Radames is Coming! Radames is Coming!

Get the Bachs!!

Bach’s Aida Trumpets

(Roy Hempley)


            Radames is the tragic hero in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida.  The opera was commissioned by Isma’il Pasha and first performed in Cairo Egypt in 1871.  Isma’il was overseer (viceroy or khedive in Ottoman Empire terms) of Egypt until 1879 when he was dismissed by the English.


            Egypt had an ongoing “situation” with Ethiopia.  Historians are better suited to provide details, but it appears that around 1876, Isma’il’s son was held for ransom by the Ethiopians after his failed attacks on outlying parts of their country.  Perhaps Isma’il took Egypt’s military success as portrayed in Aida too much to heart, grew overconfident and sent his son off to battle with unfortunate results.  On the other hand, the opera featured pretty good music, so Isma’il at least got to enjoy that.


            The opera of course more-or-less showed the reverse outcome.  Aida was a favored Egyptian slave and the Ethiopian king’s daughter.  Radames was chosen to head the Egyptian army defending against the Ethiopians who attacked to free her.  The Ethiopians were soundly defeated, and thus, history did not exactly imitate art.


            It may be hard to separate fact from fiction when thinking about this particular opera, but it is easy to appreciate the setting when Radames returned home with a bunch of Ethiopian prisoners in tow.  Verdi decided he would be greeted by a large group of adoring people in a massive courtyard.


            Verdi faced a problem in staging Radames return.  In particular, just how should his return be heralded?  Suitable heralding just could not be done by voices, flutes or harps, so Verdi naturally chose trumpets.  He first considered using some trumpets found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, but those short instruments did not produce the kind of grandeur he contemplated.  Instead, the Egyptian audience got to hear Italian-made trumpets Verdi ordered specifically for the production.  Of course the grand march doesn’t sound at all Egyptian, but no matter, it is a very exciting piece of music.


            A few other manufacturers have made Aida trumpets similar to the originals, which were very long instruments with only one valve.  There is an instrument maker, Rainer Egger, in Basel Switzerland that actively advertises them.  (See Acknowledgements at the end of this article for a link to this company.)  His instruments are shown below.


Figure 1: Aida Trumpets, Photo Provided by Blechblas-Instrumentenbau Egger
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            It is hard not to notice that these trumpets do indeed have only one valve each.  Moreover, they obviously are made in different lengths.  Naturally, there are reasons for these characteristics.


A modern trumpet player may recoil at the thought of a one-valve trumpet.  On the other hand, a glance at the beginning of the trumpet parts to the “Gran Marcia” shows why Verdi’s trumpets needed only one valve.


Figure 2: Portions of Aida Trumpet Parts in Ab and B
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            There are two trumpet parts for the grand march.  One part is written in Ab (Lab), while the other is written in B-natural (Si).  If the instruments are to have only one valve, then there has to be two distinct trumpets pitched in these respective keys.  This accounts for the trumpets being made in two different lengths.


Not to leave a few potential sales unexplored, Bach decided to make Aida trumpets for the opera himself.  Bach, however, was a practical person.  He rightly realized that the demand for Aida trumpets might be low, so he made his trumpets a little more flexible.  His have three valves.  Not only that, he offered them in three different keys to include Bb.  It is a good thing he decided on this approach because he did not get anyone interested in them for Aida until about 25 years later.  


            Bach’s first set of Aida trumpets was sold to the Shriners, of all people.  The Shriners certainly did not contemplate putting on an opera.  Bach’s records show that the next set was sold to the U.S. Army, presumably for use in military affairs.  Finally, a set was sold to the Metropolitan Opera in New York (the Met) specifically to use in Aida.  It does not appear that any other sets were sold, although some trumpets made at the same time were sold in ones and twos.


            The picture below shows one trumpet from each of the three sets mentioned above and serves as sort of an overview for most of this article.


Figure 3: Three Aida Trumpets from Different Periods
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            All of the above trumpets will be discussed in some detail.  The top trumpet, #58, can be identified with one of Bach’s 1925 technical drawings.  It was made early in that year.   The middle trumpet, #8654, comes close to matching the specifications of a 1933 drawing (with 1944 update).   It was one of four sold to the U. S. Army Ground Forces Band in 1950.  The bottom trumpet was one of six sold to the Met.  The last four of these were delivered to the Met in 1952.  There are no technical drawings in Bach’s archives for the Met’s trumpets.  It only takes a glace to recognize that the Met’s trumpet is markedly different in design from the other two.


