Don Leroy Smithers was born on
February 17, 1933 in New York (?)
Don Smithers is known to have been active in three different areas, as
a performing artist on natural
trumpet and cornetto, as a music historian and as a music educator. In
his childhood, he sang in one of New York's best
church choir. Smithers later commented on this early singing
my world for much of my childhood and adolescent years growing up
in New York. With such experience, it is difficult for a person not to
have a plethora of association in mind when performing and / or
listening to music that was liturgically intended and written for very
much the same kind of circumstances of performances I had enjoyed
during my formative years."
Recordings / discography
recording in 1961. His first two recordings were with Noah Greenberg
and the New York Pro Musica. It was two Decca records (one for
music, the other polychoral pieces by Gabrieli and Viadana). He
played cornetto on these recordings.
Here is a discography database
(under development with the help of Walter Roth).
1721, London, Dent, 1973
(second edition Buren, The Netherlands and Carbondale, USA 1988)
trumpets of J.W. Haas: a survey of four generations of Nuremberg brass
instrument makers, Galpin
Society Journal, xviii, London, 1965
- Music for
the Prince-Bishop, Music and Musicians, XVIII, 8 (April), 24-27, 1970
Habsburg imperial Trompeter and Heerpaucker privileges of 1653, Galpin
Sociey Journal, xxiv, London, 1971
the Baroque Trumpet: Research into the history and physics of this
largely forgotten instrument is revealing its secrets, enabling modern
trumpeters to play it as the musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries
did, Scientific American,
Reiches Ansehen und sein Einfluss auf die Musik Johann Sebastian Bachs,
73, 113-150, 1987
- A New Look
at the Historical, Linguistic and Taxonomic Bases for the Evolution of
Lip-blown Instruments from Classical Antiquity until the end of the
Middle Ages, Historic Brass
Society Journal 1, 3-64, 1989
Reiche and the Leipzig Collegia Musica, Historic Brass Society Journal
2, 1-51, 1990
Emperors' New Clothes Reappraised; or Bach's Musical Resources
Revealed, BACH, The Journal
of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute,
XXVIII, 1-81, 1997
what Don Smithers
played on a number of his Philips recordings in the 1960's. He felt
the Mahillon was "the one instrument of 20th Century manufacture
that comes closest to the original clarino sound."
Starting around 1971, Don Smithers made the switch from the Mahillon to
a coiled clarino natural trumpet. This is what is featured on the 1971
Trumpet" LP (Philips 6500-925).
contains the Reiche
"Abblasen" pictured on the cover, and was used by CBS "Sunday
Morning" for many years.
”The lost art of Baroque trumpet
In the late 1800 and early 1900 many attempts and considerable
attention was paid to the high (clarino) register of Bach´s
trumpet parts. The use of small modern trumpets in D, F and eventually
B-flat piccolo began to give a number of trumpets players like Adolph Scherbaum and
others the opportunity of successfully performances of this music.
The first to use a natural trumpet was Walter Holy. By the help
of instrument maker Otto Steinkopf, Holy used a copy of the coiled
trumpet seen on the Haussman painting of Gottfried Reiche.
To help with intonation, Steinkopf ”invented” vent holes.
Don Smithers felt that vent holes were incorrect. He started a study of
old literature and found clues on how to play the clarino in methods
like Cesare Bendinelli´s Tutta
L'arte Della Trombetta (c. 1614), Girolamo Fantini´s Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba
(1638), Johann Ernst Altenburg´s Versuch einer Anleitung zur
heroisch-musikalischen Trompeter- und Paukerkunst, (Halle 1795).
Together with John Bowser and Klaus Wogram, Don Smithers conducted
scientific tests on baroque trumpets using sound spectrographs. He was
able to demonstrate how the irregularities in the tubing of handmade
trumpets, together with the large mouthpieces then in use, would have
made the process of lipping notes into tune easier than on an
instrument of modern manufacture. (Scientific American, April, 1986)
In an interview with J. Nussbaum in 1988 (ITG Journal), Smithers said:
art of clarino playing on uncompromised instruments is still
a lost art. No one presently occupying space on this planet can play on
a first-rate museum specimen from any one of the several collections of
historical instruments the kind of music for which Bach, Molter and a
number of other 18th-century composer intended”.
That was perhaps
true then, but today, Smithers own effort and
experiments with the natural trumpet have materialised. Jean-François Madeuf can now
play some of the repertoire of the baroque era,
like the 2. Brandenburg Concerto, on baroque trumpets without vent
holes, and using the large mouthpiece of the baroque era.
* Walter Roth (info,
images, development of recording database)
* Edward H. Tarr: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001
* Mike Spengl (post to TPIN 2008 about Smithers)
* ITG Journal, December,1988 (interview with Jeffrey Nussbaum)