Adolf Scherbaum (1909 - 2000)

On August 2, 2000, trumpeter Adolf Scherbaum died 91 years old.

We had a short conversation with Josef  Bayer who was a student of  Scherbaum. Bayer has created an excellent web site about Scherbaum, called: "Adolf Scherbaum - the man who rediscovered the baroque trumpet".

Josef, what did you mean by that title?
The title is perhaps somewhat misleading. Perhaps I'll change it. I do not mean that Prof. Scherbaum discovered the natural trumpet (due to the sound quality, he did not like it very much), but he was the first to demonstrate that all trumpet parts in the baroque music is playable on a modern trumpet.

Scherbaum paved the way for the rediscovery of the classical trumpet as a solo instrument on an international level, long before Maurice André. He was not the first to use the high Bb-trumpet, but he started using an instrument, which had been developed already at the beginning of the century and then forgotten. He was not the first trumpeter to record the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto. Also the instrument which he used, was not by any means the original instrument of the baroque era.

All this does not change his historical significance for the development of the interpretation and the rediscovery of the baroque brass music. This led the interpretation on this instrument to up to a then unknown perfection. He contributed not only substantially to place the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto on the concert repertory, but more to the discovery of an up to then unknown repertory of baroque music.

The glamour of the baroque music became a masse phenomenon due to him. For years his records ranked on the foremost of the best-seller hit lists. All over  Europe the festive baroque music was rediscovered. Scherbaums effortless interpretation of these trumpet parts also formed an ideal for perfecting the playing technique on the valveless baroque trumpet.

Scherbaum played with famous Orchestras (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchester Santa Cecilia Rome, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester ...) in Buenos Aires, in Cairo, New York, Cape Town, Paris, London, Moscow... under conductors like Karajan, Klemperer, Knappertsbusch, Schmidt-Isserstedt and others.

The famous Maurice André once replied during a TV-interview to the question as to who was the best trumpet player ranking right after himself: "I am being followed by many, but I had a single predecessor, Adolf Scherbaum, to whom I owe it all - it was his playing that set the standard and shaped my style". To me he wrote: "Adolf Scherbaum was the forerunner for a whole generation, particularly in my youth."

Also to other great trumpet artist like Adolph Sylvester ("Bud") Herseth (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) he was an ideal: "... he was the first to really go into the Baroque high trumpet playing in a big way - a very exciting player."

His background and early career. Could you give us a brief sketch of that?
Scherbaum was born in 1909 in Eger (today the Czech Republic) as a Sudeten German, into an amateur music family. 8 years old he began to play the trumpet. From 1923 to 1928 he studied at the Military Music School in Prague. In 1929 he finished his studies in Vienna with Prof. Dengler. From1930 to 1939 he was solo trumpet at the county theatre of Brünn (Brno), 1939-41 at the German Philharmonic in Prague under Joseph Keilberth, 1941-45 with the Berlin Philharmonic (under Wilhelm Furtwängler and after the end of the war under Sergiu Celibidache). In 1945 he was interned in Prague. From 1946 to 1951 he was solo trumpet at the Radio and Professor at The Pressburg Conservatory. In 1951 with the help of the Red Cross he could leave the Czechoslovakia. During his stay at the detention camp in Pfalz he began to work on his Low-Pressure-Method. From 1951 to 1964 he was solo trumpet under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt with the Hamburg Radio Orchestra.

When Mendelssohn rediscovered J. S. Bach, he used clarinets instead of trumpets. In the romantic era there were no trumpet players able to play Bach. But this was also the situation when Scherbaum was a young trumpeter. Brandenburg no 2 was recorded with a soprano sax on the trumpet part (Casals).
The use of the high trumpet parts in the works of Bach and Handel caused difficulties also long after the Second World War. Even around 1950 the trumpets were often replaced by clarinets. Adolf Scherbaum had already begun in Brünn to blow the normal trumpet parts an octave higher. Later he was encouraged by Joseph Keilberth: "If someone can play Bach on the trumpet, you are the one!"

Josef, tell us about Scherbaums "discovery" of Bach.
Scherbaum realized that the trumpet parts of Bach required a special trumpet technique which would have to be acquired by painstaking training. He used the high B-flat trumpet for the performance of the baroque D-trumpet parts. The story of the interpretation of the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto after World War II was for a long time the story of Adolf Scherbaum and his the interpretation. In more than 400 concerts, that took him from Moscow to Lisbon, from Rome to New York through the whole world, he destroyed the legend that the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto was unplayable and recorded it 15 times. For many years he was the only trumpet player in the world that performed this concerto live.

Otto Klemperer got him overnight to London, to record the Concerto, when his own trumpeter could not play it. At the Ansbacher Bach Week in 1955 there was a very special constellation: Richter, Scherbaum, Menuhin, Nicolet.
Later Scherbaum recorded the rest of Bach's works: Masse in B-minor, Christmas Oratory, Magnifikat, Orchestral-Suites, Overtures, Cantatas.

When Maurice Andre recorded Michael Haydn in 1966, one can hear that he had a struggle with the highest notes. But Scherbaum played this concerto in public. What do you think was the secret behind his ability to master the high note parts?
For a long time Scherbaum was the only one to who dared to perform the Michael Haydn Concerto live.

By extensive training he developed unusual muscle strength in his diaphragm, abdomen and cheeks (at the University of Basel they measured 2,5 atmospheric pressure) so that he was able to play c4 effortless (I even heard him play a4 once!)

Schmidt-Isserstedt sometimes called him "Scherstrong".

Scherbaum placed the "Low Pressure Method" above anything else, and this was also what he taught his students.

The teacher. How was he as a teacher?
He was both human and fatherly at the same time, but when it came to music he could be tough and uncompromising. He was always dynamic and full of humour and knew how to motivate and encourage his students.

His exercises included: scales played only with the lips, or with the mouthpiece alone (with upper or lower lip above the rim). This did not produce a very exciting sound but it developed security in the upper register. He let his students practice on mouthpieces with a deep cup. When they later got a mouthpiece with a more shallow cup they could play even higher. To get accustomed to playing with minimum pressure he asked the students to hold the trumpet lightly with 3 fingers or place it on a sheet of glass. The smallest lip pressure would move the instrument away.

The person. How was he as a person?
First of all he was a complete musician, but in addition he was also a great entertainer who could fascinate his audience with his spirit and his wit often until the wee hours of the morning. Then early next day he was the most fit of all (see E. Tarr on the Scherbaum-Homepage, who praises his openness, his compassion for his fellow-man and his charisma on the stage, or T. Dokshizer who emphasize his brilliant humour as did Philip Jones). He was a human who didn't think he was a "great star", who remained very modest despite his fame. His listeners could tell from numerous of stories: e.g.  How he started to play the trumpet  (hear him live on:, or how Klemperer rang him from London in the middle of the night, or how he on a road in  Czechoslovakia in a sobriety test blew the balloon so hard that it almost cracked... He had a strong child appeal  - by his hearty and friendly behaviour, and his conjuring tricks.

The Recordings. If people want to hear Scherbaum, what recordings do you recommend? Are there any CD's?
One of the most fascinating is perhaps the breath-taking part of the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately there is no recording of it. You can however hear a small part of it here:

I know at least the following CDs:

Thank you for the conversation, Josef!
If people want to know more about Adolf Scherbaum, they should visit your web site:

o.j. 2000