            Of course all of the trumpets shown above have three valves, and all of them are pitched in Bb.  It is interesting that the upper trumpet part shown in Figure 2 (in Ab) is played with only one valve even if the part is transposed on a Bb trumpet.  Any serious discussion of sound nuances between Ab and transposing Bb Aida trumpets will have to be addressed by others.  A more delicate subject for opera buffs to consider may be the use of trumpets not made according to Verdi’s specifications.  Obviously, Bach’s trumpets look different on stage than the originals, and they probably sound different too.




            Bach had a little trouble getting his financial act together when instrument production first began.  So when a member of the Kalif Temple in Sheridan Wyoming showed up wanting to buy six Aida trumpets, Bach was not about to stand on an operatic high horse and refuse a sale.  It is possible that Bach owed a measure of his early success to the Shriners.


            It is only reasonable to ask why the Kalif Temple wanted Aida trumpets in the first place.  It turns out that the Kalif Temple had a trombone band, and the soprano voices in a trombone band are played by, well, soprano trombones.  Anybody who has ever tried to play one of those cantankerous things surely understands why a bunch of amateur musicians might have a little trouble navigating around the music with them.  How much better would it be if trumpets were substituted?


            Still, this was a trombone band, and trombones, if nothing else, create something of a visual impression.  In a nutshell, they stick way out in front.  For an instrument to look like it belongs in a trombone band, it just has to stick way out in front too.  Ergo, the Kalif Temple was in need of--What should they be called?--herald trumpets, flag trumpets, festive trumpets, or what?  If Bach wanted to call them Aida trumpets, who in the Kalif Temple Trombone Band was going to object?  Bach negotiated a deal with Mark Hayward of the Kalif Temple and delivered six of his Aida trumpets.  Thus Bach’s trumpets fell in statue from the opera to a trombone band with the penning of an order.


Figure 4: Kalif Temple Trombone Band in Los Angeles—1929
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The above photo was provided by the Kalif Temple.  (See Acknowledgements section at the end of this article.)  If it is examined closely, five of Bach’s Aida trumpets can be seen in the front row.  Once located, it only takes a second to note that they would stick out in front about as far as the tenor trombones with their slides in first position.


            These new additions to the Kalif Temple Trombone Band may have been met with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  Perhaps not everyone was happy about having to switch from trombone to trumpet, even if the switch was away from those infernal soprano trombones.


Figure 5: Kalif Temple Musicians with Aida Trumpets
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            In looking at a couple of the Aida trumpets players extracted from Figure 4, it is not hard to suppose that the gentleman on the right had the better stuff to be a trumpet player.  Just look at his pants, cummerbund and fez, not to mention his shades.  In the same vein, one can imagine the gentleman on the left being a little put out with having to give up his trombone.  But really, he is just too neat a person to play trumpet.  (“Neat” here refers to his attention to dress detail, not some description of his personality.)


            With all this carrying-on about the Kalif Temple Trombone Band, it is well to ask just what Bach thought about potential uses of these trumpets.  The following extract from his earliest catalog helps clear up that point.


Figure 6: Aida Trumpet Description from 1925 Catalog
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            From the above, it appears that the Kalif Temple Trombone Band’s use of these trumpets was not so much of a stretch after all.  For the trombone band, triumphal trumpets were required.  But Vaudeville?  Who would have thought?


            Strictly speaking, only Bach’s Ab and B-natural trumpets might be called Aida trumpets if the two extra valves can be overlooked.  Regardless of the valve situation, the Bbs clearly could have been called something else.  Recognizing more universal uses, Bach eventually changed their name to triumphal trumpet, although he retained their association with Aida by putting the Ethiopian princess’s name in parentheses.  An early reference (no picture) to Bach Stradivarius Triumphal Trumpets in Bb can be found in one of his 1940 catalogs noting that the instruments could be bought in Ab and B-natural too.  Another reference is shown below.


Figure 7: Triumphal Trumpet Description from 1961 Catalog
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


                        By 1961, Bach had given up on the idea of making such instruments in Ab, but he persisted in retaining their association with the opera.  Dropping the Ab option was simply a practical choice.  Bach’s records do not show that any trumpets in that key were ever sold.  Maybe none were even made.


            One difference between the catalog descriptions is the model designation for these special trumpets.  Bach’s original Aida trumpets were supposed to be Apollo Models.  His triumphal trumpets were Stradivarius Models.


