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Cornetto specified in instrumental ritornello from underworld scene in Jacopo Melanis Ercole in

Tebe. Such specification in this score is rare.

According to Collver and Dickey, When indicated in opera manuscripts, the cornett usually
appears in a symbolic context in only one or two scenes (often associated with underworld or
maritime themes). The evidence seems to agree with their statement about underworld
associations, but only to a limited extent in regards to maritime themes. There are at least thirtythree scenes that specify cornett from eighteen operas in my database. My reckoning of operatic
associations are as follows: the majority of scenes touch primarily on the infernal (16); dance
scenes and scenes dealing with rulers are also numerous (6 for each category); pastoral scenes are
next in importance (3 at least), followed by scenes of a maritime, military, or religious nature (1
each); and there were six scenes without any noticeable symbolic association.

Cornett Structures Effect on Symbolism

The cornett, borne out of the Medieval age, owes much of its symbolism to its construction and
physical appearance. The physical world had no reality to medieval man except as a symbol, a
shadow of the real, spiritual realm beyond, observes Edmund Bowles.60 There are at least five
visual aspects of the cornetts structure that ultimately connote the underworld, or the sinister: (1)
depending on the type and size of the cornett, it is more or less serpentine; (2) the leather covering
of the cornett is black; (3) the leather tooling on Venetian cornetts is sometimes emblematic of
death; (4) the cornetts octagonal cross-section echoes octagonal examples of Christian
architecture and the symbolism of eight; and (5) the simple curve of the normal treble cornett,
reminiscent of an animal horn, connects the cornett with many animal horn instruments of ancient
times, many of which have rich associations with death and the underworld.


Edmund A. Bowles, The Role of Musical Instruments in Medieval Sacred Drama, The Musical Quarterly 45
(1957): 67.

Tenor (or bass) cornett in serpentine form (from the Musee de la musique, Paris)
The Serpentine as an Intermediary Symbol Between the Cornett and the Underworld.
John McCann, a noted cornett scholar and maker, addresses three of these aspects mentioned
above. He touches on the ophidic appearance of the cornett, first:

S-shaped tenor cornett (from Muse de la musique, Paris)

Some very few [treble] cornetts, some altos and most tenors and basses are double-curved
serpentine in form or are made in an S shape. . . .
Musically, the cornett has sometimes been associated with the underworld. In this regard, it is
unknown if decorative form followed function. Cornetts adopted features of serpents, creatures
associated with the underworld. Serpentine-shaped
instruments often have a vipers head or some
fanciful creature for the cornett bell. These
instruments as well as the simple-curved cornetts
almost always have the neck (mouthpiece end) of
the instrument chip-carved on all facets (sides) in
diamond patterns. These are believed to represent
scales on the tail of the serpent. . . . The Sshaped larger instruments usually have no serpenthead bell but they do have the diamond carving on
the neck.61
Most serpentine and S-shaped cornetts were tenor
cornetts (sometimes called the lizard or
lyzard), although some treble cornetts have the S-shaped curve.62 This observation, of course,
excludes straight and mute cornetts, which have no curves nor (normally) any diamond pattern.

John McCann, Snakes, Trees and Flames: A Discussion of Venetian Curved Cornett Decorations, Historic Brass
Society Journal 1 (1989): 102.
This S-shape enabled a better grip of the instrument. Of the 210 extant treble-sized cornetts noted in the summary
table from Edward Tarrs Ein Katalog Erhaltener Zinken, in Basler Jahrbuch fr Historische Musikpraxis, ed. Peter

There are a few examples of historic cornetts with a vipers or some sort of fanciful beasts head
carved into the end of the instrument.63 Some cornetts have a wavy, snake-like form, but without a
head carving.64 According to the Bible, writes Rita Steblin, it was through Satan (or the Devil),
in the guise of a snake, that sin came into the world, and the wages of sin is Death.65 Canto 24 in
Dantes Inferno illustrates not only the serpents association with the underworld but also its
regenerative power and erotic nature:
Their hands were tied
Behind their backswith snakes, that thrust between
Where the legs meet, entwining tail and head
Into a knot in front. And look!at one
Near us a serpent darted, and transfixed
Him at the point where neck and shoulders join.
No o or i could be made with strokes as fast
As he took fire and burned and withered away,
Sinking; and when his ashes came to rest
Ruined on the ground, the dust spontaneously
Resumed its former shape. Just so expires
The Phoenix in its flames, great sages agree,
To be born again every five hundred years.66

Charles-Franois Lebf, Dying Eurydice (1822), marble

Reidemeister (Winterthur, Switzerland: Amadeus Verlag, 1981), 2426, only 9 (4.3%) are S-shaped, whereas 140
(66.7%) are curved, 13 (6.2%) are straight and 48 (22.9%) are mute instruments. On the other hand, of the 45 alto and
tenor instruments surveyed, 35 (77.8%) are S-shaped, 9 (20%) have a simple curve (or are of a unique form), and only
1 (2.2%) is straight. The number of diamond facets varies widely.
Tarr and Nicholson, Ein Katalog Erhaltener Zinken, 198, 200, 243.
Ibid., 244.
Steblin, Death as a Fiddler, 277.
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno of Dante; A New Verse Translation, trans. Robert Pinsky, illus. Michael Mazur (New
York: The Noonday Press, 1994), 20203.

In Monteverdis Orfeo, one will remember, it is a serpent that strikes the heel of Euridice:
In un fiorito prato
Con laltre sue compagne
Giva cagliendo fiori
Per farne una ghirlanda a le sue chiome,
Quandangue insidioso,
Chera fra lerbe ascoso,
Le punse un pi con velenoso dente.67
The catalyst for the death and rebirth process in the legend of Orpheus is the serpent. The snakelike appearance of many cornetts, therefore, connects the cornett with the allegorical associations
of the serpent known during the Renaissance, including the underworld, and the Orphic
death/rebirth cycle.

Cornett Leather Coverings and their Chthonic Associations. Charles Gouse states that most
references to the generic term cornett are made with respect to the curved model (cornetto curvo).
. . . Because of the traditional black leather covering, the curved cornett was sometimes identified
as a schwarzer Zink or cornetto nero (black cornett).68 The great majority of extant cornetts
are, indeed, covered in black leather (there is a significant, though small, number with brown-dyed
leather). Straight, mute and ivory cornetts generally do not have leather coverings (there was no
practical reason to cover a cornett that had no seams). The straight cornett was often referred to
as a white or yellow cornett in order to differentiate it from its black, leather-covered
McCann writes that the color of the leather used to cover and bind the instrument together, black,
is reminiscent of the underworld.70 Although intuitive and not documented, McCanns statement
here is borne out in others writings on the symbolism of the color black.
John Harvey in Men in Black writes, Black is rich and has many meanings, but still its most
widespread and fundamental value lies in its association with darkness and night, and with the
ancient natural imagery that connects night with death.71 Although positive connections to
blackness exist, the negative associations, such as evil, death, disease, witchcraft, misfortune, and
war, are more dominant. Harvey reminds us of the Furies, dressed in black (according to
Aeschylus), and of Satan, shown in paintings dressed in black since at least the fourteenth
century. The princely class of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often wore black as a token
symbol of self-abnegation to deflect the resentment that wealth could provoke.72


In a flowery meadow, with her other companions, she was wandering, gathering flowers to make of them a garland
for her tresses, when a treacherous snake that was lurking in the grass bit her in the foot with its venomous fangs.
Text and translation from Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Striggio, jr., and Lionel Salter, trans., LOrfeo: Favola in
Musica, Archiv Produktion 419 2502, 1987. Booklet to sound recording, 8488.
Gouse, The Cornett, 1011.
Ibid., 12.
McCann, Snakes, Trees and Flames: A Discussion of Venetian Curved Cornett Decorations, 102.
John Harvey, Men in Black (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1995), 41.
Ibid., 43 and 64.

In his article The Plague, Melancholy and the Devil, Franois Azouvi discusses how in the
Renaissance the pigment of black was thought to be achieved through three alchemic methods:
fire, reduction, and putrefication. He then explores how these processes contribute to various
symbolic associations of black. Some of the associations he notes are that Satan is invariably
pictured as black,73 that black bile represents the melancholic temperament, and that black is the
color of the plague with such phrases as black plague, black and dry tongue, blackish lips,
black nails, and Black Death. 74

Cornett covered in black leather, tooled with cypress images (reproduction by John McCann)
In addition to being black, cornett leather coverings display tooled impressions, which
functionally help integrate the leather to the linen binding underneath. Much of this tooling, such
as the linear rings around the instrument, is merely functional, but some designs, using
bookbinders blind stamps, are more decorative, revealing symbolic meaning and cultural
influences. The predominant symbol on Venetian cornetts is the conifer-shaped tree mark, and
McCann postulates that this mark represents cupressus sempervirens, or the Mediterranean
cypress.75 According to McCann, the Mediterranean cypress is found in Italian cemeteries, its
branches are used in mourning ceremonies, and it has connotations of eternity dating back to
ancient Roman times.76 In addition to this symbol, Venetian cornetts also display spade and
flaming bush designs. McCann opines that the spade is merely a simplification of the conifershaped mark, but offers no explanation of the flaming bush mark.
In more ornate cornetts, McCann also finds arabesques and squiggles. The squiggles are thought
to represent the flaming sword of Islam. Both the arabesques and squiggles are believed to be


Franois Azouvi, The Plague, Melancholy and the Devil, Diogenes 108 (Winter 1979): 116. Satans blackness
comes from the burning of hell (or, as an optional interpretation, from the diabolic coldness of the Prince of Hell).
Azouvi discusses how black bile was viewed as the reduction of yellow bile. Bodily putrefication (to the point of
turning black) is symptomatic of The (Black) Plague.
Azouvi, The Plague, Melancholy and the Devil, 114, 117.
McCann, Snakes, Trees and Flames: A Discussion of Venetian Curved Cornett Decorations, 104.

an indication of Arab influence on Venetian culture, harking back to Venices role as a powerful
trading center between Europe and the Levant.77
In conclusion, the external color and decorations found on most cornetts of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries reinforce a symbology of death, the nefarious, and the exotic.

