Also:       treble cornett      cornetto      cornet à bouquin      Zink      

Title: Virtuoso Solo Music for Cornetto--Canzona seconda detta la Bernadinia; Bruce Dickey, cornett, with Tragicomedia. Label: Accent. Format: CD. Catalogue#: ACC 9173D. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The cornett is a hybrid aerophone in that it has features in common with brass instruments (a cupped mouthpiece) and with woodwind instruments (a tube with fingerholes). The replica instrument pictured here is a treble, the middle of three sizes in use during the Renaissance and Baroque eras (see cornettino for information on the smallest member of this family, and the detail image for a comparison of the cornett and cornettino). Its greatest period of use was from about 1550-1700, when virtuosos throughout Europe capable of producing extremely florid melodic elaborations were active. Dickey summarizes the presence of the instrument in the mid-16th century European cultural landscape: "cornetts appeared in a rich variety of ensembles and settings from cathedrals to princely chambers, from public piazzas to court chapels. Moreover, their popularity spread to every part of Europe, undoubtedly fostered by the performances of virtuosi travelling in the retinues of emperors and princes" (p. 52). It was utilized in grand public events meant to project the magnificence of their courtly patrons.  The treble cornett fell out of favor by the end of the 17th century but was resurrected in the 1950s as part of the early music movement.


This instrument has a curved body with fingerholes drilled in it (one thumbhole on its back side, six others on top operated by fingers of both hands), a conical bore, and utilizes a cup mouthpiece.  The body of this replica instrument is made of resin; traditionally, it would be constructed from two long pieces of wood glued together and covered with thin leather. Before gluing, the instrument's conical bore would be carved out of the slats. The exterior of both historic and replica instruments is planed to produce an octagonal cross section for much of its length, but close to the mouthpiece end there is more elaborate decorative faceting of the surface. A small metal mouthpiece is provided with the replica instrument, but wood, ivory, bone and horn have historically been used to construct mouthpieces.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A player places the mouthpiece against their lips, the left-hand thumb operating the thumbhole and the first three fingers of both hands operating the six fingerholes; the right thumb helps steady the instrument. The cornett angles slightly to the right, the distal end somewhat lower than the mouthpiece end. With all the holes covered the instrument produces a fundamental pitch of A3, which can be lipped down to G3. The treble cornett has a range of about two-and-one-half octaves, from G3 to about D6 or E6. It overblows at the octave, but higher register notes often use alternate cross-fingerings to produce better intonation. A chromatic scale can be produced throughout much of its range, again through the use of cross fingerings. It is a demanding instrument to play in tune, requiring of the player many minute embouchure and mouthpiece placement adjustments. The combination of a fairly thick wood (or resin) body, conical bore and small mouthpiece produces a soft, muted tone quite different from other contemporaneous cup-mouthpiece instruments such as the natural trumpet made of brass. Yet with all these acoustical and sound production challenges, a skilled player can produce fast and facile melodic passages on this instrument.


The origin of the cornett is not precisely known; instruments similar to it are seen on manuscripts dating back to the tenth century. However, it appears that the cornett took on its mature form (emulated in our replica instrument) in the latter half of the 15th century, and that musicians (often initially professional shawm and sackbut players) specializing on it started to be acknowledged during the same period. With the changing musical tastes of the 17th century, the cornett's chief rival as the supreme instrument for vocal accompaniment--the violin--gradually gained favor. By 1700 the cornett was basically obsolete.

Bibliographic Citations

Baines, Anthony C. 1984. "Cornett." NGDMI v. 1: 498-503.

Dickey, Bruce. 1997. "The cornett." In The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. eds. Trevor Herbert and John Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 51-67.

Kirk, Douglas. 1994. "Cornett," In A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music. ed. Jeffery T. Kite-Powell. New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 79-96.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.212 aerophone--end-blown chromatic labrosone with narrow conical bore and fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over cup mouthpiece at end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


24 in. length without mouthpiece 0.3 in. bore diameter at mouthpiece end 1 in. bore diameter at bell end

Primary Materials



C. W. Monk

Entry Author

Roger Vetter