            Including Aida trumpets in the Apollo Model category may have been a mistake in the first place.  The early Aida trumpets were made better than Apollo trumpets.  Not only that, regular Apollo trumpets were not made in large bore sizes as specified for the Aida trumpets.  Only Stradivarius trumpets were.


            Another problem in model identification might be mentioned at this point.  Bach’s earliest instruments did not have model names stamped on them because they were made before he was awarded his trademarks.  The six Kalif Temple’s Aida trumpets were made like that, so the only thing available to judge an appropriate model association is the way they were built.


            It took a lot of digging to find one of the early Aida trumpets.  Diligence eventually paid off, and one of the six Kalif Temple trumpets was located.  It is trumpet #58.  It is the top trumpet in Figure 3.  A copy of its shop card is shown below.


Figure 8: Shop Card for Bach Aida Trumpet #58
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The shop card for trumpet #58 presents some surprises.  First of all, it indicates that Blessing valves were used.  This is one of the rare instances in which a shop card clearly specifies another manufacturer’s valves were used on a Bach instrument.  The valves on this trumpet are considerably different from normal Bach valves made during the same period.


            The shop card also raises a question about the bell.  It is indentified as an F. Bell.  It took a lot of work just to get at an incomplete answer about what this meant.  It turns out that the F. bell is a Frank bell.  Frank was William Frank of Chicago.  The card does not indicate whether the bell mandril was copied from a Frank bell or whether Frank actually made the bell.  The Frank Company is known to have made some parts for Bach, and so the latter case is assumed, i.e., the bell probably was made by the Frank Company.


            The letter B on the shop card probably refers to the quality of this particular trumpet relative to the others.  It does not designate trumpet #58 as a B-natural trumpet.


            The faint word near the middle bottom of the shop card is Rialto.  This may refer to the one of the Rialto Theaters, perhaps the one in Tucson Arizona, although another one was to open soon in Chicago.  This name appears on three of the six cards.  That may mean that they actually were contemplated for vaudeville use (perhaps as rentals) as Bach’s catalog indicated.


            Since Bach advertised Aida trumpets in his earliest catalog, why did he turn to Blessing and Frank for components?  Reasonable speculation leads to an idea that Bach was not yet ready to produce six Aida bells and valves sections quickly, so he subcontracted.  He really did not intend to subcontract.


Figure 9: 1925 Boilerplates for Bach Aida Trumpets
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            Bach’s Aida trumpets were specified on a drawing dated January 2, 1925.  Its boilerplate is shown on the left of Figure 9.  The drawing accurately represents trumpet #58 except for the choice of Blessing valves.  Without seeing the trumpet, the use of Blessing valves would not be suspected.


            The bell specified in the drawing was to be extraordinarily long at 21 inches, excluding any attachment sleeve.  A long bell is easily discernible on the top trumpet in Figure 3.


            The 1925 drawing did not indicate which bell was to be used, but Bach was supposed to have bell #3 ready.  The boilerplate from its technical drawing is shown on the right in Figure 9.  The drawing is dated January 8, 1925, only six days later than the trumpet drawing.


            Even more interesting perhaps, the bell drawing specifies it is to be used with mouthpipe #4.  Although the technical specifications for that mouthpipe were recorded in May 1925, a #4 mouthpipe did not appear on any trumpet until the following year, 1926.  Instead, a #2 mouthpipe was used on trumpet #58.  This too would not have been known without seeing the trumpet.  (Mouthpipe #2 was designed in 1924 and used on some very early Stradivarius trumpets.)


            Summarizing these observations, an argument can be made that Bach was just not ready to make six Aida trumpets when he got an order for them.  Instead, he turned to subcontracting for the bells and valve sections and substituted different mouthpipes.  An earlier statement implied that the Shriners’ order may have helped keep Bach’s company afloat financially.  With all the subcontracting, that may not be true.  In raw brass, the trumpets were priced at $75 compared to $125 for a regular Bb Stradivarius trumpet even though the quality is quite comparable to that of early Stradivarius instruments.


            A closer look at the use of Blessing valves is interesting.  The valve section of trumpet #58 is shown below.


Figure 10: Aida Trumpet #58 Valve Section—Right Side
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The forward facing second valve slide naturally draws attention to the entire valve section.   Clearly the valves were not designed by Bach.  The question became one of identification.  Verification that these are Blessing valves was made by a patent notification found on all Blessing valve sections from the early part of the 20th Century.