Octagonal Profile. Most curved and S-shaped cornetts have an octagonal cross-section. This is no
accidental element of construction, nor is it a convenience for the performers grip. In all
probability, the octagonal profile became a standard feature because there was a significant
symbolic connection between the role of the cornett and the octagon. To the Medieval and ancient
mind, the number eight and the octagonal shape figure prominently in the concept of death,
rebirth, and eternity. Firstly, the number eight has its own symbolism which relates to the death
and rebirth cycle. Secondly, Christian architecture up to the time of Monteverdi articulated the
number eight in several types of structures, especially ones devoted to baptism.
Symbolism of the Number Eight. There are traditional associations with the number eight that
help us to understand more about the symbolism implied by the cornetts octagonal profile.
Vincent Hopper, in his book, Medieval Number Symbolism, surveys several different
philosophical views of the number eight. In astrological thought, the eighth Heaventhe one
beyond 7 is the goal of the soul: that is, eternal bliss.78 Hopper notes that the Hebrews saw the
sanctity in the number eight as being the number after seven. It is the day of circumcision. For
this reason the temple is sanctified in 8 days.79 Hopper recalls that future glory was viewed as the
eighth age by Clement, Victorinus, and Basil. Moreover, Augustine resolves the problem of
whether seven or eight is the real symbolic number of Final Glory: since there was no evening of
the seventh day (of creation), then the eighth day, therefore, represents a return to the original

Ibid., 105.
Vincent Foster Hopper, Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1938), 18.
Ibid., 25.

life.80 Because creation is bound to the number seven (seven days in a week), then eight
represents Immortality, or Unity (in other words, the first day of the second week). In Purgatory,
man must efface the seven peccata. At last, the earthly man reaches the number eight, or the
symbol of baptism.81 Dante, of course, fuels this symbolism with his eighth step of Purgatory and
in eight figures of the Rose. According to Dante, the eighth age is the age of Final
Redemption.82 The number eight points to a symbolism of cyclical completionan ending of the
old order and a beginning of the new. Thus, we see the essence of the death and rebirth cycle once
again expressed in the structure of the cornett.
The Octagon in Christian Architecture. The church was the most important venue for the
cornett, and the coincidence of its octagonal profile with various octagonal structures in the
exterior and interior of churches is significant for our study of cornett symbolism. It permits us to
incorporate symbolic meaning inherent in these structures into the symbology of the cornett.

Lateran Baptistery or San Giovanni in Fonte in Verona (floor plan clearly showing octagonal
profile dating back to the 4th century)

Romanesque baptismal font in San Giovanni (Verona)


Ibid., 77.
Ibid., 154.
Ibid., 19899.

The number eight has long been a symbol of the life in Christ and this number, therefore, is of
great importance in relation to octagonal shapes in church architecture, such as baptismal fonts,
baptisteries, and other structures. This octagonal trend in church architecture was not just a shortlived phenomenon: its symbolic shape appeared in numerous Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and
Renaissance churches. While Arnold Whittick, in his Symbols, prefers a functional explanation for
octagonal structures in Gothic architecture, he nevertheless provides some background
information on the symbolism of early octagonal designs in his entry for Octagon:
It has been thought that the early Christian octagonal baptisteries and the octagonal font which,
after the Romanesque or normal circular font, became in the Gothic Decorated and Perpendicular
periods the commonest form, were due to this symbolism of eight, as baptism would signify a new
creation by admission into the Church of Christ. But this explanation is decidedly improbable, as
the octagonal form was almost certainly due to reasons of structure and design, for the octagonal
shape appears very largely in early Christian and Gothic architecture in a variety of features such
as domes, pulpits, and columns. It is also a common form in Gothic churchyard crosses, remains
of which are plentiful.83
In Venice, the most important cornett center of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the
musicians of St. Marks performed often in the octagonal platform, known as the pulpitum
magnum, or sometimes called the bigonzo (literally, the tub).84
The most famous octagonal edifice from the Renaissance was the cathedral in Florence, Santa
Maria del Fiore. The design of the cathedral had been decided upon in 1375 as an oblong area with
four immense bays between the faade and the sanctuary, an octagonal space surmounted by a
great drum with a dome on top.85 In 1418 a competition for the design and engineering of the
dome was won by Filippo Brunelleschi. The design probably draws upon ancient Roman
examples, such as the Domus Aurea, or Golden House of Nero, which was octagonal, and
certainly the Pantheon, which was a circular dome built over a structure featuring eight pillars.86
Indeed, the Pantheon and Brunelleschis Dome, viewed as octagons with a rounded structure as a
finishing touch, are a reverse-metaphor for the construction of the cornett, which was essentially a
round instrument re-worked into an octagonal shape.
The place in the Christian church where the souls new life in Christ begins, the baptismal font, is
symbolically linked to death in two ways: (1) the baptized soul dies to his sins and is born again to
Christ; and (2) Roman architectural structures such as funerary monuments were often converted
into baptismal fonts. According to Johan van Parys, circular, hexagonal and octagonal baptismal
fonts seem to have been favored in Italy and France.87 Van Parys further explains the connection
between the octagonal font and the theology behind baptism:
In Christian numerology, the number eight refers to the eighth day, the day after the Sabbath, the
day of the resurrection. Jewish traditionby which early Christians livedmeasured the week to
image the creation story, beginning with Sunday, the first working day, and ending with the

Arnold Whittick, Symbols, Signs and Their Meaning (London: Leonard Hill [Books] Limited, 1906), 229.
Iain Fenlon, St Marks Before Willaert, Early Music 21 (November 1993): 555.
Paul Johnson, The Renaissance: A Short History (New York: The Modern Library, 2000), 91.
Ross King, Brunelleschis Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (New York: Walker &
Company, 2000), 27.
Johan M. J. van Parys, A Place for Baptism: New Trends in Baptismal Architecture Since the Second Vatican
Council (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1988), 27.

Sabbath, the seventh day, the day of rest. Christs resurrection occurred on the day after the
Sabbath and so did his appearances after the resurrection. This is why the early church gathered on
Sunday, a working day, to remember these events in celebration and to await the time when the
Lord would again appear in their midst. This days festive character was countercultural, a day
beyond the known measure, beyond time, ushering in a new age.
A font shaped after the number eight, to call to mind the resurrection, bespeaks a theology which
stresses the fact that the elect not only die with Christ in the waters of baptism, but that as they rise
out of the waters of baptism they are also given the promise that one day they will rise with him to
eternal life on the eighth daythe first day of the new creationthe beginning of the eschaton.88
Thus the ritual of baptism is both a symbolic death and rebirth. The octagonal shape of the
Romanesque baptismal fonts transfers to the cornett, with its octagonal profile, an association of
death and rebirth.

The cornetts curved shape evokes animal horns

Curved Cornetts Shape. Gouse states, In the course of development, the [curved] cornett
retained the crescent shape of the natural animal horn.89 McCann also notes that the curved
appearance of the cornett reflects its descent from hunting horns and fingerhole horns fashioned
from cow and similar-shaped horns.90 As a musical instrument, the cornetts ancestors surely
were the various animal horns used as instruments in the Medieval and earlier periods. Gouse
writes, The etymology of the word cornett is rooted in the Latin cornu which has an IndoEuropean base (ker-,) meaning the upper part of the body, head, horn, top, or summit, from
whence the Latin cerebrum (brain) also comes. The suffix et indicates the diminutive, so that


Ibid., 240.
Gouse, The Cornett, 7. This statement is significant in terms of the history of the cornetts symbolism.
McCann, Snakes, Trees and Flames: A Discussion of Venetian Curved Cornett Decorations, 101.

cornet(t) is then a small horn or trumpet.91 Gouse speculates, It seems likely that the cornetts
earliest ancestor was the natural animal horn; at first in its original state as wrenched from the
beast to which it was attached and later improved by the addition of holes, pierced in the body,
which allowed for a wider variety of tones.92
The Cornetts Instrumental Ancestors
Many themes of cornett symbology are, in part, really the by-products of the cornetts heritage of,
and similarity to, certain historic lip-blown instruments of antiquity. Several factors, such as the
method of tone production, direct lineage of function, appearance, etymology, musical
substitutions, usage in contemporary theoretical writings and selection for translations of ancient
texts, lead one to conclude that there might be an ancestral relationship between an ancient
instrument and the cornett. If there is sufficient evidence of an ancestral relationship, or if a
connection was drawn in the 1600s, then the older instruments symbology arguably becomes, or
adds to, that of the cornett.
In order to connect the symbolism of these ancient instrumental ancestors to the cornett in a
meaningful way, we first must be convinced that the cornett is symbolically substituting for the
other instrument. Then we must determine the symbolic provenance of this other instrument. In
our present discussion of the cornett in Orfeo, we are hoping to find precursors on the themes of
death, the death and rebirth cycle, the underworld, and, in general, the nefarious.

Ritual horn, Mbuti pygmy people, Central Africa, 19th C.

Because we primarily seek antecedents that look like the curved cornett, we will look at historic
instruments of two physical constructions: instruments made directly out of animal horns (and
tusks), and instruments made to look and play like animal horns, but which have been improved
by some technological method. Theodore Reik posits:

Gouse, The Cornett, 2.

Ibid., 34.

The horn as an old and consecrated instrument is found as and among the
Greeks, and as lituus and buccina among the Romans. The hypothesis is supported by numerous
facts that these instruments have all evolved from a simple horn of an animal, and have been
perfected by technical improvements and the use of bronze, silver and gold. The primitive blowhorn, the progenitor of all these improved types, was gradually superseded by them, and remains
only in the form of the shofar and the signal horn of primitive peoples.93

Oliphant, Southern Italy, 1000-1100 A.D., of Islamic African workmanship

In general, technologically improved instruments are a later development in history, but animal
horns and improved horns (or trumpets) have coexisted for thousands of years. The oliphant,
made of both ivory and metal, and various types of fingehole horns all coexisted in the Medieval
period. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in addition to the wooden cornett, there was the
ivory cornett, the exact descendant of the oliphant with finger holes.94 Even today, the shofar is
still used in Jewish rituals. This coexistence of instruments born of different times enabled the
late-Medieval and Renaissance thinker to see the similarity between an ancient instrumentsuch
as the shofar, the oliphant, or the fingerhole hornand the cornett, especially since there were
other contributing factors, like similar tone production, shape, and social functions.
The Shofar
Gouse introduces the assumption that the shofar was an ancestor of the cornett: The shofar may
well be the most famous of the cornetts predecessors. This ancient Jewish ceremonial instrument
is still used in its original form to celebrate the new year (Rosh Hoshanah). It produces only two

Theodor Reik, The Shofar, in Ritual: Four Psychoanalytic Studies (New York: Grove Press, 1946), 229.
There are nineteen extant ivory cornetts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This represents 6.1% of all
311 extant cornetts. All but one (a descant instrument at 42.5 cms. in the Muse Instrumental du Conservatoire
National Suprieur de Musique in Paris) are treble instruments, from 55 to 58 cms. in length. Information from
Fontana, Ivory Cornetti, 36.

tones, a fundamental and a fifth above. In its most authentic form, the shofar has no separate
Gouses hypothesis that the cornett is a predecessor to the cornett is supported by the general
physical shape, etymological evidence, translations of biblical texts in Hebrew to later languages,
and the musical assignment of the cornett in pieces where the text refers to the shofar.

