Historical Formation of the French Trumpet School

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ISSN: 2254-8521


Historical Formation of the French Trumpet School


Ernesto Chuliá, a former student of Maurice André and faithful defender of the French school of trumpet playing, describes the pedagogical and musical characteristics of the French style in this article, extracting examples of some of the main methods such as Arban, Franquin or Vaillant. If you care about the history of your instrument you should read this article!

Ernesto Chuliá

Professor at José Iturbi Municipal Conservatory of Music of Valencia (Spain)

» Ernesto Chuliá in the Encyclopedia of Trumpet Players

It is curious to see how technological developments do not always help safeguard the most essential elements of labor-intensive intellect. Thus, just as we see how hand crafts have been replaced by machines, taking away the intrinsic human genius, in music we see the same situation. We see how much more it attracts young composers to write music with a computer rather than using a pencil, and how we offer instrumentalists instruction that consists of any number of data, that often oppose each other.

Starting with the evidence in this article, we will not change our playing mannerisms to a gust of wind, rather, our approach to the analysis of trumpet instruction will come from the envisioned of the French School Tradition and will be constructed as follows:

  1. Offer historical data on the French school.
  2. Make a presentation and reflect on the concepts of trumpet study in the French school, such as technique and embouchure.
  3. The System of the French School. Tackling basic habits to build solid framework.
  4. A daily plan of study (Merri Franquin, Jean-Baptiste Arban, Maurice André).
  5. General conclusions.

1. History of the trumpet class at the Paris Conservatory

History is full of repetitive, cyclical movements and, in most cases, we do not apprehend enough from previous experiences. Within the family of our instrument at the beginning of the nineteenth century, we are aware that it was near extinction in favor of conical instruments, such as the cornet and flugelhorn.

Today we live this phenomenon in reverse and we see how, in addition to never having managed to install a cornet class in the conservatories, many of our professional bands use trumpets instead of cornets or flugelhorns, etc., which, in addition to eroding the quality and changing the timbre, causes lost jobs and opportunities. This may be useful for policies within an administration and many of the present directors and managers of music, but erodes the idyllic nature of music and its tonal qualities.

By all accounts, we cannot claim that we are given the importance of a musical education dissociated from those far from our goal. We understand music has a sensitive purpose and human formation that should not regulate university careers (both of which pleases musicians) who seem more oriented to prepare for administrative roles rather than artists who are passionate through which good humanitarian work is accomplished.

The first thing we will do is to notice how the French School was formed and the different historical stages of the Paris Conservatory.

We go back in the middle of the nineteenth century for a brief review of this marvelous tradition that remained in France up until its greatest known prodigy, Maurice André.

Students of the Paris Conservatory trumpet class in the 1970s. Standing from left to right: Jean Pirot, Vicente López and Maurice André.

In 1833, Cherubini [1], the director of the Paris Conservatory, was the first to suggest a trumpet class. Previously, conservatories were not configured by the different types of wind instruments as we know them today (such as flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trumpet, trombone, etc.).

The first teacher entrusted with teaching the trumpet in France was Dauverné [2], who lead the studio until 1869. French regulations of November 22, 1850 stated: "There will be a class for each wind instrument: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Chromatic Horn, Bassoon, Trumpet, Trombone.” The piston cornet class did not exist until seven years later, when the War Ministry began two special classes for military musicians, annexed in the Paris Conservatory:

These classes lasted until 1870 (although in 1868, a regular cornet teacher was created in the conservatory for civil musicians). The direction of the cornet studio was entrusted to the now famous Jean-Baptiste Arban.

Arban's mastery of the cornet and flugelhorn endangered the supremacy of the trumpet, though it was Arban himself who wrote to the French Ministry warning of the suppression of the trumpet in the conservatories. This document is preserved at the National Library of France archives.

At the Paris Conservatory (and in France in general), this tradition has continued to be respected, and since 1869, there has always been both a trumpet and cornet class, respectively.