Figure 11: Aida Trumpet #58 Valve Section--Left Side
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The Blessing patent stamp can be found on the other side of the valve section of trumpet #58, along with Bach’s logo and serial number.  This view also provides a good view of the bell bend and attachment point.  A close-up view of the patent stamp is shown in the photograph below.


Figure 12: Aida Trumpet #58, Blessing Valve Patent Stamp
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            Bach identified his first valves designed for Bb and C trumpets as type A valves.  Their design dates from 1924.  A comparison between Blessing valves and Bach’s type A valves can be seen in the following photograph.


Figure 13: Bach Type A Valve (left) and Blessing Valve
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The two second valves shown above are obviously different.  Trumpets made with the two valves would have different layouts.  In addition to the more obvious differences, the Blessing valves are much narrower.  They measures 0.640 inches in diameter compared to 0.660 inches for Bach’s type A valves.  The Bach valve is from another two-digit-serial-number Bach trumpet.  Other valves from one- and two-digit Bach trumpets have similar features.  The point is that Bach used Blessing valves for this application, but the use of Blessing valves was not routine practice.  His own valves were available, but maybe not in the quantities needed.


            The numbers on the above valves could be of some interest if more were known about Blessing valves.  Bach’s type A valve on the left is from trumpet #79.  The Blessing valve on the right has a number, #9, in a similar position, but its significance is not known.  The other two Blessing valves on trumpet #58 also bear this number.




            Around 1933, all of Bach’s instruments went through a general productivity upgrade.  Bach’s Aida trumpets did too, but these trumpets got a major redesign as well.  No Aida trumpets were made to the 1933 specifications, however.


            The design was then updated again in 1944.  The alterations are shown in red on the drawing.  Most of the updates were relatively minor, but a new name for the instruments was noted.  The boilerplate on the technical drawing is shown below.


Figure 14: 1933 Aida Trumpet Drawing Boilerplate with 1944 Update
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            For the most part, the middle trumpet in Figure 3, trumpet #8654, was made to the newer 1944 design changes.  It was sold to the United States Army Ground Forces Band.  Its shop card is shown below.


Figure 15: Shop Card for Bach Aida Trumpet #8654
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            This trumpet was one of four made in August 1949.  It was sold to the Army in October 1950.  All four were Bb trumpets.  The first two were originally slated for music dealers, but they eventually went to the Army along with the last two in the serial number sequence.


            These trumpets are late New York Bach trumpets and sport the standard components of medium-large bore trumpets from that era, i.e., #37 bells and #7 mouthpipes.  They also differ slightly from the technical drawing, which called for older style features such as hexagonal pull nibs and valve caps without pads, etc.


            The U.S. Army Ground Forces Band apparently has no remaining records of these trumpets.  This particular trumpet (#8654) was sold by a pawn shop near Washington, D.C within the last few years.  It is in near pristine condition except for some lacquer wear.


            A photograph of the serial number side of the valve section is shown in the following photograph.


Figure 16: Bach Aida Trumpet #8654, Valve Section
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The bell attachment point on trumpet #8654, as specified in the updated 1933 design, is observed to be far forward compared to trumpet #58.  The positioning of the attachment point means that the actual bell portion of the trumpet is significantly shorter than the bell used on trumpet #58.


            This trumpet also has the attachment sleeve on the body of the trumpet, whereas that component is found on the bell of trumpet #58.  The location of the bell connection, the shortness of the bell and the attachment method enabled Bach to use a more standard bell length compared to trumpet #58.


Figure 17: Bach Aida Trumpet #8654, Bell Bend
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The above photograph provides a good view of the bell bend, which is quite similar to that of trumpet #58.  On the other hand, the exit port of the first valve is located in a much different position from that of trumpet #58 which used Blessing valves.


Figure 18: Bach Aida Trumpet #8654, Bell Logo
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The bell logo on trumpet #8654 is a standard late New York Bach bell logo with the familiar Bronx plant postal code #67 on it.




            According to the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Web site, Aida has been performed by the Met 1093 times.  The first performance was in 1886; the last was in 2007.  Bach trumpets have been used to herald Radames’ return to Egypt since 1952 when the last of six Aida trumpets were delivered to the Met.  This was about half way through the total Met Aida performances.