The shofar is made by softening a rams horn through heat in order to form a straight body with
an upturned or twisted hooked bell, according to Jeremy Montagu.96 The symbology of the
shofar, which impacts that of the cornett, is infered by its functional uses. There are ten occasions
for playing the shofar, according to Erwin Goodenough: (1) every day during the month of Elul;
(2) to announce a new moon; (3) to arouse people to repentance on fast days; (4) to announce an
excommunication; (5) to proclaim a new rabbinic decision (halachic decision); (6) at funerals;
(7) to call to rest for the Sabbath; (8) on Rosh-Hoshanah; (9) on Yom Kippur; and (10) to
remember the Akedah, or the binding of Isaac by Abraham.97
There were other occasions to play the shofar in the ancient history of the Hebrews. The shofar
announced the coronation of a king. The shofar was a signalling instrument to warn of the enemy,
to frighten the enemy, to warn of a flood, if a boat was sinking, or when drought or famine
The Shofars Etymological Connections to Goat and Ram Horns. In his article, The Shofar
and its Symbolism, Malcolm Miller postulates that the word shofar derives from the Assyrian
word sapparu, meaning mountain goat.98 Erwin Goodenough also connects the shofar with
the goat. He writes, In Jewish ritual the straight horn of the wild goat was at one time used
interchangeably with the curved horn of the ram, but by Greco-Roman times the goats horn was


Gouse, The Cornett, 4.

Jeremy Montagu, Shofar, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London:
MacMillan Publishers Limited, 1980).
Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, The Problem of Method, vol. 4 of Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1953), 16768, 188.
Malcolm Miller, The Shofar and Its Symbolism, Historic Brass Society Journal 14 (2002): 85.

generally superseded by the rams horn.99 This etymological connection to goat is significant in
that the cornett also may show some association to goat in the French language.
Officially, the Trsor de la Langue Franaise ascribes the etymology of the French word for
cornett, cornet bouquin, to the Latin word bucca (mouth).100 The basic idea with this
etymology is that the cornet bouquin is a horn with a (little) mouthpiece, or a horn played by the
mouth, but the Trsor admits that this etymology is not definitive. Nevertheless, one idea that is
not offered seems plausible and intriguing to the idea that the cornett is a descendent from animal
horns. Under the second heading for bouquin, the Trsor indicates that it refers to an old male
goat (or rabbit).101 Thus, the etymological meaning of cornet bouquin could be an old goats
horn. Gouse echoes this idea, but without any documentation, when he writes, The French
cornet bouquin refers to a small instrument in the shape of a horn that may be, in fact, made
from a goats horn.102
Death Symbolism of the Shofar. Of all the animal horn predecessors to the cornett, it is arguably
the shofar that primarily ties the cornett to the theme of death. The shofar also became strongly
connected with the Akedah, which is the story of the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac. The
shofar specifically recalls the ram, with its horns caught in the bushes, as a substitute for Isaac.
Erwin Goodenough declares, Akedah and shofar were interchangeable symbols. . . . The original
story suggests a legend artificially formed to rebuke and put an end to the practice of sacrificing
the first-born son. But in the material we have reviewed, sacrifice is made once for all, with
universal validitya basic idea so powerful that it became the dominant explanation of the death
of Jesus.103
Reik describes the shofar in the context of a theoretical totemistic cult forerunner to Judaism.104 In
this prehistoric time, the shofar was a visual and audible way of assuming the identity of the totem
god, which was the bull or the ram: the sudden resounding tone of the shofar . . . calls to mind the
bellowing of a bull at the slaughter, and . . . is the voice of the totemistic father-substitute. . . . The
peculiarly fearsome, groaning, blaring and long-sustained tone of the shofar becomes intelligible
in that it revives the memory of the bellowing of a bull; it derives its serious significance from the
fact that, in the unconscious mental life of the listeners, it represents the anxiety and last deathstruggle of the father-god.105


Goodenough, The Problem of Method, 167.

Bouquin(3), in Trsor de la Langue Franaise: Dictionnaire de la langue du XIXe et du XXe sicle (17891960)
(Paris: ditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975).
Bouquin(2), in Trsor de la Langue Franaise: Dictionnaire de la langue du XIXe et du XXe sicle (17891960)
(Paris: ditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975).
Gouse, The Cornett, 2.
Goodenough, The Problem of Method, 19091. Goodenough examines the Christian-era development of the
Akedah theme as it assumes the concept of vicarious sacrifice found in the Christian faith.
Reik bases many of his arguments on Freuds Totem und Tabu, which describes the primitive sacrifice as the son
killing and devouring the father. This ritual later substituted a totem animal for the father.
Reik, The Shofar, 259. Reik explains, a technical advance, besides other factors unknown to us, must have led
to the horn, which was originally worn on the head, being used as an instrument for blowing by the believers; but in
this way also it helps the imitation of the totemistic god, namely, by imitating his voice. . . . The concept of God goes
hand in hand with this evolution in those who believe in him: Jahve no longer roars, he blows the rams horn, as at a
similar stage Triton, Heimdall and Brahma received a wind instrument. (Ibid., 257.) In order to broker the
contradiction between the use of a rams horn and the idea of a primitive Jewish bull-cult, Reik posits the following
scenario: It is . . . quite probable . . . that the ram was the totemistic deity of the Jews in the epoch preceding the
domestication of sheep. . . . Nevertheless the testimonies of the Jewish cult of the bull are so numerous and

Reik also examines the shofars historically recorded connection with death:
Our conception of the original significance of the shofar ceremonial facilitates our understanding
of its rle in excommunication, in cases of death, and in the idea of the Day of Judgement. It
everywhere represents the presence of God; it is He who terrifies the excommunicated with His
voice and intensifies the effect of the curses in the synagogue by the threat of death; its call, as it
were, shows the uttered curses fulfilled in advance. It is clearly shown in the episode in I Samuel
xv. 8 that the purpose of the excommunication was the killing of animal and man in honour of
Jahve. The sound of the shofar at death proclaims that the deceased has now expiated his guilt,
that is, his participation in the great transgression of which he had made himself guilty through
unconscious rebellious tendencies against God; and the last trump on the Day of Judgement is the
terrible warning against the old sin renewed in each individual.106
Montagu also notes that it is a reasonable assumption that the calls blown today were part of the
military signal code of Joshuas army. . . . It was used for signalling and, as loud instruments are
in most religions, to keep away demons and evil spirits.107
In addition to its connection with death, the shofar is also associated with the death and rebirth
cycle, due to its role in announcing the new year, being played at the coronation of a new king,
and being played at the new moon. In each of these functions, the shofar pinpoints the death of the
old order and the birth of the new.

Mantua Haggadah (1560). Illustration of the return of the Messiah at the gates of Jerusalem
heralded by the shofar played by Elijah. The Jewish ghetto at Mantua was an important enclave of
Judaism. The composer Salamone Rossi, a Mantuan Jew knowledgeable to the biblical traditions
of the shofar, would have had significant contact with Monteverdi.
convincing that the assumption . . . is justified that the Jews had worshipped the bull before their immigration. (Ibid.,
Reik, The Shofar, 27071. Significant to our discussion of the significance of the black color of curved cornetts,
Reik mentions several references to a special black rams horn that was usually used for the great excommunication,
the Herem of the Bible. (Ibid., 232.)
Montagu, Shofar.

The Shofar in the Bible. In the original Hebrew Old Testament canon, the term shofar occurs
sixty-three times in about thirty-three passages. Vernacular translations of these passages help to
indicate that the shofar is an ancestor to the cornett. In addition, the Hebrew words chezozorah
(silver trumpet) and qeren (animal horn) warrant consideration, because the original meaning and
symbolism of the shofar is entangled with these terms. Further confusion ensues from the various
anachronistic instruments, which are used to translate the shofar in the Vulgate, the King James
Version and Luthers German translation, all versions that had an impact on seventeenth-century
thinkers and musicians. For instance, the Vulgate translates shofar as bucina or, less frequently, as
tuba, whereas Qeren is translated as cornu.108 Luthers German translation of the Bible almost
always translates shofar as posaune (trombone).109 The King James Version of the Bible translates
shofar as either trumpet or cornet and qeren as horn or cornet. Thus, sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century Europe intermingled the shofars ancient and rich symbolism, by means of
biblical translation, with the three ancient Roman brass instruments (tuba, bucina, and cornu), the
trombone, and the cornett, as is seen in table 9.110
Table 9. Shofar, Chezozorah, Qeren References in the Old Testament with Comparative
Translations in the Vulgate, the LXX (Psalms only), Luthers German Bible and the King James


It strikes me as more than coincidental that the Indo-European base, <ker->, meaning horn, head (according to
ker-1, Appendix I: Indo-European Roots, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.,
2000.), is phonetically close to the Hebrew word qeren. Perhaps there was some degree of lingual sharing between the
Palestinian Hebrews and the Indo-Europeans. It is puzzling why the lituus, another Roman instrument that was curved
much like the shofar, wasnt used to translate the word shofar in the Vulgate.
There are, for instance, three sacred vocal pieces, specifying the cornett, by Heinrich Schtz, which set verses
referent to the shofar. Alleluia, Lobet den Herren in seinem Heiligthumb (SWV 38, from 1619), based on Luthers
translation of the Bible, also makes use of trombones in addition to cornetts. In this case, it is doubtful that the
specified cornetts are substituting for the posaune, when actual trombones are also playing. The other two pieces, both
from Symphoniae Sacrae (1629), are based on the Latin translation. Interestingly, neither Buccinate (SWV 275) nor
Jubilate Deo (SWV 276), make use of the trombone.
Information for table 9 from Nota Bene for Windows: Lingua Workstation Version 7.0b, Biblical Texts Download
(New York: Nota Bene Associates, Inc., 2003).

Jean Fouquet (fl. 1470-1475), The Battle of Jericho (from Joshua 6:1-27). Notice that trumpets are
depicted, as opposed to shofars.
The Cornett as a Substitute for the Shofar in
Musical Settings. Don L. Smithers argues in
his paper, From Showphar to Cornetto: The
Forgotten Sacred Lineage, presented at the
Historic Brass Society Cornetto Symposium at
Oxford University, that the cornett is a
surrogate for the shofar, when used in music
with text from the Old Testament where the
shofar is mentioned.111 Because of the
difficulty in examining every Old Testament
citation in order to verify this theory, table 10
compares only the Psalm settings in which the
shofar is mentioned to compositions specifying
the cornett.112 Thirty-five Latin and German
cornett-specific works were found, although no
English works were found.113 No cornettspecific compositions were found for one of
the Psalm verses which contain the word
shofar (Ps. 47:5). Psalm 81:3 is represented
by four compositions, Psalm 98:6 is represented by ten, and Psalm 150:3 by twenty-one.