The professors in this last specialty were:

1869-1874: Jean-Baptiste Arban [3].

1874-1880: Jacques-Hippolyte Maury.

1880-1889: Jean-Baptiste Arban.

1889-1910: Jean-Joseph Mellet.

1910-1925: Alexandre-Sylvain Petit.

1925-1948: Eugène Foveau.

It is also important to name another great cornetist, Guillaume Balay (the author of a method that we work on even today), relying on the tradition of the French School; he was already considered one of the great virtuosos of the cornet at the early age of 13. Two of his compositions were given awards in the Exhibition of Brest (1884). Within the cornet studio, he obtained the Extraordinary Prize by the hands of Jean-Joseph Mellet in 1894. His value in composition and direction, as well as his knowledge of every wind instrument, made him the director of military music in 1894, and then the director of the Republican Guard of Paris in 1910. He studied harmony with Paul Vidal and composition with Vincent d'Indy, respectively.

His predecessors were:

1869-1894: Jules Cerclier.

1894-1925: Merri Franquin.

1925-1943: Pierre Vignal.

From 1943 to 1948, Eugène Foveau was entrusted with the post of interim and, after five years, remained the head of the trumpet and cornet class until 1957.

The year 1948 was a turning point in terms of the independence of trumpet and cornet classes. A ministerial order divided the twelve student seats into eight for trumpet and four for cornet.

Successive titled instructors of this class were:

1948-1957: Eugène Foveau.

1948-1966: Raymond Sabarich.

1957-1968: Ludovic Vaillant [4].

1966-1978: Maurice André.

2. Approaches and reflections

What is technique?

Much is said about technique, but one can only answer this question with negatively (this is what happens during our study within the mentorship archetype) — that is, by saying what it is not.

To begin with a few common items, we must raise a series of concerns that are based on the poor conceptualization of trumpet technique.

Apparently, no one knows what they mean when they talk about technique, rather, each person is meaning something different. In most situations, we have observed that this is confused by philosophical concepts and/or teachers, and from this error are born the misleadings that we are going to try to untangle here, without pretending to give a single solution.

Since we have written testimonies and can investigate them, the world of trumpet has been (and is increasingly) full of contradictions among its great pedagogues.

The main reason the teaching of our instrument has been so different, is that teachers continually try to reinvent the craft — making each ‘way’ a dark and subjective world, more typical of psychology rather than philosophy, or even tradition.

This can be justified in different ways of dealing with the rudeness of the instrument and the different approaches or systems to overcome it. For this reason, we will analyze, as much as possible, using examples, citations and situations that do not pretend to demean any of them or anyone, but to guide the ideas behind them, objectively and rationally. This does not mean that we will be neutral because, it would then be better not to say nothing at all.

A confusion of terms

The application of the word technique has brought catastrophic results into the art of learning in the last thirty years. Many believe that we play with technique now but never before, as if we were talking about technological advancements.

Technique, as we will analyze later, is the way to do something, and Technology is the collection of tools used to accomplish that something. That is, we could talk about technology in the construction of new instruments, metronomes, tuners… but never use the meaning in this way to explain technique.

Although it is not exclusive to man, technique is often not conscious. It would seem that it is often spontaneous, even innate. It requires a manual and/or intellectual dexterity, usually with the use of tools or instruments. It is usually transmitted from person to person, and each person adapts it to their own tastes or needs, being able to improve upon it (or make it worse).

Technique arose long before technology, and the latter idea is far from the concept of a practice or trade.

Aristotle’s categories

Etymologically, technique comes from the Greek term tekhnikos, and is relative to one that does, that is, the skills to make a trade.

Aristotle divided human thought into three categories:

  1. Episteme, which is scientific knowledge and from which epistemology arises.
  2. Doxa, which will refer to everything that is orthodox, teachings and opinions based on arguments of knowledge.
  3. And thirdly, tekhnikos, which could be defined as the set of guidelines and procedures that we use as a means to an end.