            As shown in Figure 3, the Met’s trumpets were not made like Bach’s other Aida trumpets.  There are no technical data on them in Bach’s files, yet they are identified on the shop cards as Metropolitan Models.  They were made very close in time to the Army’s trumpets, but the reasons for changing them can only be guessed.  That subject will be addressed later in this article.


            Bach delivered six Aida trumpets to the Met.  Three are pitched in Bb and three in B-natural.  The serial numbers of the Bb trumpets are #9927, #9934 and #9938.   The serial numbers of the remaining three are #9935, #9936 and #9937.


            The Met does not use these particular Bb trumpets.  The Met bought three more Bb trumpets from the Selmer Company at a later time, and the Met players prefer those.  Nonetheless, the original Bach trumpets are the ones discussed in this article.


Figure 19: Bach Aida Trumpets on Stage--Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera Photo
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The above photograph was provided by the Met.  It was taken at a dress rehearsal on September 26, 2007.  In addition to showing some of the trumpets discussed in this article, it also shows Aida and her father Amonasro (Angela M. Brown—soprano and Andrzej Dobber—baritone).


            Five Bach trumpets are visible.  The original B-natural trumpets made by Bach are on the left side of the photograph.  They are being played (left to right) by Peter Bond, Ken DeCarlo and Guy Piddington III.  Two of the newer Bb trumpets made by the Selmer Company are on the right side of the photograph.  They are being played (left to right) by Alex Holton and David Krauss.  Identification of the trumpet players was provided by James Ross, a trumpet player with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  (Please see the Acknowledgements section at the end.)


            It may be difficult to get to New York when the Met is presenting Aida, but the opera is available on DVD.  The following may be observed even on that limited medium.  Whether the Bach Aida trumpets used by the Met are authentic looking or not, their sounds are striking.  A marked contrast after the key change when the B-natural trumpets take over from the Bb trumpets draws an immediate emotional response.  Bach trumpet players might well recognize the difference as the difference between sounds shaped by Bach #37 and #229 bells.


            Readers may notice from above that the serial numbers of the six original trumpets are not sequential.  Bach made a dozen Aida trumpets ranging in serial number from #9927 through #9938.  Five were sold to other buyers.  (There is no shop card for the remaining one, but a little more may be read about its interesting journey though life in the final section of this article.).


            The data on the Met’s trumpets are very confusing.  Some of the bell stamps do not correspond to data on the shop cards.  The cards indicate that all of the trumpets started out as Mercedes Models, but in fact two of the Bb trumpets are stamped Stradivarius and one is stamped Mercedes.  The opposite is true for the B-natural trumpets.


            The components on the trumpets are not uniform either.  All of the trumpets are medium-large bore trumpets (0.459 inches).  The Bb trumpets are supposed to have type E valves, #37 bells and #7 mouthpipes.  Some deviations are as follows.  Trumpet #9927 has a #25 mouthpipe; trumpet #9934 has a C trumpet body and trumpet #9938 was converted from a B-natural trumpet.


            The B-natural trumpets are actually long C trumpets with components cut to appropriate lengths.  The bodies can be identified as C trumpet bodies by the second valve slides, which are perpendicular to the second valve casings.  The bells are C trumpet bells, #229.  Like two of their Bb cousins, they use #7 mouthpipes.


            Two of the trumpets use mixed valve types, presumably to insure good valve slide fittings.  On these two trumpets, the first valve is a type C valve designed for extra large bore trumpets, whereas the second and third valves are normal type E valves (found on almost all Bach trumpets after 1933).  Type C valves are larger than type E valves and provide more space between the valve slides.


            All of the trumpets appear to have been made in 1948 and 1949.  Two were delivered to the Met in the first year.  The other four were delivered in December 1952.  The long time between manufacture and delivery provided time to modify the instruments, which helps explain some of the unusual entries on the shop cards.


            The story of each trumpet sent to the Met is unique.  Only one of them, #9934, is discussed in some detail.  Comparisons to some of the others will be made, but a full discussion of all of them would be extensive and only add to the upcoming confusion.


Figure 20: Shop Card for Met Aida Trumpet #9,934
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            Trumpet #9934 was completed on April 14, 1949, but it was not delivered in its original condition.  It is clear that it started out to be a B-natural trumpet with a #229 bell.  Before going to the Met in December 1952, however, it was converted to a Bb trumpet with a #37 bell--probably. The bell choice is not certain since the bell number is not stamped on the bell.


