Echo Cornet by Adalbert Riedl

Adalbert Riedl is one of the many mysterious characters involved in brass instrument making.  He was born in Bohemia in 1854 and emigrated to the US in 1879 and was listed in the 1900 census in Chicago as an instrument maker.  I was recently (September 2011) contacted by John Riedel, the great grandson of Adalbert and in a conversation with his 95 year old father Roger Riedel, I asked if Adalbert had worked for another maker and he told me that he emigrated in order to take a job at Lyon and Healy.  Roger also told me that he had grown up in Adalbert's house at 883 Hoyne St., the address stamped on the bell of this and other Riedl instruments (the address number was later changed to 1742).  I was able to look this up on Google Maps and found that the house and shop behind are still there.  

The family still owns five instruments made in that shop, including two made according to his 1908 patent covering an automatic A-change in which the three valve slides are lengthened when a rotary valve is turned.  One of these is pictured below.  These two appear to have been made from parts or complete cornets supplied by Martin of Elkhart, Indiana and have serial numbers 9795 and 9796, which would date them to about 1911.  This mechanism uses the same lever and push rods used on Lyon and Healy's Duplex model cornet patented in 1899.  The other three are pocket cornets, each a unique and inventive design and two having oval bell rims.  I've included a photo of the most fanciful at the bottom of the page. 

Adalbert was retired by the time Roger came along, but Roger spent time in the hop working on hobby projects and recalls that the machinery and stores of parts were still there, including bells that were made by his grandfather.  I was also able to see that the house was within a block of the train line that ran into downtown Chicago, within blocks of the Lyon and Healy building.  If Adalbert had worked for Lyon and Healy in the 1880s and 1890s, this was before they had tooled up to make their own line of brass instruments (about 1899), leading me to speculate that he may have been involved in that effort.  

Roger also told me that he is in the possession of a brass plate engraved with Adalbert's name and thoroughly decorated.  This was made while he was still in Europe and almost certainly was his meisterstuck (masterpiece) made to show his competence in his craft when applying for jobs as a journeyman and/or when qualifying as a meister.  He likely spent much of his employment at Lyon and Healy engraving instruments imported from Europe to be sold through their catalogs. 

Some known instruments signed by Riedl appear to be imported from Europe and modified by him.  That seems to be the case here with this cornet.  The echo bell is unique and certainly of Riedl's own design with a hemispheric end rather than the far more common flared cone.  The photo, fourth from the top, depicts Riedl holding a different echo cornet with the more common echo bell.  This was probably taken in the 1880s, before he came up with the new design.  

In the ten years that I've owned this cornet, I have yet to see another with an echo bell similar to it.  This is a shame, since it seems to have better acoustical qualities, especially in the low register, where most others are difficult or impossible to play.  Also unique is the sliding tube inserted in the end.  This has the same effect as the sliding tube in a modern Harmon "wa-wa" mute.  The tone quality changes markedly dependent on tube being fully inserted, extended or removed altogether.   In each of these positions, the intonation and response is comparable or superior to the best echo cornets.   Riedl didn't patent this design, although there have been so many patents on cornet/trumpet mutes, perhaps this it too close to one that had already been patented or perhaps he realized that it wouldn't be worth the time and expense to do so.  Another unique feature is the tortoise shell finger button inserts.

This cornet belonged to Elden Benge by the 1950s.  At that time Benge made the Bb shank for it.  It is an exceptionally good playing cornet among "stencil" cornets imported from Europe.  After his death, most of Benge's collection, including this cornet, went to Irving Bush, who was a good friend and colleague.  

The overall length with mouthpiece removed is 12 1/8" and bell diameter is 4 7/16".  The bore measures .464".  It is interesting to note that the short valve slides indicate that this cornet originally had a "cut off" mouthpipe assembly to change the key to C.  It seems to be a very common feature in echo cornets: being able to play them in C as well as Bb and A.