The ignorance and chaos between these three categories causes the students to suffer a kind of medical ailment that, in the most serious occasions, develops into dystonias, paralysis of the lips, stage fright, and tension of breath… Although boring, we must put them in some sort of order and give them a rational sense, to avoid the 'obstacles' in which we sometimes contribute unconsciously, as much as possible.

The method of Ludovic Vaillant, signed by the author, which belonged to Maurice André and is currently owned by Ernesto Chuliá.

Regarding the embouchure

When speaking to a trumpet class in regards to the embouchure concept, the true meaning of the embouchure is slightly deviated.

What teachers often try to refer to in regards to the embouchure, is really the place or location the mouthpiece will occupy on the lips. This comes from its application in the translation of the French "placement de l'embouchure" (emplacement of the mouthpiece), and that in English is shortened calling it embouchure, since we distinguish the word mouthpiece from embouchure in English, something that is not distinguished in the French language.

It is fair to say that issues between authors of different texts in respect to the embouchure have been brought on by current trends, which in our opinion should be simplified, or we will find ourselves in a constant labyrinth of changes, only serving vague and somewhat silly reasoning.

As a general rule — and we speak of almost all cases — in the beginning, a young student will always adopt the most comfort, or comfortable placement, for their mouthpiece. That is, the sound will be the example we want the student to seek, and by emulation and an unconscious placement, the student will find the best placement and support.

It will not be here — in most cases — where we will find any difficulty, rather it will be throughout the learning progress; over the long haul, we may notice distinct issues that may appear which may alter the wellbeing of the embouchure.

Some of these issues may be:

  1. Poor use of air and breathing. The inattention to the breath can, at the moment of inhalation, adversely affect our emission of sound and gradually affect our ‘embouchure’. Hence, the importance we always give to the cleanliness, nobleness and response of our attack. As a general rule, if our first note is fine, then the remainder will logically continue to flow in the best way possible. Do not forget that our instrument works with the use of the human breath and our source of energy will always be the air.
  2. Too much time for mouthpiece placement (this act should be kept as fast and unconscious as possible). It is possible that, if this is overlooked (again, we appeal to the importance of attacks), the amount of time spent to form the placement may increase the risk of movement in our upper lip, which may in turn affect the sound. It is possible that it could work in the short term, but it may have dire consequences for the beauty of our sound. In most cases, the sound will be accompanied by an insecurity of the articulation which will end up being attributed to the position of the mouthpiece, without reflecting on what has caused the issue in the first place. Many teachers, hoping to find a miracle remedy, will attempt to change the position of the mouthpiece, thus creating a state of uselessness in the student, leaving them in distress. The primary focus must be considered and in the vast majority of cases, this comes from the initial sound emission, or attack. Of course, some small changes may need to be made, but only suggested by the sound quality and the attack.
  3. The want to overcome early difficulties (without having worked through previous steps). As a state of symploke, all the terms found in this section may be due to impatience when attempting to solve difficulties like register, endurance, etc., for those who are not prepared. A good teacher should know how to guide and detect any impatience in the student. But it will also be necessary for them to trust the result from the sound. If the resulting sound is not of decent quality, nothing we are doing should convince us otherwise. Therefore, it is the impulsiveness in our progress, which in most cases, causes the majority of problems related to the embouchure.
  4. The different positions in respect to the embouchure. There is no absolute rule where the mouthpiece placement should be positioned, since everything depends on the morphology of our jaw, lips and the structure of the teeth. To normalize this position, we can say that one of the lips needs support (2/3 of the border of the mouthpiece) and the other lip vibrates with more liberty (1/3 of the embouchure’s plateau). Some play by exerting more pressure that is somewhat proportioned in the upper range, obtaining the desired note, and then use less pressure for lower pitches (as a result the mouthpiece must be less supported in order to give better passage of air). However, once the mouthpiece has been positioned, we should not try to play higher or lower pitches by moving the mouthpiece itself (one should play with the same set in all ranges). As a piece of advice, and emphasized as much, do not overdo mouthpiece pressure with exaggeration; otherwise, the lips tire very quickly and lose their flexibility. There are also trumpeters that play with dry or moist lips. In all of the above ways of playing, there are conflicts between supporters of both positions, both in terms of the placement of embouchure, the pressure needed and the dryness/moisture of the lips. The most important thing, and the only point of union between all these positions, is that the trumpet requires a maintenance that is only possible with the discipline and the continuous attention of air movement. From this connection, we will analyze why these theories are confronted. In our view, the whole confrontation between teachers, in regards to embouchures, is not as much an epistemological problem as it is of syntax and philosophy.