            Trumpet #9934 is one of those cases mentioned above where the trumpet started out as a Mercedes Model, but the bell was stamped Stradivarius, presumably when the bell was changed to the assumed #37 bell.  A note on the card says that this trumpet was “for sale or rent”, and in fact, some of Bach’s unsold Aida trumpets were rented.  (See more on this in the last section of this article.)


            This trumpet, along with all the other Met trumpets, has a thin bell.  The brass is 0.019 inches thick as indicated by the 48 bell gauge code.


            The reference to Metropolitan Model refers to the overall layout of the trumpet.  As mentioned previously, these trumpets were made differently.


            To illustrate further why it is hard to analyze the Met’s trumpets, consider the composite photograph below.


Figure 21: Met Bb Aida Trumpets’ Valve Sections
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The above photograph shows the bodies of the Met’s three Bb trumpets.  Trumpet #9938 was one of the two trumpets delivered in 1948.  The other two were delivered in 1952.


            The direction of the second valve slide on trumpet #9934 (perpendicular to the valve section) immediately distinguishes it, but it does not tell the whole story in this trumpet-to-trumpet comparison.  Trumpet #9927 looks to be similar to #9934 otherwise except that it has two finger hooks.  Trumpet #9938, on the other hand, is nothing like #9934.  It went through major alterations.  Not only does it have a tuning slide brace, but it has longer ferrules that the brace connects to.  Its tuning slide was probably converted from a C trumpet tuning slide.  It also does not have first-valve tuning.


            The following is a view of the three Bb trumpets whose valve sections were shown above.


Figure 22: Met's Bb Aida Trumpets (Top to Bottom--#9927, #9934 and #9938)
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            Some more differences between the trumpets can be seen in this photograph.  One is apparent despite some minor lens distortion in the photograph.  The bell on the top trumpet, #9927, is not canted upward as much as the other two bells are.  The most important thing to notice, however, is that there is ample hand-room and tuning slide movement available on all of the trumpets except, perhaps, for #9938 shown on the bottom.


            Returning again to Figure 3, it also appears that the tuning slide on the Met’s trumpet is wider and the distance from the mouthpiece receiver to the end of the tuning slide is longer compared to the Army’s trumpets.  This means that the valves on the Met’s trumpets are positioned further from the mouthpiece receiver.  To compensate, the bell portion had to be shortened.  The method to do this can be seen easily in the back-side view of the valve section of trumpet #9934 shown below.  The first valve exit knuckle has a fairly complicated bend.


Figure 23: Met Aida Trumpet #9934—Bell Bend
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            There are other anomalies and usual features in these trumpets, but it is not the purpose of this article to point out all of them.  The fundamental question is why Bach would have delivered such a mixed set of trumpets to the Met in the first place?  Part of the answer may be found in an old photograph in Charles Colin’s report on the 6th annual “New York Brass Conference for Scholarships”.  It may also help explain why these trumpets are different than the Army’s trumpets.


Figure 24: Bach Aida Trumpets Tried Out on the Road—Photo Use Granted by Allan Colin, President of Charles Colin, New York
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The Met got its last four Aida trumpets in April 1952.  The Met toured Aida during April and May of that year.  While the article in the New York Brass Conference does not give a date for the above picture, that tour was a good time to try out the newer trumpets.  The photograph says the players tried four trumpets, so it is assumed that the original two from 1948 were not taken on tour.  In any case, between the tour and the opening of Aida at the Met in January 1953, Bach had only a few months to get all six trumpets ready for debut in New York.   This might have been a difficult task for several reasons.


            The tour may have demonstrated that the Army-style trumpets were not what the Met players wanted.  On the right side of the photograph, Abe Katz is shown holding a Bach Aida trumpet, but it is not one of the trumpets finally delivered to the Met.  A normal bell bend is clearly visible.  Perhaps more importantly, Katz’s left hand does not have enough space.  Third valve tuning is available, but not first valve tuning, which might well be important if only the first valve is going to be used.  Finally, the bell has no finger support.  The trial trumpets shown in this photograph were not made like the trumpets the Met eventually ended up with.


            If these observations are correct, Bach had only a few months to redesign and modify some Aida trumpets for the Met.  He would have had to do this even as he continued routine production while preparing to move his plant to Mt Vernon.  These events and sequences may help explain why the Met’s trumpets appear to have been thrown together from available parts instead of made from a consistent design as Bach’s instruments normally were.


