Arban-Bouvet and Other Compensating Cornets

When this interesting and important cornet came in for restoration, it seemed natural that I would feature it on a page here and compare it to other compensating cornets.  It was given to Sacramento repairman Robert Dolan, without knowledge of its significance.  After doing a bit of research on the Internet, I did not find a definitive source of information for either the cornet at hand or the many varieties by Bouvet and other makers.  The best biography of Joseph Jean-Baptist Laurent Arban was written by Jean Pierre Mathez a few decades ago with the intention of publishing an English language version, but never found enough support for the project.  I never bought the French version, which I would only partially understand.  My best source of information is Josh Landress of Landress Brass in Manhattan, who makes a specialty of French cornets and referred me to several articles describing this and related designs.  I will do my best to present compensating cornets in their variety here, but I believe that this is a topic that would benefit by more time spent researching the various makers and the larger variety of designs produced.  In all these devices, the main goal is to improve the intonation of notes that are naturally out of tune and, in many cases, there are added benefits such as extended range, simplified trill and the ability to add an echo attachment.

Strictly speaking, this would more accurately be called a double cornet, playing in C with the fourth valve at rest and in A with it engaged and automatically engaging the longer valve slides for that pitch in the same way that a modern French horn plays in F and Bb.  With this system, the player would have at least one alternate fingering for every note (other than the lowest three) in order to avoid those with the worst intonation and possibly avoid awkward fingerings including trills.  The disadvantage, compared to others that I describe below, is that the player would have to learn the variety of fingering and which to use for a given purpose.  Not having learned to play the double horn or this sort of cornet, I really can't know how great an obstacle this is.  This cornet is 13 1/4" long, bell rim diameter is 4 7/8" and the bore through the valves measures .461".  With the serial number 10, it is the earliest known example, out of just a few survivors of this design, most likely made in 1883, the year of the patent.  Arban-Bouvet later produced other sorts of compensating instruments, including a variation of this design in which the change valve was mounted lower and at an angle, behind the first valve, a similar position as seen in echo cornets.   This eliminated the need for the actuating lever.  They also produced a three valve compensating cornets, working on the same principal as the Besson "Enharmonic" model cornets pictured below and also applied it to trumpets, flugelhorns, valve trombones, (French) horns and other instruments.  In that system, the intonation, which is normally sharp when valves are combined, is automatically augmented when the third valve is pressed.  It could also be considered a double cornet, in that it plays in Bb until the third valve is depressed, changing the pitch to G, with the correct valve slide lengths for the first two valves.  First introduced in 1890, it continued in production into the 1930s with a number of slight variations, three of which are obvious in the photos below.  The precedent for the Enharmonic system was designed and patented in London by David Blaikley in 1874 for Boosey & Co.  The principal difference between the two systems is that in the Blaikley design, the air column is diverted into short loops of tubing, adding the length needed for correct intonation when in combination with the third or forth valve.  To achieve this, the air column had to pass through all three valves twice, leaving less tubing length available for the mouthpipe, tuning slide and bell.  In the Besson Enharmonic version the air column passes through a tube connecting the first and third valves when the third valve is at rest and a longer one when depressed and only passes through the third valve twice, although still required extra length in the valve section, compared to a non-compensating instrument.  Both of these makers made a four valve version of each system in which the valve tube lengths of the first three valves were augmented when in combination with the fourth valve, but without the correction for the first or second valves in combination with the third.   Besson did take the next step, with a hugely complicated four valve system, applied to euphoniums and tubas in which every valve combination was compensated for, except the second, which introduced the smallest deficiency.  Obviously, this was a very complicated and heavy instrument.  Besson and Boosey both applied these compensating systems to all sizes of brass instruments, becoming most popular in the tubas and euphoniums.  Boosey & Hawkes continued producing the low brass versions continually, only interupted by World War II, until the present day.  The original Blaikley system is now used by many makers around the world, mostly in euphoniums, but also in tubas.  I'm not aware of anyone making compensating cornets or trumpets for many years, modern players doing quite well with a combination of valve slides that can be tuned while they play and lipping notes in tune.

If you delve into this subject further, it gets more complicated, since there were a number of other makers designing various other methods of dealing with sharp nature of notes produced with valve combinations. Some of the earliest were Sax with his independent valves and Besson in the 1850s, who added a fourth or fifth valve through which the tubing of all three or four other valves passed and this change valve diverted the air column to longer tubes at the same time it lowered the pitch.  In the early 1880s, F. Sudre, in Paris, designed another three valve system, that again, worked much like the Blaikley system, although with more complexity, presumably to get around the patent.  Another similar system was used by Mahillon, which only added extra length for the first and third valve combination.  In 1876, Conn & Dupont designed a valve system in which the air column passed through the same number of curves, whether the valves were at rest or depressed, as well never having to pass through the normal constrictions seen in Perinet piston valves.  This had the secondary advantage of allowing for longer valve slides that could be adjusted for pitches from soprano Eb to A.  Z. Albert Meredith reprised this idea, but only in his exemplary Bb cornets.  Many makers added fourth valves that could be used for alternate fingerings with better intonation and simplifying trills, typically with one, two or five semitones.  Ascending valves were used, including the third valve in some French horns and fourth valves in cornets and trumpets such as the Richardson and Thibouville featured on this site.  And, as I mentioned above, there is more work to do in a comprehensive representation of the variety of ideas used by makers to improve the intonation of their instruments.