Don L. Smithers, From Showphar to Cornetto: The Forgotten Sacred Lineage, Paper presented at the Historic
Brass Society Cornetto Symposium The Sound of the Cornetto, April 2628, 2000, Oxford, England. Smithers did
not cite specific examples.
See table 6 in the Appendix.
In Collver and Dickeys Catalog, there are only three English sacred works that specify the cornett, but none with
texted vocal parts. Englands protectionist music printing climate greatly reduced the amount of works specifying
cornett that have come down to us. This is not to say that English composers did not use cornetts in ways similar to
their Italian and German counterparts.

Title page, LEsaltazione della croce

Another interesting musical example which supports the link between
the Renaissance cornett and the shofar in at least five of the eighteen
intermedio numbers by Luca Bati for a sacra rappresentazione by
Giovanni Maria Cecchi, titled Lesaltazione della croce. This
Florentine production concluded the 1589 wedding festivities for
Ferdinand I and Christine of Lorraine. These intermedii depict various
historical Jewish themes, such as Jacob, Israelites giving thanks,
princes of the Hebrew tribes, and the priests together with all the
Israelites. The mute cornett is specified in all of these intermedii, and,
in addition, straight cornetts with detachable mouthpieces are also
specified for the last of these examples (sung by all the priests and
In the preceding sections, we have seen that the shofar is arguably an
ancestral instrument of the Renaissance cornett, based upon the instruments typology,
etymological conjunctions, importance to sacred music, biblical translations, and musical settings
for cornett in which the shofar is mentioned. Thus, we can point to the symbolism of the cornett
the associations with death, the death and rebirth cycle, the coronation of a king, military
engagements, and evil (excommunication)as the inherited symbolism of the shofar.
Furthermore, it is my hypothesis that the shofar played for the new moon because the crescent
shape of an animal horn looks akin to a crescent moon. This visual connection to the crescent
moon also applies to the cornett and transfers to the cornett the functional role of time teller (many
cornett players were tower musicians, whose duty it was to demark the hours of the day to the
town) and the symbology of the night (most cornett leather coverings were black).

Crescent moon visually similar to animal horns (and the cornett)


Examples found in Brown, 16th-Century Instrumentation, 13235. The use of two different types of cornetts raises
the question as to whether they represent the shofar on the one hand and the hatsotsrah on the other.

The Cornetts Ancestors in the Classical and Medieval Eras

Roman mosaic showing musicians playing during gladiator games. Instruments are the tuba, the
cornu, and the water organ
In ancient Rome, there were five lip-blown instruments. In addition to the three we have seen in
table 9 that have a connection to the Vulgate (the tuba, bucina, and cornu), there were also the
lituus and the classicum.115 The tuba was the Roman equivalent to the Greek (salpinx).
Typically, the tuba was long and straight, and functioned primarily as did all of the Roman lipblown instruments, as a military instrument. Specifically, the tuba signalled troop evolutions. The
cornu was a large G-shaped circular instrument that marked the movement of the standards and
accompan[ied] the general.116 The lituus was shaped like an augurs staff (J-shaped), had a
higher pitch than the tuba, and was used in the cavalry.117 The bucina (or buccina, with two Cs)
and the classicum may or may not have been distinct from the musical instruments described
above. The bucina, variously known as a cavalry or naval instrument, or as an instrument for
calling out the watch hours in a military camp at night, was probably a curved instrument.118 The
classicum called the people to assembly (the classes).119
These instruments have a connection with the basic animal horn, though usually modified by some
technological improvement. Ziolkowski, in his article The Roman Bucina, cites many relevant
examples: The term cornu has two meanings: an animal horn and a metal instrument (usually
bronze).120 [The horn] which [comes] from wild oxen, joined with silver, [and] produces a
sound controlled by the skill and force of the breath of the player is called the cornu.121 [The

John Ziolkowski, The Roman Bucina: A Distinct Musical Instrument?, Historic Brass Society Journal 14
(2002): 31.
Ziolkowski, Bucina, 36.
Ibid., 3738.
Ibid., 5253.
Ibid., 41.
Ibid., 36.
Vegetius, Epitoma Rei Militaris (3.5); quoted in Ziolkowski, Bucina, 46.

lituus] may have been invented by attaching an animal cornu to the end of a reed stem to provide a
bell and then this pattern was reproduced in bronze.122 And, Our survey of Latin literature
demonstrates that the term bucina was commonly used to refer to a curved bronze or natural horn
instrument.123 These Roman instruments are thus linked to their animal horn prototypes. In
general, the Romans took the shape of the ancient animal horn and remade it with newer, more
durable material.
There seems to have been more emphasis on the purpose of the Roman instrument than on its
physical characteristics, and this may be the reason for so much confusion over the names of the
instruments, especially in regards to the bucina. In addition to the aeneatores (military brass
players) and the classici (those who played the classicum), there were the siticines (those who
played at funerals). Siticenes had there own kind of tuba, different from others.124 When death was
imminent, Romans were jokingly advised to send for the trumpet players.125 Thus, instruments
derived from animal horns were seen to have a connection to death.
The cornett assumed the symbology of these Roman instruments, because it was used as a
substitute for them both in literature and musical sources. In translating ancient non-biblical Latin
poems, for example, the Roman instrumental term was set aside in favor of an instrument
contemporary with the intended reader. In the passage from Senecas Troades that follows,
Sherburne translates the Latin term cornu as cornet, thereby transferring to the cornett the
cornus symbolism in this passage. Note, in addition to the cathartic dancing, an ironic connection
to death:
And when exciting Notes shrill Cornets sound,
In Phrygian Temples dance an antick round.
A Death than Death it self more sad, for thee
Remains; and Trojan Walls shall something see
More woful yet than Hector draggd.126
There were at least three pieces from the seventeenth century with the word buccinate in the title
that specified the cornett.127 Some compositions also pointed to the cornett as a substitute for the
tuba. Christoff Strauss wrote a Missa concertata ad modum Tubarum, 11 Voc: certata cum
Symphonia 5. Inst. and a Missa Veni sponsa Christi, 13 voc.: Cum Tympnais ac 5. Tubis
campestribus & Symphonia, 7. Instr. atque una Tuba sola, partim pleno partim concertato Choro
ut in singulis partibus signatum, both of which specified the cornett. Underscoring our discussion
of the cornett as a symbol of death, Johann Joseph Fux and Leopold I both composed Dies Irae


Ziolkowski, Bucina, 37.

Ibid., 47.
Ibid., 43.
Edward Sherburne, trans., Troades, originally published as The Tragedies of L. Annus Seneca: The Philosopher.
Medea, Phdra and Hippolytus, and Troades, or the Royal Captives. Translated into English verse with Annotations.
To which is Prefixed the Life and Death of Seneca the Philosopher, with a Vindication of the said Tragedies to Him,
as their Proper Author. By Sir Edward Sherburne in London by S. Smith and B. Walford [etc.] in 1701, English Verse
Drama Full-Text Database (Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994), 3.3.8690.
There is an anonymous Buccinate geminate with four cornetts (or possibly descant cornetts) as possible substitutes
for four trumpets; Marco Giuseppe Peranda wrote Buccinate. Concerto ad Festum Michaelis 13 et 18 with a pair of
descant cornetts; Heinrich Schtz wrote a Buccinate. . . (1. pars) (SWV 275) with one or two cornetts (the second a
substitute for trumpet). Information from Collver and Dickey, A Catalog, 80, 144, 168.

sequences with cornetts (Fux specified mute cornetts).128 In these sequences, as well as in the
Strauss pieces, the cornett was the symbolic substitute for the tuba.
Sculpture of angel playing fingerhole horn, Bamberg Cathedral,
around 1235
Turning our attention to the Medieval era, we see that the
ancestors to the cornett were the oliphant, some types of
Byzantine horns, and the subsequent fingerhole-horn, because
they exhibited physical, functional and accoustical characteristics
very similar the cornett.129 Fingerhole-horns were the direct
ancestor to the cornett, differing only in that they had fewer holes
than the cornett. They were made of ivory, horn or wood.130
Dietrich Hakelberg identified a fingerhole-horn looking very
much like the later cornett: Obvious fingerhole-horns, very long
and curved, appear in the hands of angel sculptures on Bamberg
cathedral, dating from about 1235.131 The fingerhole-horns
immediate ancestor was, in turn, the oliphant, a simple animal blow horn without holes, usually
made of ivory. Although the oliphants niche had more to do with land ownership and military
signalling, a few clear symbolical references germane to the death theme emerge. Frederick Crane
refers to oliphants being buried with their owners.132 Alfred Bchler, in his article on lip-blown
instruments in the Chanson de Roland, summarizes relevant passages in the text, and, among
these, the defeat and death of Roland is marked by the playing of the oliphan:
As Roland for the last time feebly sounds the olifan (22), sixty thousand graisles go into action
(23), a musical climax that also marks a turning point: it is now the Saracens turn to hear the
sound of an approaching army (24-26). When Charlemagne reaches Roncevaux, he finds Roland
and his companions dead, and the olifan, too, has been damaged. . . . As to the olifan, with a new
pagan army approaching, Charlemagne orders two barons to carry Rolands sword and horn (35).
Thus resurrected, the olifan now moves from its location with the rearguard to the van of the
army, a visible and audible palladium.133
Thus, we see again an ancestral instrument of the cornett associated with themes of death and the
cycle of death and renewed life.


Information from Collver and Dickey, A Catalog, 177, 108, 133.

As mentioned in Alfred Bchler, Horns and Trumpets in Byzantium: Images and Texts, Historic Brass Society
Journal 12 (2000): 2728.
The Medieval ivory fingerhole-horn is so similar in appearance to the ivory cornett of the Renaissance, that direct
instrumental ancestry is undeniable.
Hakelberg, Medieval Instrument, 189.
Frederick Crane, Extant Medieval Musical Instruments: A Provisional Catalogue by Types (Iowa City: University
of Iowa Press, 1972), 48.
Alfred Bchler, Olifan, Graisles, Buisines and Taburs: The Music of War and the Structure and Dating of the
Oxford Roland, Olifant 17 (1993): 15960. Numbers in parentheses refer to references in an appendix to this article.

