Learning the Cornetto in G – renaissance instrument

A few years ago, a friend lent me two cornettos, one in G, the other in C. The G is an alto, the C is a soprano.  The cornetti are curved and have a thumb hole and six finger holes, and is fingered similar to a recorder. The mouthpiece is shaped like an acorn, and similar in size to a french horn mouthpiece. It has a more mellow sound than a trumpet, and is unique in being a mouthpiece instrument that uses woodwind type fingerings instead of valves.

I have extensive experience playing brass instruments (tuba, baritone, trumpet) and can easily make noises on those, but this requires a small embouchure (I think that’s French for “pucker up.” Okay, no, it means mouth. I was close). Like as in half an inch across embouchure.

Every couple of months or so, I pick up one or the other and play them a little. Very little. Because it requires a mouth of iron, and I don’t have the callouses yet to play for more than 1-2 minutes at a time. Then I must rest for a minute, and go another 1-2 minutes. If I play every day for 15 minutes, I can build up endurance so that I can play for longer periods, to the point where I would be able to play an entire song.

If you’ve never heard or seen a cornetto, it’s because there was a battle for who would be the lead instrument in the late renaissance. Violin or cornetto? The violin won.

Here’s a vid of one being played by one of the premier cornettists, Bruce Dickey.
Josquin des Prez: Mille Regretz

In the meantime, the instrument can be used in context of playing at renaissance faires and SCA events. That’s pretty much it, unless I can talk others into including it in their musical affairs. I’ve got some sheet music from a few SCA sites–they’re pretty nice about giving out music because they WANT people to perform it for dancing. The cornetto is the perfect instrument for leading a band in dance music, both country dance but especially noble dance, such as Fabritio Caroso, Cesare Negri, and their ilk.

There’s an import CD I picked up years ago, entitled Danses de la Renaissance Itallienne, directed by Sergio Balustracci.  It was published in 1988. In it, the cornetto is featured on nearly every track, and it remains my favorite version of these dance tunes that I’ve heard.  I remember when learning noble dances for faire, that our instructor loved to use a tape of tape of a live performance of the tunes for training. It was muddy and hurt my musically sensitive ears with a loud, muddy thumping performance of the music that had been recorded on the world’s worst microphone. I hated it. These, these I would listen to.

So, this time around, I’m being intentional about playing it. I started 3 days ago. I will hold to it, learn the fingerings (I’ve been lazy about the accidentals), and be able to perform with it within 3-4 months.


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