The continuous confusion of terms and the substitution of serious approaches for 'cheap pseudo psychologies' do not allow us to find a possible approach between these different opinions. For this reason, we believe it is necessary to establish — not to impose — a common, rational criteria among them.

Everything that happens when we play the trumpet unfolds in our physical interior. Most of the time our teachers, authors, and theoreticians do not reflect on a distinction that, in our view, will be fundamental to the entire epistemological aspect. We speak of the distinction between the emic perspective (describing the facts from the trumpeter’s/personal point of view) and the etic perspective (describing the facts from the observer's point of view).

Emic pertains to what is going on, on the inside (inside the person’s consciousness). Etic, on the other hand, is what is external to that consciousness (the external result). In this way, it is emic to describe what is situated in the perspective of the student or participant, and etic to refer to what the observer or gnoseological professor captures and analyzes from their own point of view.

The two perspectives are subjective and, in order to reach the end result we are seeking, it must be filtered by the catharsis of objectivity; otherwise we will continue to muddy the issue.

We can only find one way to be objective, and that is applying a system of work. There will be more on this subject below, but it is important to know that this system endorsed by the entire tradition of classical trumpet in France.

3. The System

Basic habits for solid framework

The most important element in the study of the trumpet is having a working method, a SYSTEM, formed from intelligence and organization, along with order and patience.

In the book Vademecum of the Trumpeter, we dedicated a chapter of tips in order to 'play easily’, and on page 37, another set of tips on how to intelligently practice our instrument. These guidelines are a broad makeup, helping us to become complete artists and not mere specialists (which, in our view, is an error that often arises in our practice rooms). Seeking to be a specialist of the upper range, the velocity of play or endurance, is not necessarily a step backwards. However, let’s recall what Arban wrote in the prologue to his Complete Method (this text appears in the original edition):

The first musicians who played the cornet were, for the most part, either horn or trumpet players. Each imparted to his performance the peculiarities resulting from his tastes, his abilities and his habits, and I need scarcely add that the kind of execution which resulted from so many incomplete and heterogeneous elements was deficient in the extreme, and, for a long while, presented the lamentable spectacle of imperfections and failures of the most painful description.

[…] Some excited admiration for their extreme agility; others were applauded for the expression with which they played; one was remarkable for lip; another for the high tone to which he ascended; others for the brilliancy and volume of their tone. In my opinion, it was the reign of specialists, but it does not appear that a single one of the players then in vogue ever thought of realizing or of obtaining the sum total of qualities which alone can constitute a great artist.

Jean-Baptiste Arban

The master, Maurice André, has contributed this school to be at the highest level imaginable, being the last, complete musician in trumpet; this is not an opinion, but a fact found throughout the world.

From his beginnings with Léon Barthélémy, who studied with Franquin (and Franquin with Arban), André developed a way of playing that broke barriers between the different schools (worldwide), and this is a result of his attention to detail and tradition. This aspect, which is very evident, does not transfer well into today's world — since the market imposes itself with propaganda, fashion, invention, experimentation and a long list of concepts (that are not ideas), which make this present moment in time more difficult for interpretative creation, rather it’s a spectacle and full of mass societal norms. Unfortunately, this occurs not only in the interpretation and creation of music; we can observe it throughout all the arts.

