From the programme notes for March 2008 (a pre-"HIPhip")

Although Bach was usually quite specific about which instruments he wanted playing from which parts, some of the indications on his brass parts are still a mystery to us.
Along with the usual trombe, tromba, principale, clarino, trompette etc, he also wrote for corne, lituus, tromba da tirarsi, and corno da tirarsi.
Corne was written on a part for the zink (cornetto); the lituus was a type of horn or coiled trumpet we think, possibly wooden in some cases, but that is another story. The tromba da tirarsi, a one-legged relative of the trombone, was a descendant of the medieval Zug Trompete or Busaun.

    "...we don’t know. Or in academic terms: Opinion is divided."

What the corno da tirarsi was, we simply don’t know. Or in academic terms: opinion is divided.
A few of Bach’s cantatas call for a natural brass instrument pitched in Bb or A (the same length as a tenor trombone but played in the trumpet register) with the facility to shift quickly in pitch by about three-quarters of a tone (about 27 cm), i.e.: a slide of some sort; but on a coiled, conical instrument?
The most practical theory to date is that the corno da tirarsi was a horn with a layout similar to the late 18th century “Inventions” horn, with a freely-moving, double (cylindrical) tuning slide positioned diametrically across its circular body. An instrument similar to this, dated at a controversially late 1776 by German maker Haltenhoff, is in the Conservatoire collection at the Cite de la Musique museum in Paris. It has not yet been copied.
Cantatas were written for the corno da tirarsi only in Leipzig and seem to coincide with the service of Gottfried Reiche, Bach’s most celebrated Stadtpfeiffer. Subsequent revisions of such works after Reiche’s death were re-scored for organ, zink or oboe, suggesting that it was an instrument unique to him. Musicologists continue to investigate this mystery. In the meantime, this performance will be played on the tromba da tirarsi with extra crooks, transposing it down a fourth from D to A.
A seminar about the elusive lituus and a lecture by Olivier Picon on the corno da tirasi, will be held at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in January 2009.

Mike Diprose
March 2008


  1. Ph. Telemann
    “Herr, ich bin beide“ TWV 1:753

    Chr. Graupner
    Concerto in A, GWV 339
    for viola d'amore, viola, strings and continuo

    J. S. Bach
    “Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ BWV 67

Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 March 2008