TITLE: 24 October 1667
CAT# (YEAR COMPOSED): #40 (1997)
INSTRUMENTATION: marine trumpet and voice
DURATION (APPROX): 7’55
PREMIERE PERFORMANCE: Michael Meadows in Madison, Wisconsin on 1997_11_24
NOTE: This composition refers to the daily entry from the diary of the Naval Administrator and Member of Parliament Samuel Pepys, who describes his experience of hearing the trump-marine played by a Monsieur Prin.
The composition on the one hand exploits the ability of the instrument to play extremely high harmonics, while on the other to integrate extended vocal techniques in a somewhat theatrical performance. The part of the entry that deals with the marine trumpet follows,
“… we in to see a Frenchman, at the house, where my wife’s father last lodged, one Monsieur Prin, play on the trump-marine, which he do beyond belief; and, the truth is, it do so far outdo a trumpet as nothing more, and he do play anything very true, and it is most admirable and at first was a mystery to me that I should hear a whole concert of chords together at the end of a pause, but he showed me that it was only when the last notes were 5ths or 3rds, one to another, and then their sounds like an Echo did last so as they seemed to sound all together. The instrument is open at the end, I discovered; but he would not let me look into it, but I was mightily pleased with it, and he did take great pains to shew me all he could do on it, which was very much, and would make an excellent concert, two or three of them, better than trumpets can ever do, because of their want of compass….”
A tromba marina, or marine trumpet (Fr. trompette marine; Ger. Marientrompete, Trompetengeige, Nonnengeige or Trumscheit, Pol. tubmaryna) is a triangular bowed string instrument used in medieval and Renaissance Europe that was highly popular in the 15th century in England and survived into the 18th century. The tromba marina consists of a body and neck in the shape of a truncated cone resting on a triangular base. It is usually four to seven feet long, and is a monochord (although some versions have sympathetically-vibrating strings). It is played without stopping the string, but playing natural harmonics by lightly touching the string with the thumb at nodal points. Its name comes from its trumpet like sound due to the unusual construction of the bridge, and the resemblance of its contour to the marine speaking-trumpet of the Middle Ages.