            These ideas about why the Met’s trumpets were not uniformly made and different from the Army’s do not hold up entirely.  Not discussed above, more than six of the 12 Aida trumpets with sequential serial numbers were made in the Met style although exactly how many is unknown.  There is no apparent reason for Bach to have made more than six unless he had ideas about making this design permanent.


            Bach had one more thing to worry about.  The Met travels.  When on the road, the trumpets are disassembled and packed in their own special case.  The original six Met trumpets are shown below along with flags that can be used with them.


Figure 25: The Met's Aida Trumpets--Packed to Go
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            As mentioned previously, the Met finally bought three more Bach Bb Aida trumpets from the Selmer Company, so those should have consistent configurations.  On the other hand, late New York Bach trumpets, which the Met’s original Aida trumpets were based on, have desirable characteristics in their own right.  A serious look at the original Bach Aida Bb trumpets might make them more useful if problems could be corrected.




            Included in this section is a short discussion of the remaining six Aida trumpets made along with the Met’s trumpets.  Also included are Aida trumpets made by the Selmer Company in Mt Vernon.


Set of Trumpets Containing the Met’s Trumpets


            The Met’s trumpets came from a set of 12 made around the same time.  After the Met got its six in 1952, it is natural to ask what became of the other six.  Two of them were sold to a music store in 1954.  One was sold to an individual.  Two of the Bb trumpets remained at the Bach plants but were eventually rented for a period of time to the New Orleans Opera House by the Selmer Company.  They were given Selmer model number 185Bb.  One of those two was a remodeled B-natural trumpet.


            The paragraph above only accounts for five of six.  The last one, #9931, was never sold.  It is the only one of the twelve that has no shop card, so until May 2004, it was not known whether this trumpet was even completed.  It is now known that it was actually completed, in a manner of speaking.  Here is some of the story about it.


            A Bach Aida trumpet remains in storage at the Bach plant in Elkhart Indiana.  At first it appeared to be the mysterious #9931.  That turned out to be only partially correct.  The valve section of the trumpet is shown below.


Figure 26: Valve Set from Aida Trumpet #9931--Met Design
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            This trumpet can be readily identified as a Met trumpet design since no bell bend appears to the left of the first valve slide.  The bell stored with it is another story, however.  A composite photograph of it is shown below.


Figure 27: Bach Aida Bell #14,748
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            This is obviously the wrong bell.  This is a bell made at the Bronx plant in New York City as would be expected.  As with all of the trumpets made in the Met style, the serial number is stamped on the bell ferrule, and the bell’s serial number is #14,748.


            This begs the question of where the matching components for these two trumpets are.  They turned up together (valve set #14,748 and bell #9931) on Ebay in May 2004.  The situation is a little odder than that, however.  The valve set is stamped Mt Vernon, as might be expected for a trumpet with a 14,000 serial number.


            The California instrument dealer who sold this trumpet identified it as one of a “matched set” of Mt Vernon trumpets (#14,747 and #14,748).  On the other hand, the bells apparently were stamped New York 67.  The bell to trumpet #14,747 was stamped with its serial number below the bell logo, another oddity, and its valve set also appeared to have Mt Vernon stamp on the second valve casing.  They were sold with a New York case and a Selmer case.


            The trumpets sold by the dealer do not have shop cards.  They could best be described as an unorthodox set of Bach triumphal trumpets.  More than likely, they last saw the Bach plant under Selmer ownership, not Bach’s ownership.


New Orleans Opera House


            As mentioned previously, two Aida trumpets of Met design were retained by Bach and eventually rented to the New Orleans Opera House by the Selmer Company.  Two B-natural Aida trumpets, #25916 and #25918, were made by the Selmer Company at the Mt Vernon plant and also rented to the New Orleans Opera House.  The records for the two trumpets with the higher serial numbers show the instruments were returned to Selmer.  The rentals appear to have been in 1967, but trumpet #25916 may have been rented again as late as 1973.  Neither of them could be found at the Bach plant, however.


            One of the two Selmer-made B-natural trumpets, #25916, was sold on Ebay about a year ago.  Its body is shown below.  The bell is not shown.  The bell’s serial number has been scratched out, and the bell does not fit very well.  It is questionable that the bell and valve section belong together, although the bell serial number appears to have five digits too.


Figure 28: Bach Aida Trumpet #25916--New Orleans Rental
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            Trumpet #25916 was sold with a four-trumpet, Elkhart-style case.  The case is in bad shape.  Perhaps it is the case used to send the four instruments to New Orleans.  The whereabouts of the other three trumpets rented to the New Orleans Opera House is unknown.


