Arban, Jean-Baptiste. Complete Method for Trumpet.
Annotated and Edited by Alan Vizzutti and Wesley Jacobs. Maple City, Michigan: Encore Music Publishers
, 2007. 408 Pages. ISMN M-800004-03-2 $56.95
During the mid-nineteenth century the piston cornet as we now know it began to emerge from a tangle of various chromatic brass inventions. It survived among creatures such as the cornopeans, saxhorns, keys, rotors, levers, valves (Stoetzel, Perrinet et al.), and an array of many advancements, failures, dead ends, and experiments. As evolution sorted through this primordial stew, an intelligent designer also emerged (my apologies Niles Eldridge!) to help guide the process to success.
It is not a coincidence that the life of Joseph Jean Baptist Laurent Arban (1825-1889) spans this same period. His life’s work, contributions, interest in and influence upon this new instrument were singularly critical to the emergence, acceptance, and success of this addition to the brass family. Arban was a performer, teacher, innovator, and tireless advocate for the cornet. From his birth in 1825 to his appointment to the newly-created position of professor of cornet at the Paris Conservatory in 1857, he became a most remarkable and pivotal contributor to this large and rapid advance in the evolution of brass instruments. It is not generally known that he had even collaborated with other leading figures, including Adolph Sax and Antoine Courtois, among others, to engineer mechanical improvements on the instrument.
For most of his professional life he remained an active performer. As an accomplished and successful soloist Arban constantly demonstrated and championed the cornet’s remarkable new capabilities. His efforts almost singlehandedly helped to cement the instrument in Western music, as he persuaded composers and performers alike to use this labrosone to great success . Within a relatively short period of time the cornet began appearing in many different musical venues. Music of high and low art, popular, civic, military, opera, symphony, sacred, folk, chamber, and solo virtuosic: there seemed to be no area of music in which this newcomer failed to succeed.
Jean Baptist’s most lasting contribution however, has been his printed method of instruction, today known commonly and simply as the “Arbans”. This book is the “bible” for students and teachers alike, and today continues to remain the touchstone for all those who aspire to play valved brass instruments. His earliest teaching at the Conservatoire was of necessity accomplished by writing out his own exercises for his pupils. While there are some similar exercises in the Methode pour la Trompette ,the grand method of 1857 of his own teacher publications of his own teacher Dauverne, the Arban’s method generally extends the technical aspects of the cornet beyond that called for by Dauverne. Nevertheless, it was from these handwritten melodies, etudes, morceau, drills, studies and exercises that his printed method emerged. First published in Paris in 1864, the book was titled La Grande Methode complete de cornet a piston et de saxhorn par Arban.
Since that time, a multitude of editions and “enhancements” have appeared. There have been contractions, expansions, truncations, compilations, extractions, extensions, additions and all manner of “improvements” inflicted upon the maestro’s noble effort. The latest entry into this fray is now available from Encore Editions. Titled Complete Method for Trumpet, it is edited by Allen Vizzutti and Wesley Jacobs.
This reworking is touted by the publisher as the “Greatest Arban’s of all time,” “sets a new standard,” and that “Vizzuti offers a 21st century perspective.“ I have examined these claims and compared this newest version with several previous editions. These are Rollinson, (Pepper), Leduc (three volumes), Herbert Clarke (Cundy Betony), and Goldman (Carl Fischer). For purposes of this review I will make comparisons only with the Carl Fischer/Goldman version, (CF/G) with which most players today are familiar.
When attempting to make corrections and re-typeset such a large amount of material, one must assume that the challenge is daunting. I can only assume that corrections have indeed been made, but with all that is involved, this is a bit like squeezing a balloon. New mistakes appear with alarming regularity. As an example, compare Selection 109, from the “Art of Phrasing,” Daughter of the Regiment (m.8). In the Encore Edition, the melodic interval of a sixth has mysteriously become an octave. Such small errata are present and after months of study more will likely arise. Oddly, all the breath/phrasing marks as included in CF/.G, have been removed. It may be that the original source material for these songs is entirely different, as this section seems to have a significant number of small discrepancies from the CF/G edition. Over-all, the frequency and number of mistakes found after some initial period of time playing this new edition are unfortunate and do much to detract from the worthiness of this effort.
All the Arban text which preface and explain the different areas of study remain as in CF/G. Arban’s biographical sketch and his own preface have disappeared, replaced by a brief monograph entitled “My Musical Life and Recollections,” by Jules Riviere c. 1893.
Additionally, the previous English translations from the original French have been updated. A more fluid modern English is often used to replace the somewhat archaic 19th-century English of CF/G. As one small example shows, “The staccato consists in detaching a succession of notes with regularity….” becomes “The staccato effect consists of playing detached and evenly…” One would assume these modernizations are the work of Wesley Jacobs, for whom no biographical information or credits are given.
Co-editor Allan Vizzuti, on the other hand, has added considerable text of his own, which is credited at the end of each entry in order that the reader will know that he, and not Arban, is the author. His point of view is indeed an update; in some ways a more contemporary approach- regarding “attacks”, breathing, buzzing (he is against it for beginners), embouchure, and general approach to practicing of the material.
While Vizzuti seldom if ever contradicts Arban’s advice, he does attempt to put those original admonishments within the context of nineteenth-century France. His text tends to give gentle, helpful, and generally sound advice which augments the original in a very positive and constructive way. The remarks he adds to each of the Fourteen Characteristic Studies, in particular, are well written and help the student define and meet the musical challenges, as opposed to just “plowing” through.
The printed music content is identical to the CF/G published method. Vizzuti’s only addition is an original “morceau”, titled Carnival of Venus, as the final piece in the collections of solos we know as the “Celebrated Fantasies and Airs Varies.” This solo with variations follows the same forms as the original twelve by Arban.
Now however, we are presented with very Vizzutti-like 21st-century challenges, such as three octave arpeggiation, enormous wide interval skips, upper register multiple tonguing, and generally increased endurance demands. Alas, no text is added for his solo. One only wishes he would tell us how to play all those challenges with the same ease he does.
A very striking and welcome upgrade is the fresh new typeset of the music notation. Indeed, this is perhaps the most significant improvement on any previous editions. On clean bright white background, the notation is fresh, new, sharp and clean. The effect is that the notes seem larger, when in fact they sometimes are not. The welcome overall result is a less cramped and crowded page. As is well known, the very appearance of printed music has a profound influence on the approach and execution. Most agreeably, another added benefit of this new edition is a large durable ring spiral binding (metal not plastic). This upgrade will be most welcome on every music stand.
The price is not unreasonable, given the latest “platinum” editions of the same old plates and “smudgy” printing at $60 plus. This Encore publication is sold for $56.95 retail. I know that it has been a long time since I paid $5 for my first Arban; however that book stays with me today, if somewhat worse for wear. This Arban could last as long, if not longer and probably in better shape.
In this reviewer’s opinion the over-all impression of this “new” Arban is favorable. As for the publisher’s rather hyperbolic claims of bringing Arban into the twenty-first century, my view is- maybe. The instrument is a nineteenth century tool, and while the demands on modern players seem ever more challenging, the basic requirements for good execution remain as they always were. As a performer one must conquer the same technical difficulties and musical challenges which confront us all and have continued to exist prior to and following Arban’s life and works. The need for basic work, study, and technique remain, and Arban will never be out of date for anybody who wishes to play a valve instrument. This book however, is an improvement of our “sacred” text, if only for its increased clarity, physical layout, and emphasis on Arban’s thorough approach, which is a confirmation of Oscar Levant’s famous quip, ”…musical secrets that have been known for hundreds of years.”