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Tristan Trumpet (Holztrompete) Loaned to Seattle Opera

Justin Emerich plays NMM's Tristan Trumpet

Justin Emerich, Principal Trumpet in Seattle Opera's August 2010 production of Tristan und Isolde, demonstrates how the NMM's Tristan trumpet (Holztrompete) is played. Wagner called for this instrument in Act III of his opera, to represent the sound of a peasant's wooden horn. However, since so few of these instruments are available, opera companies traditionally substitute the English horn for the Holztrompette in performance. According to Emerich, "To play a real Holztrompete in these performances is extra special. At Julliard, I studied with the former principal trumpeter at the Met, and he said that for thirty years, whenever they did Tristan und Isolde, the Holztrompete solo was always played on the English horn. He never got the chance to play a Holztrompete" (interview with James Bash, August 9, 2010). Hoping to find an example of the rare instrument in the United States, Seattle Opera staff contacted the NMM in July to arrange for the loan, after inquiries made to sources in Germany proved to be too expensive and difficult to arrange.

The NMM's reproduction Holztrompete (NMM 10048), from the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Brass Instrument Collection, was made by Andreas Schoni and Rainer Egger, Bern and Basel, Switzerland, in 2001 and is a modified copy of a Tristan trumpet made by Martin Lehner (Munich, ca. 1913), currently in the possession of the Dresden opera house. Made of grenadilla and black-stained maple (knee and bell), with German-silver ferrules, its straight body can be broken down into six detachable parts, with a pear-shaped bell. It has one silver-plated Berlin valve.

The NMM's original Tristan trumpet by Gebrüder Alexander, Mainz, ca. 1925 (NMM 9966), can be seen in one of the two Utley displays in the NMM's First Floor Hallway. This example, which retains its original case, was built for the National Opera in Prague. However, after World War II, when Wagner's music lost its popularity, it was given to a staff member who owned it for more than forty years. Subsequently, it was sold to a German collector. The bell is stamped: MAJETEK ZEMSKÝ [state owned] / Majetek Národní divadla / v Praze R - 012 [property National Theater in Prague].

Photos by Rozarii Lynch, taken in McCaw Hall, Seattle, before a performance of Tristan und Isolde. Courtesy of Seattle Opera.

Tristan trumpet loaned to the Seattle Opera

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (August 2010)

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Most recent update: August 27, 2010

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