The Death of Roland at the battle of Roncevaux, from an illuminated manuscript, c. 1455-1460

Three musicians playing the tibia, cymbala and tympanum (mosaic from Pompeii)
Tibia. To conclude our examination of ancestral instruments of the cornett, we turn our attention
back to the classical era and the most famous wind instrument of that time, the tibia. Considered a
loud instrument, the tibia had two pipes, one of which was curved.134 It is easy, based on the
cornetts classification as a lip-reed instrument, to overlook instruments, like the tibia, with

Horace (Satire 1.6.42ff.) and Juvenal (Satire 10.213) suggest that they produced some of the loudest sounds in
ancient society. From Ziolkowski, Bucina, 43.

different accoustical properties as ancestors. Their ancestry is based only on visual and functional
factors, rather than their means of tone production. Today we tend to see a taxonomy of
instruments based on how they actually produce sound, whereas in the Renaissance and in ages
prior to the Renaissance, it was possible to group instruments together based on other factors, one
of which was volume. For instance, the ancients may have taxonomically grouped the tuba and
lituus together with the tibia, as John Ziolkowski speculates.135 Incidentally, Tibiae were also
associated with death: some of the siticines were the tibicines, who accompanied the singers of
lamentations (neniae) near the [funeral] bier.136 Ziolkowski includes a figure of a relief from
Amiternum, which shows Pompa funebris with two praeficae, two cornicines, liticen, four
tibicines, pollinctor, feretrum et dissignator.137

Funeral Procession with musicians, including four tibia players (relief sculpture from Amiternum)
Because the cornett was also considered a loud instrument, and perhaps because it was curved, it
came to be considered a descendent of the tibia. In Edmund Bowles article on The Role of
Musical Instruments in Medieval Sacred Drama, sources indicate that loud instruments played
during infernal scenes, whereas stringed instruments were associated with the figure of
Christ.138 Collver and Dickey confirm that, during its golden era, the cornett was used primarily
as a loud, or alta, ensemble instrument in both secular and sacred music.139 This loudness was the
primary reason to associate the cornett of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the tibia of
ancient Rome.
For Monteverdi, too, the cornett was a substitute for the tibia. In 1616, he received from
Alessandro Striggio the Younger what he thought was an opera libretto by Scipione Agnelli.
Entitled Le Nozze di Tetide, the production was intended to provide entertainment for the coming
marriage of Ferdinando and Caterina de Medici. It turned out to be not an opera, but a proposed
intermedio. Unfortunately, it was never performed, and no music for it survives. Nevertheless,
Monteverdis response as to the suitability of this libretto in a letter to Striggio dated December
9th of that year reveals a few of Monteverdis general aesthetic tendencies as well as some


The tuba and lituus were brass counterparts of the reed instrument known as the Phrygian aulos or double tibiae
. . . in which one pipe was straight and the other curved. From Ziolkowski, Bucina, 40.
Ziolkowski, Bucina, 43.
From Fleischhauer, Etrurien und Rom, plate 25; reprinted in Ziolkowski, Bucina, 42.
Bowles, Musical Instruments, 76.
Collver and Dickey, A Catalog, 3.

specific notions Monteverdi had about scoring for the cornett. Monteverdi first speaks of the
acoustics of the stage and the necessity for many continuo instruments and a loud singer:
I shall say first of all in general that music wishes to be mistress of the air, not only of the water; I
mean (in my terminology) that the ensembles described in that fable are all low-pitched and near
to the earth, an enormous drawback to beautiful harmony since the continuo instruments will be
placed among the bigger creatures at the back of the setdifficult for everyone to hear, and
difficult to perform within the set.
And so I leave the decision about this matter to your most refined and most intelligent taste,
because of that defect you will need three theorbos instead of one, and you would want three harps
instead of one, and so on and so forth: and instead of a delicate singing voice you would have a
forced one.140
Denis Stevens explains that In a . . . practical frame of mind, Monteverdi criticized the fact that
many of those soliloquies would have to take place in parts of the stage where lutes and harps
would not sound well, even if there were three of each. For the composer of Monteverdis time,
each stage had its heaven, air, and earth, and instrumentalists as well as singers had to be ready to
perform at whatever point the play might dictate.141 Monteverdi then goes on to explain his
opinion on orchestrating this work:

Processional float featuring a maritime theme with bass trombone and two cornetts
Besides this, in my opinion, the proper imitation of the words should be dependent upon wind
instruments rather than upon strings and delicate instruments, for I think that the music of the
Tritons and the other sea-gods should be assigned to trombones and cornetti, not to citterns or
harpsichords and harps, since the action (being maritime) properly takes place outside the city; and
Plato teaches us that the cithara should be in the city, and the tibia in the countryso either the
delicate will be unsuitable, or the suitable not delicate.142
That Monteverdi thought of the cornett as a loud instrument, better suited to playing outside, is
evident. Regarding our discussion of the cornetts role in Orfeo, the cornett for Monteverdi was an
effective instrument in certain dramatic situations (scenes based in the country, on the sea, or

Claudio Monteverdi, The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi, trans. Denis Stevens (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1995), 116.
Ibid., 115.
Ibid., 11617. Monteverdi quotes from Platos Republic, I: cithara debet esse in civitate, et tibia in agris.

wherever loud music is needed). This role for the cornett was in part based upon its symbologic
descent from the tibia.
The intensive examination and imitation of the classic world was, of course, a predominant trait of
the Renaissance culture, both scholastic and humanistic. This trait extended to musical
instruments. As a classical instrument, the lyre represented human rationality and the highest
emotions. The lyre was not only Orpheuss instrument, but also the instrument of Apollo, from
whom Orpheus derived his divinity and musical ability. String instruments in the Renaissance and
Baroque, including the violin, were symbolic descendents of the lyre. One never sees a wind
instrument in the hands of Apollo or Orpheus. Indeed, one never sees St. Cecilia or King David
play a wind instrument, either. Diametrically opposed to the lyre, the cornett owed its classical
symbolic lineage to a completely different instrument. To the classically oriented Renaissance
mind, and, more importantly, to Monteverdis mind, the cornett was one of the spiritual
descendents of the tibia.

Young satyr playing the tibia in a procession of Bacchus

In the myth of Apollo and Marsyas, a story often repeated in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
Italy, the tibia, or aulos, was invented by Athena, but she threw it away because in order to play
it she had to puff out her cheeks and disfigure her face. Marsyas, a satyr, found it and played so
enchantingly upon it that he dared to challenge Apollo to a contest. The god won, of course, and
punished Marsyas by flaying him.143 This myth reflects the nationalistic perceptions of the
ancient Greeks: The lyre was perceived as essentially a Greek instrument, whereas the aulos was
thought to have originated in Asia Minor, according to Edith Wyss.144
The young Alcibiades spurned the ignoble and illiberal aulos, because it robs its master of
voice and speech.145 Aristotle similarly disapproved of the immoral aulos except for the purpose
of psychic catharsis.146 Emanuel Winternitz points out that in the works of Renaissance painters,
instead of depicting the aulos (or diaulos, as he calls it) accurately, the diaulos is frequently


Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, illus. Steele Savage (New York: Meridian,
1989), 295.
Edith Wyss, The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas in the Art of the Italian Renaissance: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of
Images (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1996), 26.
Plutarch, Lives, Alcibiades, 2, quoted in Wyss, The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas, 26.
Wyss, The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas, 2627.

replaced by contemporary wind instruments.147 Iacopo Tintorettos

painting entitled the Contest of Apollo and Marsyas depicts Marsyas
playing a curved cornett.148

Tintoretto, Contest of Apollo and Marsyas, oil on panel


Death Dance depiction with cornetts

On the whole, Monteverdis symbolic treatment was straightforward in Orfeo. He evoked the
Underworld in part by using the cornett. As we have seen, this symbolic use of the cornett in
Orfeo followed many traditions, such as the Death Dance and Vanitas genres of artwork. In
addition, his use of the cornett in Orfeo proved to be a continuation of a great tradition of using the
cornett in the theater. The very construction of the cornett established its connection to the
infernal, through its serpentine attributes, black coloring, leather impressions, octagonal profile,
and animal horn shape. Among other factors, this animal horn shape provided a visual nexus to
many ancient instruments, including the shofar, Roman lip-blown instruments, the oliphant, the
fingerhole-horns, and the ancient tibia, all of which conveyed strong associations with death and
the Underworld. The theme of the tibia as a loud instrument was manifested in Orfeo because loud
instruments were evocative of evil and the Underworld.

Borghese vase. Detail: satyr playing aulos (tibia)


Emanuel. Winternitz, Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1979), 31.
Wyss, The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas, 152. This instrument has no octagonal profile, but it is played with a side
embouchure, a trait very common among cornett players of the Renaissance.

The mythic theme of the tibia as Marsyas instrument, in contrast to Apollos lyre, was manifested
in the contrast between string ritornellos and brass ritornellos which underscore scene changes
in Monverdis Orfeo. Most significantly, in his 9 December 1616 letter to Alessandro Striggio,
Monteverdi emphatically pronounced his opinion that the cornett was the symbolic equivalent of
the tibia.
Thus, in this chapter we have seen that Monteverdi mainly re-articulated the traditional thought of
the cornett as a symbol of death. In Orfeo, his only sui generis use of the cornett as an extramusical idea was his text-painting in Possente spirto. This balance of traditional, versus original,
symbolic use of the cornett tips somewhat the other way in his 1610 Vespers, as we shall see in
the next chapter.

Chapter 3
Monteverdis use of the cornett in his 1610 vespers collection

Title page of Monteverdis 1610 Vespers

There are eight places in the fully concerted version of Monteverdis vespers music of 1610 which
call for cornett: the respond Domine ad adiuvandum, the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, and six of
the twelve sections of the Magnificat. Each piece of the collection represents a particularly fine
example of an early seventeenth-century genre of music, and the pieces scored for cornett are no
exception. As Jeffrey G. Kurtzman explains, the Vespers of 1610 are on an unparalled level of
musical splendor in the exploitation of vocal and instrumental colors and virtuosity, in the
complexity of structures and textures, in the variety of styles and techniques, and in the magnitude
of individual pieces.149 This chapter will explore the symbolic use of the cornett in the Domine,
the Sonata, and the Deposuit potentes de sede from the Magnificat. It will be seen that, although

Jeffrey G. Kurtzman, Essays on the Monteverdi Mass and Vespers of 1610, Rice University Studies, vol. 64, no.
4 (Houston: William March Rice University, 1978), 132.

Monteverdis symbolic use of the cornett in the Vespers of 1610 follows many traditional themes,
he also uses the cornett in a much more personal way than was evident in his Orfeo.
Domine ad adiuvandum
Scored for six voices intoning the chant in a falsobordone style, together with six instrumental
parts (cornetts play the top three lines) stylized as a faux trumpet fanfare, the opening respond
Domine ad adiuvandum is the first piece of Monteverdis vespers.150 The instrumental consort
functions in two musical ways: to provide ritornelli (not in a trumpet fanfare style) that separate
the vocal material into three parts, and to provide this fanfare-like material, which frames the
simple and stark choral material while it is being sung.

