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Images from the First Floor Hallway

Highlights from the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection

Two 16th-18th-Century Wooden Cornetti

Michael Praetorius (1571?1621) called cornetti like these (with a as their lowest note) Recht Chor Zinck in his Theatrum instrumentorum (1620), a supplement to volume two (De organographia) of his treatise, Syntagma Musicum. This was the most common size for the cornetto, more frequently used than the other two sizes—the cornettino, built a fourth or a fifth higher, and the cornon or large tenor cornet, built a fifth lower. The Recht Chor Zinck served as the treble voice in ensembles with alto, tenor, and bass trombones; it doubled the sopranos in choirs; and, by the end of the 16th century, it was used as often as the violin to play virtuosic Italian repetoire. In South Germany, musicians continued to use it, together with trombones, to play chorales from church towers as late as the 1840s.

Two wooden cornetti from the Utley Collection

Above left and center:  NMM 10135. Cornetto, Italy, mid-16th or 17th century. Original leather case. Ex colls.: Ernst Buser, Basel; Gerhard Stradner, Vienna. Joe and Joella Utley Collection, 2002.

Above right: NMM 10136. Cornetto, France or Germany, 17th or 18th century. Ex colls.: Ernst Buser, Basel; Gerhard Stradner, Vienna. Joe and Joella Utley Collection, 2002.


NMM 10135. Cornetto, Italy, mid-16th or 17th century.

NMM 10135 (right) represents the typical Italian cornetto style, common from the mid-16th through the late 17th century. Like the majority of surviving cornetti, it is neither signed nor dated.

Construction:  Octagonal, plum-wood body, carved in two halves, glued, bound together, and wrapped in leather. Top of instrument, above tone-holes, decorated with diamond pattern. Six finger-holes; thumb-hole.

Measurements:  Length (after restoration by Rainer Weber): 542 mm (center line); internal diameter: 9.4-28.5 mm.

Accessories:  Mouthpiece by John McCann, Sandy, Utah.

NMM 10135.  Cornetto, Italy, mid-16th or 17th century.  Original leather case.

Diamond pattern seen on NMM 10135.

The cornetto's leather wrapping is decorated with simple impressed patterns, circles, and lines. The longitudinal lines emphasize the instrument's octagonal shape, while the cross lines conceal bindings underneath the leather. All the decorations are located just below the diamond carving, between the two groups of finger-holes, and at the end of the instrument. These patterns were applied with punches, similar to bookbinder's stamps, and reflect the influence of the craft of bookbinding, which was highly developed in northern Italy at the time this instrument was made.


Surviving cornetto cases are rare. This original, cow-hide case is made in one piece with a seam sewn along its entire length. The lower end cap is missing. The top end has been carefully beveled, as if someone planned to use it as a signaling instrument in its own right.

Original case for NMM 10135.

Literature for NMM 10135:  Edward H. Tarr, "Ein Katalog erhaltener Zinken," Basler Jahrbuch für historische Musikpraxis, Peter Reidemeister, editor, 5 (1981), pp. 63-65.

Wilfried Seipel, ed. Für Aug' und Ohr: Musik in Kunst- und Wunderkammern. Exhibition catalog, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Schloss Ambras, 7 July-31 October 1999 (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1999), pp. 126-127.

Sabine Klaus, "Competing with Violins and Almost Like a Human Voice . . . Two More Cornetti Added to Museum Treasures," America's National Music Museum Newsletter 29, No. 4 (November 2002), pp. 4-5.

Bruce Haynes. A History of Performing Pitch. The Story of "A". (Lanham, Maryland, and Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002), p. 427.


NMM 10136. Cornetto, France or Germany, 17th or 18th century.

Like NMM 10135 (above), a second wooden cornetto (NMM 10136) is also unsigned and undated. Additionally, it is difficult to attribute its construction to a specific time and place since it deviates from classical Italian cornetto design in several respects:

1) it has six finger-holes, but no thumb-hole, a feature described by the 17th-century French music theorist, Marin Mersenne (1588-1648);

2) it is made from one solid piece of walnut, not from two halves. The internal bore was drilled on a lathe before the instrument was bent—like a harpsichord or piano bentside—presumably with the help of steam;

3) because the cornetto was made in one piece, there is no need for a leather wrapping to cover it;

4) it lacks the carved diamond-pattern above the fingerholes; and,

5) it has a brass ferrule to reinforce the mouthpiece end.

The one-piece design and the ferrule are German features found on cornetti made from the 16th century onwards. The lack of the diamond-decoration is a late feature found on cornetti dating from the 18th and the early 19th century.

Measurements: Length: 580 mm (center line); internal diameter: 9.3-25.4 mm.

Accessories: Mouthpiece by John McCann, Sandy, Utah.

NMM 10136.  Cornetto, France or Germany, 17th or 18th century.

Literature for NMM 10136:  Die Klangwelt Mozarts. Exhibition catalog, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente, 28 April-27 October 1991 (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1991), p. 295, no. 193.

Sabine Klaus, "Competing with Violins and Almost Like a Human Voice . . . Two More Cornetti Added to Museum Treasures," America's National Music Museum Newsletter 29, No. 4 (November 2002), pp. 4-5.



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