Of all the musical instruments that appear in our various auctions, the ones with the closest affinity to our industrial heartland are undoubtedly the brass instruments.
The brass band movement began in northern England in the 19th century and many of these bands were attached to heavy industry such as coal mining and shipbuilding. The early bands were seen as a way of developing social cohesion in the newly industrialised towns as well as providing local entertainment. The bands colourful uniforms; still worn today, were a badge of pride akin to a football strip and they soon began to compete against each other with the first British open championship held in Manchester in 1853. By the early 1900’s there were approximately five thousand bands in the UK and many of these are still flourishing. Locally an example would be the Langley Band which has been entertaining people throughout the West Midlands since the late 1870’s. Throughout the twentieth century the concept was exported so that today you will find a flourishing brass band scene in Switzerland, Norway and Japan to name but three.
With regard to the instruments, the cornets were a development of the keyed post horn incorporating the new piston valves which started to be used in the early 19th century, originally in France. The cornet has a much warmer sound than the trumpet on account of the more conical nature of its brass tubing. The Sax Horns (tenor horn, baritone, euphonium and basses) were created by Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone and first exhibited to critical acclaim at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. Last but not least we have the trombone whose origins date back to the 15th century sackbut, varying their pitch with the use of an extending slide rather than a valve.
Good older British, European and American instruments are highly durable and capable of active service sometimes for fifty years or more. Boosey & Hawkes were a particularly significant maker in this field with their own separate British factories until they merged around 1930. Today a lot of brass instruments are made in China; mainly for the educational market, though high quality instruments are still being produced throughout Europe and also in Japan and the USA.
So next time you see a cornet or euphonium in a sale it may have its own story to tell!
From Rob Simmonds