Through the true path, Maurice André raised the trumpet to its highest apogee, making it sing as well as the best voice, sounding with the true nature of the instrument, exploring the clarino register of Bach's music, making composers of his time feel the need to expand the instrument’s repertoire. From this tradition, It was André who achieved such a level that we must reflect on all that he has done and he teachings he has left behind for our instrument. This, without a rational explanation, is not the way that guides our younger generations of today.

A conversation between the author of this article and Maurice André.

Within our approach, we will unite and link his ideas, forming a union between different schools with both epistemological aspects, as well as musical aspects (since we cannot say that just anyone is a musician if they have issues with their sound, attacks, fingerings or air column, and even less if this same person has an unrefined sense of musical taste or style). The extreme differences of level between the great trumpet players of today and the teacher André (or among the pianists like Rachmaninov, Fisher, Michelangeli, violinists like Oistrakh, Enescu, Menuhin, directors like Ansermet, Celibidache, Hindemith… and many others) makes us think the guidelines for not being able to match their interpretations have been lost to history.

Each life of these geniuses had a common denominator: Music. It is our opinion that it’s the money, business, marketing, brand, even the people who muddle this noble art that have made it rotten.

The above words are incompatible with those of humility, musical experience, observation, emulation of well-being, living, giving… This doesn’t mean to say that there are no good and fantastic instrumentalists today; what is lacking is the need, which we have replaced with opulence. Today, the magic triangle (as my father wisely calls it) of the composer, interpreter and listener is weaker than ever.

What we speak here is the part of a spirituality or sincerity, far from pretensions, and closer to good taste. As the Spanish pianist José Iturbi said: "Music should not have the words 'better', 'worse', 'a lot' and 'a little'."

But let us return to the way on how to work, which is much easier to explain, especially if we want to maintain a rational discourse and not lengthily into reclamation.

4. The rules (or tips) of the traditional French School

The work that follows will be simple but tenacious, simple but patient, clear but hard.

In his Complete Method, Merri Franquin developed his great work in favor of the emission of sound: We will consider this to be one of the most important characteristics of the trumpet school in France. We must master emitting the sound of the trumpet in all registers and nuances, without violence, but with frankness and naturalness. Playing the blown notes as to be able to imitate the voice, especially in the slower movements.

Another fundamental aspect in this school system is the practice session, ordered and proceeded by pauses. These pauses will be more or less long, depending on our needs and abilities, and will vary as we improve our level of play.

Enduring through the traditional French School will be the exact opposite path of exercises and pseudo-philosophical ideas of methods such as that of CarusoIn his complete treatise, Merri Franquin indicates to us tables/models, simply as an orientation, of our daily work for one, two, three or four hours of study. Here, we present his table for four hours of study, to better understand what is meant by all of this:

45 mins. — Pianissimo attacks (you can divide this up into 3 separate sessions throughout the day).
15 mins. — Pause (divided into 3 separate sessions of 5’ each, after each attack exercise).
10 mins. — Strong attacks.
5 mins. — Pause.
10 mins. — Long tones with crescendo/diminuendo.

TOTAL: 120 mins. (2 hours)

15 mins. — Scales played in both piano and forte dynamics, with different articulations.
10 mins. — Pause.
10 mins. — Flexibility / slurring.
5 mins. — Pause.
20 mins. — Various exercises (groups of notes, turns, trills, intervals, articulations, triple tonguing, etc.)
15 mins. — Pause.
15 mins. — Melodic Studies.
10 mins. — Pause.
20 mins. — Concerto practice.

TOTAL: 120 mins. (2 hours)

A cover of Merri Franquin’s method.

Time devoted to each section of the study of the trumpet, according to the method of Merri Franquin, focused on different sessions of one, two, three or four hours.

The continuous observations of the great vocalists, as well as strings and other wind instruments — those that have a much larger list of repertoire than ours — made these teachers dictate to their students a series of norms and advice as to not incur defects of bad taste (style).

To point some of them out, although we must always seek the advice of experienced musicians and refined taste, we will show some pages of these that, in our view, are not sufficiently highlighted today.