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Excerpts from a lecture by Prof. Dr. Detlef Altenburg
(who holds the chair for musicology at the university of Regensburg, Bavaria).
The lecture was given on November 21, 1995 as a contribution to the university’s regular ‘Tuesday’s Discussions’ which were then conducted at Sulzbach-Rosenberg.


(....) Adolf Scherbaum, one of the most renowned trumpet players of the post world war II period, has influenced the method of trumpet playing most decisively, and he also contributed considerably to the rediscovery of baroque trumpet music.

The splendor of the baroque age was by no means a part of the dowry that was put into his cradle. Born in 1909 at Eger, he experienced not only the first and second world wars, but also detention camp and expulsion from his home country. But then again, he was in some way already linked to the splendor of the baroque age by birth, because he was born in the same house in which another great son of the city of Eger, the famous architect of the Baroque period Balthasar Neuman, was born.

Adolf Scherbaum did not only influence the interpretation of ancient music after world war II in a most pronounced way, but he unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) shaped our entire understanding of the baroque age altogether. (...)

The performance of the upper-level trumpet parts in Bach’s and Handel’s works remained quite difficult, even after world war II. Thus it was quite common in the 1950s to replace the trumpet by a clarinet, as is still occasionally done in some of the newer music literature. (...)

It was in this period of time that Adolf Scherbaum rediscovered the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In his formative years, after Scherbaum had served as trumpet soloist at Brünn, then later with the German Philharmonia at Prague under Joseph Keilbert, and as of 1940 in the same position under Wilhelm Furtwängler with the Berlin Philharmonia, he had found a new field of artistic endeavor as principal soloist trumpeter at the Hamburg Radio Orchestra under the conductorship of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. This was following his detention at Prague with subsequent expulsion from his home country (then Czechoslovakia).

It was in those years that he took up a suggestion once made by his beloved and admired conductor Joseph Keilbert who urged him to attempt the performance of Bach’s 'Second Brandenburg Concerto'.

Scherbaum immediately realized that the trumpet parts required a special technique which would have to be re-acquired by painstaking training. Use of the high B flat trumpet, which is exactly the instrument type which Marian developed in 1905 for the Belgian trumpeter Goyens, has been decisive for the successful performance of this concerto in so many concert halls. In more than 400 concerts, which led him from Moscow to Lisbon, from Rome to New York, and all over the world, Scherbaum contradicted the myth of the implayability of Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto.

The restart after world war II meant a new carrier for Adolf Scherbaum. At an age at which others retire from the solo position to the second or third trumpet, Scherbaum started his actual carrier. He celebrated his biggest triumphs with the trumpet, just imagine, between his 50th and 60th birthday!

The history of the performance of the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto after world war II is largely the history of the interpretation of this work by Adolf Scherbaum alone. He recorded this piece no less than 15 times. (...).

An important change in the history of the performance of Bach’s works was introduced by Scherbaum’s use of the high B flat trumpet also for tunes that were originally intended for the D trumpet. (....) This improved the achievement of tone accuracy and thus widened the circle of musicians who could play such pieces.

The glorious baroque music with its brilliantly high trumpet parts, that is, the proverbial "tympanums and fanfares" has become a common part of today’s concerto repertoire. The famous Christmas Oratorio is performed these days (the 60s) even by small municipal orchestras, using the original instrumentation and high B flat trumpets.

Scherbaum’s Bach interpretations stimulated his interest in the trumpet music of other composers of the baroque age as well. He presented in a three-sequence series of records, labeled 'Masterly Trumpet Concertos', the works of Alessandro Stradella, Giuseppe Torelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Philipp Telemann, Johann Christoph Graupner, and Johann Friedrich Fasch, just to name a few. He dedicated a sole record to what he called the "glorious peak of trumpet music at the French (king’s) court" (this is the title of the record) meaning music from his home region, Bohemia.
The labels "Festliche Musik des Barock" and "Virtuose Trompetenkonzerte" headed the hit list of the periodical "Der Spiegel" for a long time.

The glamour of the baroque age, as some named this phenomenon, had entered the living rooms and the minds of the Germans. Splendid baroque concertos were being rediscovered everywhere. Even the TV companies adopted Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s 'Te Deum' as the lead melody for European events, now commonly known as the 'European Fanfare'.

However, Scherbaum’s example did not only establish a new tradition but also had the paradoxical effect of challenging musicians to a more perfect performance on the replicas of original baroque instruments. His apparently effortless play created a demand for similar perfection also on instruments without valves, such as the genuine baroque trumpet. (...).

The renaissance of the baroque music was accompanied by a number of significant constructive improvements on the instruments.(....)
It was especially the introduction of the fourth valve which facilitated the playing of the D-parts. Aldolf Scherbaum, too, participated in experiments designated to improve the A/B trumpet, and he developed, together with his son, a trumpet model of his own. The essence of these experiments was the three-part mouth piece which provided the means to freely recombine all acoustically relevant items as needed. (....)

Adolf Scherbaum is undoubtedly a key figure in the history of the trumpet playing technique for old music after world war II. However, he was not the first one to use the high B flat trumpet. Instead of using the latter, he returned to an instrument type which was developed at the start of the century, but fell to oblivion thereafter. Nor was he the first one to record the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto on an LP. And neither is the instrument he plays a genuine baroque trumpet.

But none of these facts diminish in the least the historical merits which Scherbaum has earned concerning the playing technique and the rediscovery of baroque trumpet music. This is because Scherbaum developed the playing technique to a hitherto unknown perfection, and he contributed decisively to the fact that the high B flat trumpet today is included in the standard curriculum for trumpet students at German music academies. He himself actually taught at the music academy of Saarbrücken from 1964 up to his retirement.

Adolf Scherbaum became so popular that even a yellow press product, that normally specialised in nothing but murder or sex scandals, suddenly got interested in trumpet music and wrote in its (more respectable) Sunday edition under the headline "The 8-Pound Power Blast" about the medical tests that were conducted to find out what pressure Scherbaum actually built up in his body. The astonished clientele was thus informed that Scherbaum could theoretically inflate an automobile tyre just like others would inflate a camping matress. However, this is merely the spectacular and superficial aspect of his art.

Adolf Scherbaum was not only instrumental in firmly embedding Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto in the repertoir of classical orchestras but also in the rediscovery of the hitherto unknown wealth of the baroque music altogether. He in fact made baroque music popular with the masses. Even the Beatles didn't remain untouched by the charms of the high B flat trumpet as one of their songs (Penny Lane) demonstrates. And last but not least, Scherbaum also enkindled the desire in the music historians to concern themselves with this phenomenon, in due time, of course.

With the post world war II rediscovery of the music culture in the baroque age, including its manifold splendour, all of which we owe to Adolf Scherbaum who thereby expanded our knowledge about this period significantly, scientific historical research has also come to certain preliminary conclusions.

I am grateful to Mr. Rolf Ziegler, Böblingen, for his translation into English.