Mar 312014

Bach1  bach2

There is actually nothing specifically trumpet-ish about today.  It’s just my way of solving a slight dilemma.  Today are the birthdays of both Johann Sebastian Bach (1685) and Franz Joseph Haydn (1732), so I am in a bit of a pickle.  Which do I choose to celebrate? Both were peerless giants in their day, and their influence on music has reverberated down through the centuries.  So, I decided to take the craven way out and celebrate both.  I chose the trumpet as a way to link them together.  One small footnote before I proceed, though.  Bach’s birthday is sometimes given as 21 March.  This is the date in the Julian calendar which was in use when he was born.  The date in the Gregorian calendar, which is the one we now use, is 31 March.

It would be impossible, and pointless, for me to give an overview of one of these men’s accomplishments, let alone the two of them.  Instead, I want to focus on one series of works by Bach, the Brandenburg concertos, and that will lead us to Haydn via the trumpet.

The Brandenburg concertos  (BWV 1046–1051, original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 (though probably composed earlier). They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era.

Bach’s dedication to the Margrave was dated 24 March 1721. Most likely, Bach composed the concertos over several years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (1708–17). The dedication page Bach wrote for the collection indicates they are “Concerts avec plusieurs instruments” (Concertos with several instruments). Bach used a wide spectrum of  instruments in unusual combinations. Every one of the six concertos broke new musical ground. Heinrich Besseler has noted that the overall forces required (leaving aside the first concerto, which was rewritten for a special occasion) tallies exactly with the 17 players Bach had at his disposal in Köthen, so they were probably written there.

Because King Frederick William I of Prussia was not a significant patron of the arts, Christian Ludwig seems to have lacked the musicians in his Berlin ensemble to perform the concertos. The full score was left unused in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen (as of 2008, about US$22.00) in silver. The autograph manuscript of the concertos was rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn in 1849; the concertos were first published in the following year.

In the modern era these works have been performed by orchestras with the string parts each played by a number of players. They have also been performed as chamber music, with one instrument per part, especially by (but not limited to) groups using baroque instruments and (sometimes more, sometimes less) historically informed techniques and practice.

I want to focus on the 2nd concerto because of the trumpet part which is justifiably famous and still one of the most difficult parts in the repertoire.  The autograph score indicates the following:

Concerto 2do à 1 Tromba, 1 Flauto, 1 Hautbois, 1 Violino, concertati, è 2 Violini, 1 Viola è Violone in Ripieno col Violoncello è Basso per il Cembalo.

[no tempo indication] (usually performed at Allegro or Allegro moderato)


Allegro assai

Concertino [soloists]: natural trumpet in F, recorder, oboe, violin

Ripieno: two violins, viola, violone, and basso continuo (including harpsichord).

The trumpet part was originally written for a clarino specialist, almost certainly the court trumpeter in Köthen, Johann Ludwig Schreiber.  The clarino (or clarion) has no valves or keys and so cannot play chromatically, and therefore cannot play in minor keys.  Hence, the trumpet plays in the first and third movements which are in major, but not in the second which is in minor.

After clarino skills were lost in the eighteenth century and before the rise of the “historically informed” performance movement of the late twentieth century, the part was usually played on the valved trumpet.  “Historically informed” performances try to recreate Bach’s works as he would have heard them – as best as possible – by using replicas of the original instruments, using ensembles of the size employed by Bach (in these concertos, around 17 musicians), and following best estimates of performance practices of the day.  Here is one such performance of the 2nd:

By Haydn’s time, a generation later, the problem of the limitations of the natural trumpet had been solved with the invention, by Anton Weidinger, of the keyed trumpet which allowed for playing fully chromatic pieces in all registers.  The clarino was limited to harmonic notes clustered in the higher registers. Haydn’s concerto includes melodies in the middle and lower register, exploiting the capabilities of the new instrument.

There were attempts all over Europe around the mid-classical era to expand the range of the trumpet using valves. Weidinger’s idea of drilling holes and covering them with flute-like keys (to allow access to the holes from one hand position) was not a success as it had very poor sound quality. Thus the natural trumpet still had continual use in the classical orchestra while the keyed trumpet had barely any repertoire. The valved trumpets used today were first constructed and used in the 1830s.

Haydn’s trumpet concerto is composed in three movements marked as follows:

Allegro (sonata)

Andante (sonata)

Allegro (rondo)

In addition to the solo trumpet, the concerto is scored for an orchestra consisting of strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 (presumably natural) trumpets (which generally play in support of the horns or timpani rather than the solo trumpet), and timpani.

Here is the piece for keyed trumpet.

After hearing the concerto on a valve trumpet you may find this rendition on the keyed trumpet a little awkward.  But imagine how delighted an audience in Haydn’s day would have been at the range and complexity of the trumpet score.

Since Bach was German and Haydn Austrian it’s a bit tough to tie them together with a recipe.  But I think spätzle will do the trick given that they are, and have been for centuries, popular in German speaking regions and beyond.  Spätzle dough typically consists of few ingredients, principally eggs, flour, and salt. Often, water is added to produce a thinner dough but care needs to be taken not to make it too thin. The flour traditionally used for spätzle is a coarse type known as Dunstmehl, similar to US “first clear” or Czech hrubá type, which gives a chewier texture but can produce a dough too crumbly for scraping if no water is added. If fine (“all-purpose”) flour and the full complement of eggs are used, all fat and moisture in the dough is derived from these, and water is rarely necessary.

Traditionally, Spätzle are made by scraping long, thin strips of dough off a wooden (sometimes wet) chopping board (Spätzlebrett) into boiling salted water where they cook until they rise to the surface. Thus, the dough should thus be soft enough to slowly flow apart if cut into strips with a knife, yet hold the initial shape for some seconds when dropped into boiling water. They will congeal quickly and after they have become firm and float, they should be skimmed off and set aside.




9 oz (250g) flour (coarse, if possible)
5 eggs + 1 egg yolk
2 tbsp butter
5 – 7 ozs (150-200g) melting cheese, grated
3 ozs (75g) butter for frying
2 medium onions cut in rings


Combine the flour and eggs and a good-sized pinch of salt. Blend well with your hands.  If necessary add water a little at a time.  Be very careful because you want the dough to be soft and pliable so that it will flow when cut for the pot, but not runny (much like egg pasta dough only softer).

Set aside and allow the dough to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting sauté the onions in the butter over medium heat until golden brown.  Drain and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and then reduce the heat. You want to get the water on a gentle simmer during the cooking process. You can either cut and shape the spaetzle by hand or use a spätzle maker. I just tear off pieces of dough and shape them roughly. Cook the spätzle for about 2-3 minutes until they float to the surface, then remove them. Do not cook too many at a time so that the water remains simmering.

When all the spätzle are cooked, drain the water from the pot, melt 1-2 tbsp of butter in at and return the spätzle. Shake the pot a few times to evenly distribute the butter, then add the grated cheese and mix well.

Turn the spätzle out on to a serving plate and add the onions on top.  You may also add chives as a garnish if you wish.

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