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Glass mouthpiece

aerophone

The instrument of this month is not an instrument, but a truly indispensable accessory. This is a nice mouthpiece for cornet made of coloured glass. Removable mouthpieces for brass instruments are usually made of brass - which can be silver, gold or nickel plated - but many other materials have been and still are used: wood, bone, ivory, plastic and glass are among the most common alternatives.

Let's make some buzz!

For the instruments of the brass family - the so-called labrosones or lip-vibrated aerophones - the role of the mouthpiece is to receive the lips of the player so that he can comfortably make them vibrate. The resulting "buzz" makes the air column vibrate and gives out some notes. The mouthpiece is the essential interface between the musician and his instrument. Its characteristics have an influence on the playing and on the sound: the shape and the dimensions of the cup, the rim, the shank, the throat (the small hole between the cup and the shank) interact with the musician and the instrument. The material, meanwhile, has less influence but everyone has their preferences. Anyway, the mouthpiece is a personal element that a brass player usually chooses with great care.

Glass or crystal?

It was especially in the 19th century that glass was used in instrument making, notably by the famous Parisian flute maker Claude Laurent (a "crystal" flute specimen can be seen in the same showcase). One of Laurent's pupils, and his successor since 1848, Joseph-Dominique Breton (1814-1874) was also a specialist in glass flute, but he also made keys, as well as mouthpieces for various types of wind instruments. In 1858, he took out a patent for "improvements made to the mouthpieces of wind instruments, in general" and in particular for glass mouthpieces. These were made using metal moulds. Most of its production was exported. Although referred to as "crystal", the material of our specimen is indeed glass and not crystal strictly speaking. With a high lead content, this type of glass is brighter than ordinary glass and has a transparency reminiscent of that of rock crystal. It is also easier to work.

Handle with care!

The advantages of glass, in addition to its aesthetic appearance, are its comfort and the fact that it allows the mouthpiece to quickly reach a good temperature, but also the fact that it is insensitive to the effects of moisture. Breton also highlighted the hygienic nature of glass (although the lead content is not very healthy). On the contrary, such a mouthpiece is quite fragile and brittle. Tinted in blue by cobalt oxide, our exemplar is slightly carved and set on a silver-plated brass shank. It is placed in a small case for two mouthpieces. We imagine that the second one escaped from the hands of its unfortunate owner...

Writer: Géry Dumoulin

Bibliography

French invention patent no. 37187 of 25 June 1858, mémoire descriptif.

Montserrat Gascón Castillo, Une flûte en cristal. Les flautes de vidre de Claude Laurent (1774-1849), Barcelona, Universitat autònoma de Barcelona, PhD, 2017, p. 103.

Media
Images: 
Glass mouthpiece, J.D. Breton, Paris, around 1860 (inv. 2755-49)
Glass mouthpiece, J.D. Breton, Paris, around 1860 (inv. 2755-49)
The glass mouthpiece in its original case (inv. 2755-49)
The glass mouthpiece on a cornet by Adolphe Sax during the SAX200 exhibition