Cornetto madness


“As to the quality of sound it produces, it resembles a bright ray of sunlight appearing in shadows or darkness when one hears it among the voices in churches, cathedrals or chapels.”
–Marin Mersenne (Paris, 1636)


“A wooden, lip-vibrated wind instrument with finger-holes and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. It was mainly used from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 17th, but continued in use, mostly by town musicians, until the late 18th century and occasionally even into the 19th.”
–Grove Music Online


Two descriptions of a rather non-descript looking instrument. If you are an early music aficionado you are familiar with the sound and would probably agree with Mersenne’s poetic take on things. The great John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins album “Tenor Madness” inspired the post’s title, but what about the music?

First thing to remember is that if you pondering which cornetto album to buy, get anything with Bruce Dickey and his ensemble Concerto Palatino. Dickey is the Eric Clapton of the cornetto and he appears on dozens of recordings of baroque music. His ensemble Concerto Palatino has made some stunning albums for a number of record labels and some of the best appear on the Accent label.

To get a feel for the sound of massed cornetti and trombones, start with:








Il Concerto Palatino di Bologna, North Italian Music for Cornetts and Trombones, 1580-1650 (Accent ACC 8861D)


Want to experience the “bright ray of sunlight”  Mersenne speaks of?  One of my desert island discs:


Venetian Music for Double Choir (Accent ACC 93101D)


You can never go wrong with music by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672):








Symphoniae Sacrae I (1629) (Accent ACC 30078)


There are other cornetto virtuosi and William Dongois is a name you’ll need to know. There’s a marvelous 3 CD set called L’Âge D’Or Du Cornet A Bouquin on the K617 label. It’s tough to find – I recommend Amazon’s French affiliate—but a real treasure. Dongois and an ensmble of cornetti, organ, harpsichord and soprano Julie Hassler explore music by Italian and German composers of the early baroque:



L’Âge D’Or Du Cornet A Bouquin (K617 187/3)

Jean Tubéry a French cornettist, is a student of Dickey, who leads Ensemble La Fenice and has a pretty extensive discography. I really like the many recordings he’s made with soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr for the Ricercar label. The series is called The Heritage of Monteverdi and my favorite album in the series is a beautiful Christmas album:








Per il Santissimo Natale (Ricercar)

There’s lots more out there, go get them. And while we’re talking about great music for winds, don’t forget:





2 Responses to “Cornetto madness”

  1. Neal Rubenstein Says:

    Thanks for this. I heard Tota pulchra es from a Concerto Palatino recording on Boston’s WGBH. It was listed as Accent 30058. Searching, I found 8861D which seems to be the same. I am easily confused. Who plays the cornetto on this recording; is it Doron David Sherwin or Bruce Dickey?
    Thanks again.

    • Craig Zeichner Says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Accent has re-released a lot of their catalog titles and renumbered them. It’s this album Sherwin and Dickey both play cornetto on this album. William Dongois and Jean Tubery also play cornetto, an all-star session indeed.

      This Concerto Palatino album is a total sleeper, a collection of pieces from the Wroclaw Library in Poland. The music is polychoral works of Johann Hermann Schein, Christoph Bernhard and Wolf-Ernst Rothe. The choir and string players are Polish. An awesome album. Thanks for reading and writing. All the best! Craig

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