Example 1. Domine ad adiuvandum (opening excerpt, instrumental parts only)

As has been noted previously by many authors, the fanfare-like figure that the cornetts and violins
play at the beginning of Domine ad adiuvandum is an elaboration upon the trumpet fanfare that
Monteverdi used in the Toccata at the beginning of his Orfeo. John Whenham describes the Orfeo
Toccata in the following way:
Its musical material consists of a drone for the two lowest parts, above which three instruments (or
groups of instruments) play a series of flourishes which may be derived from authentic military
signals. The Toccata functions as a call-to-attention, a sign to members of the audience that the
opera is about to begin and that they should take their places. The trumpets of the instrumental


In The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 and Their Relationship with Italian Sacred Music of the Early Seventeenth
Century, (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1972), 24, Jeffrey Kurtzman emphasizes the
importance of the simple chordal style called falsobordone, a four-voiced style popular for setting Psalm texts with
the newer generation of native Italian composers, who were replacing the Franco-Flemish composers in important
court and church positions in northern Italy by the end of the sixteenth century.

ensemble are to be muted. This has the effect of raising their pitch by a whole tone, and the
tonality of the Toccata from written C to sounding D, the tonality of the prologue.151

Example 2. Toccata from Orfeo (opening excerpt). From Claudio Monteverdi, LOrfeo, score, ed.
Edward H. Tarr (Paris: Editions Costallat, 1974). Original written in C, but here written in D to
indicate the fact that the mutes transpose the trumpets up to the sounding pitch of D.
Monteverdis cornettists for the vespers in all probability had already played this fanfare in the
1607 production of Orfeo.152 There is at least one other record of a trumpet fanfare introducing a
Mantuan musical production. John Whenham explains that a similar instrumental introduction
was used (and thought of as usual) in the performance of Guarinis Idropica at Mantua in 1608:
The torches being lit in the theatre, the usual sign of the sound of trumpets was given within the
stage; and as the trumpets began to sound a third time the great curtain which masked the stage
disappeared.153 Just how frequently this fanfare was played for public functions in Mantua is not
known, but the idea, advanced by some writers, that the Orfeo Toccata was the politicallyidentifying fanfare for the ducal crown of Mantua is, in my opinion, a plausible theory.
Graham Dixon advances this notion, in part based upon a theory of his that the 1610 Vespers were
not Marian, but were written for Saint Barbara:
The shared opening section of Orfeo and the 1610 Vespers now takes on a new significance.
The scoring of the toccata in Orfeo for Un Clarino con tre trombe sordine strongly suggests that
this piece must have had a particular ceremonial role in the context of the Mantuan court. The

Whenham, Five Acts: One Action, 48.

It is important to remember that Monteverdis rubrics indicate that all the instrumentalists played the Toccata
(including cornettists): che si suona avanti il levar de la tela tre volte con tutti li stromenti, & si fa un Tuono piu alto
volendo sonar le trombe con le sordine ([The Toccata] is played three times by all the instruments before raising the
curtain, and it is played a tone higher on account of the trumpets with mutes). Italian quoted from Jane Glover, A
List of Monteverdis Instrumental Specifications, in Claudio Monteverdi: Orfeo, ed. John Whenham (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1986), 182. I am presuming that Monteverdis life-long friend, cornettist Giulio Cesare
Bianchi (b. Cremona 1576 or 1577, d. ? Cremona in or after 1637), probably played in both Orfeo and the vespers of
1610, since he was the head of the wind ensemble at the Mantuan court from 1602 to 1612.
Whenham, Five Acts: One Action, 48.

designations clarino and trombe are only exceptionally found in art music of this period, and
the use of mutes suggests that these are outdoor instruments being allowed inside for a particular
purpose. Monteverdi is unlikely to have taken a piece with a particular political connotation for
the Gonzaga, and used it in a seemingly haphazard way outside court. It was not necessary for
Monteverdi to supply music at all for this simple response, let alone such imposing music; no
other setting of this text exists which even approaches Monteverdis in the scale of its conception.
No day would have been more appropriate than that of Santa Barbara on which to emphasize the
connections between the temporal and spiritual roles of the Renaissance prince, whose presence at
Vespers was acknowledged as it had been in Orfeo.154

Vincenzo Gonzaga, ruler of Mantua and Montferrat from 1587 to 1612

In this light, the cornett fanfare at the beginning of the 1610 Vespers is an acknowledgement of
the patronage of the Gonzagas. The cornett assumes the symbolic role of the trumpet, not only
because the thematic material played by the cornetts in the opening respond of the 1610 Vespers is
nearly the same as the Orfeo trumpet Toccata (and, as a matter of fact, similar to many other
trumpet fanfares of the time), but also because the cornett produces a lip-generated, trumpet-like
tone quality.155 To Monteverdi, the cornett substitutes for the trumpet and, by transference,
becomes a symbol of the political power and munificence of the Gonzaga family.


Graham Dixon, Monteverdis Vespers of 1610: Della Beata Vergine? Early Music 15 (August 1987): 387.
Dixon posits that Monteverdis Vespers of 1610 were written for the feast of Santa Barbara between 1607 and 1609.
Saint Barbara, being the patron saint of the ducal basilica of Mantua, was, by transference, a symbol of the ducal
crown. Thus, a fanfare identified with the Gonzaga was appropriate also for Saint Barbara.
According to Praetorius on Performance: Excerpts from Syntagma Musicum III, trans. Hans Lampl and ed. S. E.
Plank, Historic Brass Society Journal 6 (1994): 258, Michael Praetorius writes in his Syntagma Musicum III, which
addresses the performance practice of concerted works (especially in the Italian style), If one cannot, will not, or
must not use the trumpeters . . . these compositions can nevertheless be performed quite well in town churches
without trumpeters. . . . If other instrumentalists are available, however, all of this may be played on Geigen, cornetts,
and trombones. Note that Praetorius does not write Geigen, cornetts, or trombones. Thus, a reasonable
interpretation of this instruction might be that the trumpet consort, when not available, may be replaced by the
following group: strings, cornetts and trombones. And this is, indeed, what Monteverdi has done in his re-writing of
his Orfeo Toccata.

The Cornett in Domine as a Substitute for the Trumpet

Euterpe, muse of music, with trumpets and cornetts (and some other wind instruments)
Don Smithers, in his Music and History of the Baroque Trumpet, writes, [Monteverdis]
association with the Gonzagas, one of the most important families in Italy at the time, would have
brought him into close contact with their trombetteri and piffari, and he would certainly have
experienced performances and civic affairs where they are known to have played.156 Smithers
goes on to explain the title of this opening fanfare for Orfeo:
The opening music in Orfeo is termed a Toccata. Many writers believe that the term is derived
from toccare (to touch) and was a rhapsodic type of instrumental music normally associated with
keyboard compositions. The toccata or touch piece was characterized by rhapsodic sections with
sustained chords, rambling scale passages, and broken figuration over powerful pedal points
which abruptly alternated with fugal sections. [from Bukofzer 1947, 47.] . . . Perhaps
Monteverdis understanding of the word as it is applied in Orfeo may . . . have something to do
with tocco, meaning a beat or stroke. The connotation is involved with the normal scoring of the
bass part in trumpet music at the time, usually played by kettle drums and sometimes doubled by a
trumpet with a very large mouthpiece, capable of playing only the most fundamental tonicdominant figures. Perhaps the toccata, as Bukofzer sees it, developed from an earlier musical
genre originally intended for trumpets with their ancillary kettledrums.157


Don L. Smithers, The Music and History of the Baroque Trumpet Before 1721, 2d ed. (Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1988), 78.
Ibid., 79.

Cesare Bendinellis pretzel-shaped trumpet.

Typical early seventeenth-century trumpet solos, duets, military calls, and fanfares from Northern
Italy may be studied in two contemporaneous method books for the trumpet. One, by Cesare
Bendinelli, is in manuscript, the other, by Girolamo Fantini, survives in five copies of the original
1638 edition.158 Smithers says of the Toccata, in designating the highest to the lowest parts in the
Toccata, Monteverdi most likely drew upon a long-standing tradition of descriptive terminology.
In the Amadino print of 1609 the parts are called Clarino, Quinta, Alto e basso, Vulgano,
Basso.159 Smithers compares this terminology to the Fantini method:
Fantinis work (1638) on the trumpet . . . gives some idea of what is meant by the scoring terms
used by Monteverdi in the Toccata. The second to sixth partials of the trumpet are called
Basso, Vurgano, Striano, Toccata, Quinta. Fantini does not mention the term clarino in the
entire work, but most of the other names do bear a relationship to Monteverdis designations. Like
Monteverdi, Fantini may have been referring to particular trumpet registers, where the abovenamed notes are simply the mean pitch levels for the highest to the lowest parts. Even though
Monteverdi supposedly requires all the instruments to play, it is interesting that the fanfare-like
Toccata uses only trumpet terminology in its scoring indications, as well as being written in a
definite brass style.160
The trumpet fanfare style, with its slow (or non-existent) harmonic rhythm, with its rapid note
repetitions, and, most importantly, with its symbolic connection to the battlefield, contributed, in
all probability, to one of Monteverdis most celebrated stylistic conventions. In 1627, Monteverdi
claimed to have invented a new style, the stile concitato, for the 1624 production of Il

Cesare Bendinelli, Tutta larte della Trombetta, facsimile, Originally published in 1614, ed. Edward H. Tarr
(Kassel: Brenreiter, 1975). For information on all of the copies (plus one eighteenth- or nineteenth-century
manuscript version) of the Fantini, see Igino Conforzi, Girolamo Fantini, Monarch of the Trumpet: New Light on
His Works, Historic Brass Society Journal 6 (1994): 3260. The modern reprint, Girolamo Fantini, Modo per
imparare e sonare di tromba tanto di guerra quanto musicalmente: in organo, con tromba sordina, col cimbalo e con
ognaltro strumento, facsimile, originally published in 1638, ed. Edward H. Tarr (Nashville: Brass Press, 1978), is
also noted by Conforzi.
Smithers, Baroque Trumpet, 79.
Ibid., 80.

Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, published in his Eighth Book of Madrigals. Denis Arnold
explains Monteverdis reason for inventing this style:

Historic chart of the four basic humours.

