Cavalry trumpet


cavalry trumpetSince times immemorial wind instruments have been used to convey signals. Especially the so-called labrosones or lip reed aerophones, or brass instruments in common speech, are used to that end. Labrosones can be made of different materials such as bronze, brass, copper, ivory, horn and wood. They all share the typical way of producing sound, by making the lips vibrate on a mouthpiece that can or cannot be removed.   

Undoubtedly, the use of a bovine horn to give sound signals goes back to prehistory. From antiquity to our time different types of trumpets have been used in military and ceremonial contexts. They were particularly  fit to convey orders amidst the din and chaos of battle. They were sounded to signal, recognise, stir up to action, announce, celebrate, give rhythm, entertain, and so on.

The military use of trumpets is, of course, strictly codified, and it is limited to the few notes of the calls, each with their distinct message. The two most preferred instruments to that end are the bugle and the 'cavalry trumpet', a natural trumpet with a narrower bore.  

In our time cavalry trumpets are still part of military wind bands in many countries. In Belgium they are linked to the Royal Band of the Guides which is the foremost Belgian military band. It was founded in 1832 as the 'Musique particulière du roi'. The fame of this band and its trumpet corps reaches far beyond the Belgian borders. Besides, cavalry trumpets are to be seen in the spectacular parades with the Royal Mounted Escort, which depends on the federal police force, and which accompanies the king at certain ceremonial functions.

Nowadays, the trumpet corps of the Royal Band of the Guides consists of eighteen players, led by a trumpet-major. Together with the harmony orchestra of the Guides, but also separately, the corps plays concerts, and participates in parades, tattoos, religious and patriotic ceremonies.  The emblematic March of the 1st Regiment of the Guides is unthinkable without the crisp calls of the trumpet corps, but it also fulfils many ceremonial duties on its own.  

The instruments of the trumpet corps are somewhat particular natural trumpets: they are tuned in E flat, and they have a rotary valve with which the fundamental note can be changed to B flat. Consequently, the trumpet players have two harmonic series at their disposition. It is as if they play two instruments in one: a cavalry trumpet and a bugle.

When the instruments of the Royal Band of the Guides were renewed in 2015, the mim was donated some of the old instruments by the staff of the Royal Bands of Defence. One of these instruments is a this cavalry trumpet of the Brussels firm Persy, with its ornamental cord and two tassels. It had been played in the trumpet corps for many decades. Without realising many Belgians will have heard this trumpet while watching the military parade on the national holiday (July 21st), on the spot or on TV. This makes this instrument nothing less than a piece of Belgian musical heritage.

 Text: Géry Dumoulin; translation: Wim Bosmans



Cavalry trumpet, J. Persy, Brussels, second half 20th century
inv. 2016.0093.001. Gift Royal Bands of Belgian Defense © MIM, S. Egan
Trumpeters’ Corps of the Belgian Guides © J. Braekevelt, Belgian Defence
Trumpeter & timpanist of the Imperial Guard, France, ca. 1880, © mim
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