Buenos Aires Argentina


            The city of Buenos Aires bought eight Mt Vernon B-natural trumpets from the Selmer Company in 1962.  All came with Bb slides.  About two years later, a Bb Aida trumpet was bought by a theater in Buenos Aires too.


            That leaves only two known New York or Mt Vernon Aida trumpets unaccounted for.  Both were made by the Selmer Company at Mt Vernon and both have shop cards, but neither card provides any significant information about them.


Interesting Redesigns


            In the mid-1950s, all of Bach’s trumpets were redesigned.  Trumpet players generally know that this effort included increasing the tuning slide width and making other physical adjustments to maintain the proper acoustical length.  The Aida trumpets got a redo during this period too.


            Bach’s Aida trumpets got their makeover in 1955.  The work was corrected in 1956.  The redesigned Aida/triumphal trumpets were called 1955 models.


Figure 29: Portion of an Aida Trumpet Redesign Sketch--1955/6
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The redesign work was not documented by a large technical drawing as Bach had done earlier in his career.  Rather, it was documented on short technical sketches and notes entered on 5 x 7 inch pieces of paper.  There are 10 such notes regarding Bach’s Aida/triumphal trumpets reflecting their mid-Mt Vernon makeovers.  All of the sketches and notes are in Bach’s handwriting.  The top of one of the notes is shown above to provide a flavor for the documentation.  This particular sketch was chosen because it includes the year (1955 Model) and a specific date (May 17, 1956.)  As far as is known, Bach made no Aida trumpets to the specifications recorded on these 10 notes.


            While running the Mt Vernon plant, the Selmer Company more-or-less adopted the same method of documentation.  Selmer reviewed some of the dimensions in July 1962, just before the eight Buenos Aires trumpets were made.  It is obvious from the above that it was a little complicated to verify Bach’s specifications from his notes.  Only Bach could actually do that easily, but Selmer people pressed through it.


            Eventually, the dimensions of the Aida trumpets were verified by Selmer and entered on similar but somewhat more formal sketches that appear to be small blueprints but probably are carbon copies.


Figure 30: Portion of a Bach Aida Bb Trumpet Sketch--1964
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            The above sketch shows the results of Selmer’s attempts to make the data easier to read than it was on the 1955/6 hand-drawn sketch shown in Figure 29.  Getting ready to move to Elkhart, the Bach Company was being changed from a one-man operation to a more formal manufacturing concern.


            Production of Aida trumpets continued in Elkhart of course, and trumpets made there are seen on Ebay every so often.  Starting with the Argentina set, the Selmer Company ended up making more Aida/triumphal trumpets than Bach did when he owned his company.  Today Conn-Selmer, Inc. calls them triumphal trumpets too, but all references to Aida are gone.




            The author appreciates the valuable assistance of a number of people in writing this article.  Foremost among them is James Ross, trumpet player with the New York Metropolitan Opera.  He provided an opportunity to photograph and study the Met’s Aida trumpets as well as valuable insights into the Met’s use of its trumpets.  Two other people, Steven Sharpe and Bill Seigfried, provided access to their trumpets to examine and photograph.


            The photograph of the one-valve Aida trumpets in Figure 1 was provided by Rose Egger of Blechblas-Instrumentenbau Egger in Basel Switzerland.  The original photograph and other photographs of rather unique instruments made by this company can be viewed on its Web site located at the following URL.  (http://www.eggerinstruments.ch/)  The copy of the 1929 photograph of the Kalif Temple Trombone Band shown in Figures 4 was provided by James Dunlap, Recorder of the Kalif Temple in 2003 when the original photograph was copied.  The copy of the photograph showing Bach Aida trumpets on stage at the Metropolitan Opera, Figure 19, was provided by Ness Brent of the Met’s publicity department.  (http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/)  Permission to use a scan of the photograph of the Met trumpet players on tour in 1952, Figure 24, was given by Allan Colin of Colin Music Company in New York.  (http://www.charlescolin.com/)


            In addition to the above, this paper was written through significant support from Conn-Selmer, Inc. of Elkhart Indiana.  In particular, Tedd Waggoner, Director of Bach Operations, granted access to Bach’s archives and approved the release of certain data.



All the information on this site is © copyright 2001-2014,
All Rights Reserved.
If you wish to use any material on this website
contact Roy Hempley for permission




Website Designed and Maintained by apcstech.net © Copyright 1996 - 2014