[Monteverdis] basic idea is that there are three humours in man . . . : stillness, agitation, and
supplication. These correspond to the states of calmness, war, and love or passion; and music . .
. must be able to inspire these in its listeners. Since other composers have been concerned with
calmness and love, leaving aside war, Monteverdi proposes to show how an agitated style can
be used.161
Few authors, however, have noted that this style basically involves the same essential elements
(rapidly repeating notes) that he used for his earlier Orfeo Toccata and his Domine ad
adiuvandum. Smithers posits that these excerpts are based on the trumpet fanfare tradition:
Musically, the Toccata in Orfeo is nothing more than an elaborate fanfare, and may have been . . .
an elaboration of traditional household trumpet fanfare figures. The more elongated and
contrapuntal opening of Monteverdis Vespers of 1610 is a lengthy parody of the Toccata in
Orfeo, but minus trumpets.162
Girolamo Fantinis First Imperial March from his Method of 1638, for instance, demonstrates
some of these elements from which Monteverdi may have borrowed (see example 3). Monteverdi
used the stile agitato to depict scenes of battle. This naturally relates to the trumpet tradition,
because trumpets were the most identifiable military instruments of the time. Monteverdis claim
that he invented the stile concitato in 1624 is not supportable, in light of his earlier attempts (the
Toccata of 1607 and the Domine of 1610) at this type of style. These earlier attempts, in turn, were
clearly derivatives of the trumpet fanfare style already in general use decades (if not centuries)
prior to his Il Combattimento. Bendinelli and especially Fantini were making great strides in
bringing trumpet music, previously only known on the battlefield and in official signalling for
civic purposes, more artistcally acceptable. What Monteverdi could claim was that he helped to

Denis Arnold, Monteverdi Madrigals, BBC Music Guides (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967), 52.
Smithers, Baroque Trumpet, 81.

fully integrate this style into the exclusive world of art music, at first by writing out a trumpet
fanfare in his Orfeo, then by substituting the cornett for the trumpet in his 1610 Vespers, and
finally by using the violin to express this style in his Il Combatimento. Moreover, what is new in
1624 is Monteverdis use of this style for rage and vengeance, emotions which go beyond military

Example 3. Girolamo Fantini, [First] Imperial [March] (opening excerpt). Reconstruction based
on Girolamo Fantini, Modo per imparare e sonare di tromba tanto di guerra quanto
musicalmente: in organo, con tromba sordina, col cimbalo e con ognaltro strumento, facsimile,
originally published in 1638, ed. Edward H. Tarr (Nashville: Brass Press, 1978).

It was not until a few decades later that the cornett was actually specified commonly as a
substitute for the trumpet. According to Collver and Dickey, In the second half of the seventeenth
century, it is more common to find cornetts without trombones in Italy. Indeed, their function
seems to converge with that of trumpets, with which they often dialogue or for whom they
sometimes substitute. In the works of Giacomo Perti, Alessandro Stradella, and above all
Francesco Passarini, cornett and clarino writing are hardly to be distinguished.163 See figure 4 for
my own analysis, which reveals that, compared with the first half of the seventeenth century, the
frequency of trumpet substitution during the second half of the century roughly doubles. Also
tying in to the symbolism of the cornett as a substitute for a trumpet is the fact that, according to
Smithers, nearly all [stadtpfeiferen] were principally wind players, capable of playing lipvibrated instruments (trumpets, trombones and cornetts).164 Out of 203 cornettists noted in
Overton and my own research, twenty-five (12%) were specifically known also to play trumpet.165

Fig. 4. Histogram of number of instances that the cornett was used as a substitute for trumpet from
1425 to 1775 in all media types by quarter centuries
We have seen in the previous chapter that Shakespearean scholars J. S. Manifold and John Sider
made the distinction between dramatic characters of trumpet rank (highest social status) and those
of cornett rank (a little lower than the trumpet rank). In The Merchant of Venice the cornett is used
for the princes of Morocco and Arragon. Their princely rank was socially analogous to the
political position of the Gonzagas (Vincenzo was a duke, and his sons were princes). Indeed, it is
interesting to note that the ducal crown was known in Italy as the corno, the word (normally
meaning horn) from which cornetto derives.166 How appropriate, then, that Monteverdi
specified the cornett for the so-called ducal fanfare theme in his response Domine ad adiuvandum.
Yet we still have a small problem to resolve. It must be remembered that he specified trumpet for
the fanfare in Orfeo (and apparently in Idropica) and not for the same fanfare theme of the 1610
Vespers. Was this an arbitrary choice, or a specification with some symbolic meaning? Although

Collver and Dickey, A Catalog, 22.

Smithers, Baroque Trumpet, 120. A stadtpfeifer was a professional wind instrument musician, outside of the court,
who performed a variety of municipal ceremonies in Germany, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Holland.
Overton, Der Zink, 14579. Overtons profiles of cornettists includes mostly those from Germany. I added to his
list only two more known cornettists.
Egon Kenton, Life and Works of Giovanni Gabrieli, Musicological Studies and Documents (n.p.: American
Institute of Musicology, 1967), 21. Cornetto is merely the diminuitive version of corno.

trumpets may not have been welcome in church, did Monteverdi symbolically demote the
Gonzagas by leaving out the trumpet from his Domine? It would seem that the trumpet fanfare for
the highest-ranking Mantuan office, first published in Orfeo, had been modified into a slightlycheapened fanfare played on the slightly-inferior cornett.167

16th-century shofar. Light colored horn, engraved and carved with Hebrew inscriptions.
The Cornett in Domine as a Substitute for the Shofar
Although Smithers established that stylistic and thematic elements of the Domine ad adiuvandum
and the Orfeo Toccata derive from trumpet fanfares of the early seventeenth century, another
possibility deserves some exploration. We have seen in Chapter 2 that the cornett was an
instrumental descendant of the shofar, based on its physical appearance, method of tone
production, use in various social and religious functions, and its symbolism relating to death and
the death/rebirth cycle. Keeping this in mind and noting the peculiar ways Monteverdi altered
motivic material from his Toccata, I believe that he may have been trying to evoke the liturgical
calls of the shofar in his Domine. These calls, according to Theodore Reik, are the Tekiah,
Shebarim, Teruah and an elongation of the Tekiah called Tekiah Gedolah (see example 4).168


Of course, in this 1610 Vespers response, violins also double the cornetts in playing what were originally the
highest two trumpet parts of the Orfeo Toccata. The lower trumpet parts of the Toccata are rendered by trombones and
lower strings. This does not confuse or complicate my argument, for the dominant instrumental timbre of the 1610
Vespers response unquestionably derives from the cornetts.
Reik, The Shofar, 238. Performance of these shofar calls vary widely. In his Music in Ancient Israel (1969),
Alred Sendrey notes that in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, these calls were notated with special types of
neumes. Sendrey includes Ashkenazi and Sephardic examples. Most relevant to the present discussion of
Monteverdis possible borrowing of shofar calls is the so-called Parma notation represented in the Codex Shem
Simani Noti and the Codex Adler, which in Sendrey is shown as interpreted by Solomon Sulzer (Schir Zion Vienna,
1938, 1865) and Abraham Beer (Baal Tefillah Gothenburg, 1877) on pages 355 and 356. These are essentially the
same as Reiks example as shown in example 4.

Example 4. The four basic forms of shofar calls

In the opening of Monteverdis Domine, only the first five notes of his Toccata melody are played
at first. Then they are repeated with the rest of the theme in canon (see examples 5 and 6).
Monteverdi changed the opening in order to bring attention to this melodic gesture by isolating
these first five notes.

Example 5. Opening theme of the Orfeo Toccata as played on trumpet (clarino)

Example 6. Opening of Domine ad adiuvandum (first cornett part)

These five notes fill in an upward-moving perfect fifth, which is the same gesture of the first
shofar call, the Tekiah.

Example 7. Tekiah (shofar call)

The dotted rhythmic figuration of the opening theme (mm. 2-3see figure 11 above) then mirrors
the second call, the shebarim (example 8), which is a repeated perfect fifth played iambically
(short-long short-long short-long). In the Domine and Toccata, this figure also outlines a fifth

Example 8. Shebarim shofar call

If we compare the ornamental tag in measures seven and eight in the Toccata to the corresponding
place (measures twenty and twenty-one) in the Domine, we find an interesting change, which is
difficult to justify solely through music explanations (see example 9).
Example 9. Monteverdis Toccata, compared to corresponding place in his Domine ad

Toccata, Clarino part, mm. 7-8

Domine, Cornetts 1 and 2, mm. 20-21

We see here that the second cornett part has crossed over the first part, and now it is not just filling
in harmony below the first cornett part (as was the case in measure five), but it is playing the
melodic thememirroring the Clarino part of the Toccata. It preserves all of the notes of the
original with some rhythmic adjustments, whereas the first part is now the filler: it plays a third
below the second part until the last few notes, the antepenultimate and penultimate of which
outline a perfect fifth. By putting this interval in the first cornett, Monteverdi emphasized its
importance. The resulting figure in the first cornett partoutlining the perfect fifth and preceded
by rapidly repeated notes, alternating back and forthis similar to the third shofar callthe
Teruah, which is executed on the shofar by either rapid note repititions at the tr signs and/or by a
kind of wavering tone.169


Smithers, telephone conversation. Possible ways of execution as described by Smithers to me. These possibilities
are also illustrated in Sendrey. The parallel between the teruah and this passage in Domine is even closer in
Sendreys sources than in example 10 (which is from Reik), because in Sendrey, most examples of the teruah are
illustrated without the second trill sign.

Example 10. Teruah shofar call

How well Monteverdi could have known about the tradition of the shofar to infer its effect through
the cornett is speculative. Nevertheless, Monteverdi was not isolated from Jewish culture, as
Mantua had an active Jewish community with many musicians, some of whom worked with
Monteverdi, such as his colleague Salomone Rossi. In addition, one will recall that the Bassano
family, some of whom were still in Italy, such as the famous cornettist Giovanni, who was the
concert master of the orchestra at San Marco in Venice, were probably Jewish. Thus, not only can
the cornetts symbolic heritage of the shofar be demonstrated in general terms, as was shown in
chapter 2, but also Monteverdis personal use of the cornett shows a possible connection to the
actual musical calls of the shofar.

Sonata sopra Sancta Maria

Title page to Adriano Banchieris LOrgano suonarino

The next place in the 1610 collection which specifies cornett is the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria.
The text, addressed to the Virgin Mary, fits thematically with the rest of the collection.170 Stephen
Bonta notes that the motets Nigra sum, Pulchra es, Duo Seraphim, and Audi coelum and the
Sonata sopra Sancta Maria ora pro nobis function as antiphon-substitutes in place of the Proper
items.171 Bonta bases his argument mainly on Adriano Banchieris LOrgano suonarino of 1605,
and notes that Banchieri appended five sonatas in score in his handbook for organists for use at
the five psalms that are normally sung at Vespers. It is significant, Bonta points out, that
Monteverdi also used the title sonata, for his instrumental piece with the text Sancta Maria, ora


Bonta, Liturgical Problems, 93.

