motif, “variant 1” the result of the first application of diminution, “variant 2” the result of the second application, and “(‘)” indicates the possibility of a minor adaptation to a given motif or variant (generally its presentation one partial higher). Note that the musical phrases are initially two measures long and that the change to four-measure phrases in the second half of Post 2 causes the transfer of the half-close to measure 4 of the subsequent Posts.

In the second largest group of “type 2” sonatas the move to four-measure phrases is delayed until the second half of Post 4, after which further development follows that found in the type 1 sonatas:

Table 4: Type 2 Sonatas Diminution Patterns

The type 1 and type 2 sonatas together account for the vast majority of the surviving sonatas, almost 70% of the total. When the sonatas that further delay the appearance of four-measure phrases until the second half of either Post 5 or Post 7 are also considered, then 85% of the total number of sonatas are accounted for. The rest are simply more individual adaptations of the standard form, including some pieces based on Christmas hymns and folksongs. Knowledge of this formal structure of the notated Principal parts to the sonatas is an essential pre-requisite to any attempt at performance and is particularly important when realising the pieces that are presented in musical shorthand by Lübeckh and Bendinelli.


It was noted earlier that there is no intrada found in either of the Danish books. Instead, Thomsen’s and Lübeckh’s manuscripts contain many short pieces termed Aufzüge that are also performed by a trumpet ensemble. Since it shared the same functional role as the intrada, it is likely that the Aufzug was specifically devised to replace the older piece. This seems to have been accomplished in Denmark at an early stage given that some Aufzüge are attributed to Marcus von Alsenn who left the Danish royal court trumpet ensemble in 1589. Given the strong Saxon influence on the Danish court trumpet ensemble, the process may have begun in Saxony. For example, the electoral Saxon head trumpeter Ambrosius Günther was commissioned by King Christian IV of Denmark to take charge of the trumpeting aspect of the ceremonial events that culminated in his coronation on 29 August 1596; and both Lübeckh and Thomsen were obtained for Danish court service by the Saxon court administration and they both participated in the same coronation proceedings under Günther’s direction. This is hinted at by the naming of some of the Danish pieces as “Dresdner Aufzugk”. The Aufzug must then be viewed as a later addition to the Italian style that replaced the single intrada with many different trumpet ensemble pieces. It also more-or-less replaced the older sonata by the middle of the seventeenth century, probably on account of its very compact musical form that ranges from six to sixteen measures in length.

A novel feature of the early Aufzug is the function of the Principal part and, by extension, the other lower parts: they act as a support for a written Clarin melody that acts as the musical focus. Magnus Thomsen placed staves for the Clarin part above those for the Principal part in all of his Aufzüge although he only entered the Clarin parts for nine of them, possibly since he had difficulty understanding standard musical notation and developed his own tablature system instead. The form is also essentially homophonic but the Clarin melodies found in the Aufzug are more lively and lighter than the surviving equivalent parts in the sonatas. Some of the Aufzüge are attractive trumpet ensemble miniatures and they are particularly worth exploring since they demonstrate that rare thing, early Clarin melody. It also is the piece that was in mind when composers began to call for an “Intrada zum Final” in their concerted works. For example, Michael Praetorius presents the upper trumpet parts of a trumpet ensemble Aufzug for use at the end of each of the two halves of his bombastic polychoral setting In dulci jubilo à 12. 16. & 20. Cum Tubis found in the collection Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (Wolfenbüttel: Elias Holwein for the author, 1619). Schütz also expected the same in SWV 45 since the Parte per le Trombette concludes with the note “Darauff wird stracks eine Intrada zum Final geblasen”. This then requires the development of a suitable Aufzug for use at the end of the composition.

Table 5: The Trumpet Ensemble Musical Content Presented in the Parte per le Trombette of SWV 45
Ex. 3: Magnus Thomsen, Sonata 259, Principal Part, Posts 1-4 only

Ex. 4: Suggested Trumpet Ensemble Music for the Seven Entries in Heinrich Schütz’s Psalm 136. Mit Trometen & Heerpaucken (SWV 45)


For consistency, the present paper will employ German terminology Clarin, Principal, Alter-Bass, Volgan and Grob for the trumpet parts, despite the existence of the original Italian nomenclature Clarino, Quinta o Sonata, Alto e Basso, Vulgano and Basso (later Grosso), unless Italian sources are being considered, since the German names have proved to be more enduring and are those that would have been used by the trumpeters involved in the first performance of SWV 45.


Moser 1936/1954 (german); here in the English translation by Carl Friedrich Pfatteicher in Moser 1959, 316–319.


In his performing edition of the music, see Schütz 1994.


Smithers 1973, 141.


Altenburg 1973, vol. 1, 125.


Dahlqvist 1988, vol. 1, 127.


In Schütz Psalmen Davids vol. 2, a sound recording in the series Lebendiges Barock – Living Baroque issued by Philips 1980 (Ref. 9502 047).


Schmid 1991, particularly 36–38.


Downey 1983, vol. 1, 128–129 and vol. 2, 156–167.


Downey 1981, 325–329, which includes a transcription of the exchange of letters between the two rulers.


Verona, Biblioteca dell'Accademia Filarmonica di Verona (I-Veaf) Mus. 238 is available in facsimile edition (Bendinelli 2009); A-Wn Cod. 10819 is available online at http://data.onb.ac.at/rep/10009BFA (19 Nov. 2020).


The Danish books are available online from http://www.kb.dk/da/nb/materialer/haandskrifter/HA/e-mss/mdr.html (19 Nov. 2020).


Available in facsimile (Fantini 2009).


The Toccata is printed at the end of the un-numbered dedicatory section of the print and before the first numbered page of the favola in musica, which may indicate that the trumpet ensemble piece represents established Mantuan practice and may not, then, have been composed by Monteverdi.


The piece was probably composed by the then head trumpeter, although the court records are very incomplete for this time. A copy is held at Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (D-W) with the call number H: Yv 149.8o Helmst. (79), available online at http://diglib.hab.de/drucke/yv-149-8f-helmst-79s/start.htm (19 Nov. 2020).


A copy held at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München (D-Mbs) with the call number Sig.Her O 238, available online at https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0006/bsb00063836/images (19 Nov. 2020).


In Praetorius 1619, 171.


It would be interesting to experiment with the use of the seventh harmonic, a very flat bb', here, although use of this harmonic was normally restricted to its usefulness in producing the feigned passing-note b' as a result of its tonal ambiguity. In the middle of the seventeenth century it was also used to supply a’ and bb'.


Praetorius 1619, 171–172.


Bendinelli 2009, 7v –8r.


See also the musical edition (Altenburg 2018) and my article (Downey 2013, 1–20).