Ibid., 94.

pro nobis.172 The piece begins right away with cornetts playing the typical dactylic figuration as is
shown in example 11.
Jeffrey Kurtzman, in his 1972 dissertation, wrote the following analytical discription of
Monteverdis Sonata sopra Sancta Maria as an example of a composition which employs a
repeated cantus firmus in long note values:
the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, which borrows the opening phrase from the Litany of the Saints . .
. , reiterates it in the soprano voice eleven times over a sonata for eight instruments. The cantus
firmus does not begin until well into the piece, and the separate statements are separated by rests
of varying durations. The chant itself is varied rhythmically in each statement. Underneath the
cantus firmus, the instrumental sonata unfolds in several large sections with the first one restated
at the end. As in the Magnificats [small and large, in the same collection], the separate sections of
the Sonata are written for different textures and styles, often in differing meters. Contrary to the
Magnificats, the changes from one section to another do not correspond with each restatement of
the cantus firmus. This time a single section may support several intonations of the chant


Ibid., 102.
Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers, 111.

Example 11. Sonata sopra Sancta Maria (opening excerpt)

At the end of the Sonata, the introductory instrumental material is brought back and combined
with the penultimate cantus firmus entry, creating a powerful climax by clashing sacred with
secular. Since the cantus firmus is so different in style from the instrumental parts, the question
arises as to which one of these elements was more important to Monteverdi. Kurtzman takes the
position that the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria is certainly first and foremost an instrumental
piece.174 Indeed, Stephen Bonta dismisses the idea that Monteverdi set the cantus firmus of the
Sonata to a less-important instrumental accompaniment. On the contrary, he writes that
Monteverdi used elements of the litany as an embellishment of a sonata.175
After the introductory section in duple, a triple meter section follows, in the manner of a
pavane/galliard dance pair, according to Denis Arnold. The form which emerges from this
instrumental introduction is, he proposes, the canzona francese.176 Of course, this is not music
actually intended for dance, although the style of the instrumental ensemble is certainly secular

Ibid., 5758.
Bonta, Liturgical Problems, 94.
Denis Arnold, Monteverdi, rev. Tim Carter, Master Musicians Series (London: J. M. Dent, 1990), 129.

and dance-like. Kurtzman explains the similarities between the Sonata and other
contemporaneous, or near-contemporeaneous, instrumental pieces:
the metamorphosis of one motive out of another by means of lengthening or shortening, inversion
of intervals, reversal of melodic direction, and alteration of rhythmic values is the same process
used by innumerable composers of ricercare and canzone in the second half of the sixteenth
Kurtzman then points to the fundamental difference (apart from the addition of a vocal line)
between Monteverdis Sonata and these sixteenth-century instrumental canzonas. It is only in
those passages where greater identity is maintained . . . that one is not speaking of thematic
development, but rather variation of the same material.178 This variation technique becomes a
defining and future-looking compositional approach in the 1610 Vespers for Monteverdi,
according to Kurtzman.
Thus we have a small dilemma of nomenclature. Although Monteverdi called this piece a
sonata, it is not a real sonata (or any other instrumental genre), because it has a vocal part.
Nevertheless, by discounting this vocal part and considering only the instrumental parts, how
close does it come to other instrumental genres? It is like an instrumental canzona in the motivic
development of most passages, in the idiomatic dactylic figuration, and imitative counterpoint, but
it is much longer than a typical canzona, relies more on the use of pairs of instruments, and uses
the process of seventeenth-century variation procedures. It is, furthermore, dance-like, although it
is not a dance.
Stylistic Precedents and Parodies of Monteverdis Sonata
There are a few precedents for Monteverdis Sonata. Denis Arnold maintains that Monteverdi
based his Sonata sopra Sancta Maria on a similar piece by the Ferrarese monk, Arcangelo
Crotti.179 Crottis work pre-dates Monteverdis Vespers of 1610 by two years, according to dates
of publication.180 Both worksin G majorrepeat a chant set against the dactyllic rhythms
common to the canzona francese. Instrumentation and formal subtlety, however, are greatly
expanded in the Monteverdi version.


Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers, 119.

Denis Arnold, Notes on Two Movements of the Monteverdi Vespers, The Monthly Musical Record 84
(1954): 60. See example 12 for my own realization of Crottis Sonata.
It is possible that Monteverdis Sonata predates Crottis. Dixon summarizes and proposes several theories of
initial performance of Monteverdis 1610 Vespers in his Monteverdis Vespers of 1610: Della Beata Vergine?
Because most scholars have assumed that it was originally intended as a Marian vespers, they have proposed dates
corresponding with that assumption: Tagmann proposed a first performance on a Marian feast following the birth of
Duke Vincenzos grandchild, Maria, on 29 July 1609; and Fenlon proposed 25 May 1609 for a Vespers service
corresponding with the inception of an order of knighthood in SantAndrea, Mantua. In contrast, because of his theory
that the original collection was performed not for a Marian feast, but a feast in honor of Santa Barbara (patron saint of
the Ducal basilica), Dixon himself proposes 4 December 1607 or 1609 as the likeliest dates for the first performance.

Example 12. Arcangelo Crotti, Sonata sopra Sancta Maria (opening excerpt). Source: Arcangelo
Crotti, Sonata Sopra Sancta Maria, in Il primo libro de concerti ecclesiastici (Venice: Giacomo
Vincenti, 1608).
Monteverdi also may have been looking over Giovanni Gabrielis shoulder when he wrote his
Sonata. Christiane Engelbrecht points out that the Dulcis Jesu, sonata con voce 20 by Gabrieli
repeats a short vocal phrase against elaborate instrumental writing that might almost exist
without it,181 which describes the same technique Monteverdi brings to bear on his Sancta Maria.
Skillful handling of large instrumental forces is the distinguishing feature which Monteverdi might
have learned from Gabrieli. In both the Gabrieli and the Monteverdi settings, for instance, the
cornett is given faster rhythms and a more extended range than in the Crotti piece. In addition,
Kurtzman discusses several other pieces stylistically similar to Monteverdis Sonata that either
influenced or were influenced by his striking work.182
In comparing Monteverdis Sonata to Gabrielis instrumental Canzoni e Sonate of 1615,
Kurtzman notes the multi-sectional structure and extravagant scale common to both composers.
Yet, according to Kurtzman, the conjunct and smooth melodic motion, the uncomplicated
rhythmic patterns, and the high degree of motivic consistency of Monteverdi is unmatched by the
elder Gabrieli. Perhaps even more important for a study of symbolism are the Sonatas dance
rhythms, particularly notable in the triple meter sections, but not entirely absent from some of the
duple meter passages as well. Gabrieli, on the other hand, uses too much rhythmic differentiation
within motives and between separate motives to create such effects.183 Indeed, the cornetts


Giovanni Gabrieli, Dulcis Jesu: Sonata con voce a 20, ed. Clifford Bartlett (Huntingdon: Kings Music,
1990), introduction; Christiane Engelbrecht, Eine Sonata con Voce von Giovanni Gabrieli, in Bericht ber Den
Internationalen Musiwissenschaftlichen Kongress Hamburg 1956 (Kassel: Brenreiter Verlag, 1957), 8889; cited in
Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers, 366.
Ibid., 36676. Apart from the Crotti and pieces by Gabrieli, the other pieces mentioned by Kurtzman do not
specify cornett.
Ibid., 375.

strong symbolic connection to dance is borne out in my general research, and is probably due to its
loud tone, necessary for projecting across a large dance hall.184
The Cornett as a Symbol of the Dance
The loud, rustic, obstreperous associations of the cornett undoubtedly made the cornett one of the
most approprate dance instruments in the Renaissance and early Baroque. A couple of lines from
Henry Fitzgeffreys Satyres and Satyricall Epigrams illustrates how immediate the association
between the cornett and dancing was: Yet marke! No sooner shall the Cornets blow, / But ye
shall haue him skipping too and fro.185 H. Colin Slim, in his analysis of Philippo Oriolo da
Bassanos poem Monte Parnasso, summarizes a part of the poem in which cornetts, among other
wind players, are specifically identified with the heavenly dance music:
[The musicians] are presented according to their instrument. Players of wind instruments arrive
first: bagpipes, cornetti, pifferi . . . , and trombones. With the wind players providing, as was
customary, the music, a ball takes place with legendary and historical lovers as dance partners.
Canto XX opens with these wind players, exhausted from accompanying the ball, giving way to
players of keyboard instruments.186
Of the musical records affiliated with dance in my database, a wide range of dance types are
found: allemands, ballets, courantes, galliards, passamezzos, pavanes, sarabandes, and intradas.
The intrada and galliard are the most frequently encountered. Because the cornett is also
prominently associated with announcing entrances, the intrada is particularly interesting.
There is an interesting example in Richard Bromes drama The English Moor. In the scene of
interest, a dance of costumed masquers (a stag, a ram, a goat, and an ox, all with horns on their
heads) is put on to teach one of the characters a negative lesson. Interesting is the specificity of
horns being on top of the masquers heads.187 Mercury introduces the dance music:
Now by this dance let husband that doth wed
Bride from her proper love to loathed bed
Observe his fortune. Musick strike aloud
The cuckolds joy, with merry pipe & crowd.
They dance to musick of Cornet; & Violins.
The Daunce.
Exit. Masquers.188

Of the 108 records in my cornett database with some symbolic association to dance, 12 are iconographic, 19 are
from written documents and 77 are musical. Many geographic regions are represented with German (55), English (28)
and Italian (14) sources predominating.
Henry Fitzgeffrey, The Third Booke of Humours: Intituled Notes from Black-Fryers, in Satyres and Satyricall
Epigrams, originally published as Satyres and Satyricall Epigrams: With Certaine Observations at Black-Fryers: By
H: F: in London by Edw: Allde, for Miles Patrich [etc.] in 1617, The English Poetry Full-Text Database (Cambridge,
England: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994), lines 11718.
H. Colin Slim, Musicians on Parnassus, Studies in the Renaissance 12 (1965): 139.
See chapter 2, p. 58, for more on wearing horns as symbol of totemistic god.
Richard Brome, The English Moor, originally published as Five nevv Playes, Viz. The English Moor, or The MockMarriage. The Love-Sick Court, or The Ambitious Politique. Covent Garden Weeded. The Nevv Academy, or The
Nevv Exchange. The Queen and Concubine. By Richard Brome in London by A. Crook and H. Brome [etc.] in
1659, English Verse Drama Full-Text Database (Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994), 1.3.16972 (and
following rubric).