The trombone is a highly venerable instrument with an ancient origin. Berlioz once said the instrument could portray everything from religious accent, calm and imposing, to wild clamours. The early instruments were used for sacred works and played parts in bands but those parts were rarely scored. The original design of the trombone came from an old English instrument called the "sackbut ". The word "sackbut" was probably derived from the French word " saquer" meaning to pull and push.
Its previous model ,the Roman "Buccin" -a bronze instrument with a powerful tone and pithy strains -beard witness to the splendour of the Roman emperors and the glory of the Legions.
In the Middle Ages the " Buccin " had become the "Buccine" or "Bouzine". Through its Germanic pronunciation this word was changed first into "Pousine" and finally into "Posaune", which is the common word nowadays. By adding a slide, the instrument was transformed into the "Sackbut" .
In all the solemn pieces of music accompanying kings and princes on their processions the trombones, joined with the trumpets, horns and timpanies extolled the honour of those dignitaries from church and state.
Henry XIII of England was proud of his sackbut players preceding him everywhere, even to the field of the Cloth of Gold, where they caused a sensation. The instrument has been used in worship for centuries. In Germany at the time of the Reformation Luther's chorales were played with trombones and trumpets from the top of the church-towers and belfries.
The addition of the trombones to the orchestra began in the 18th century, though their most popular part was a vocal support for the sacred music of the church. Beethoven's "Equale ", composed for four trombones in 1812, was performed as a "Miserere" at his funeral in 1827.
In the history of the dramatic orchestra the trombone has occupied a predominant rank in the magnificent brass chorus in which it is the solid bass as well as the mellifluous tenor. Because of its plainness in manufacture the trombonist is capable of producing sounds of a great variety and impressive sonority .The great masters of music ,such as Gluck ,Wagner and Berlioz ,favoured the trombone for its bigger volume and a greater range of emotions expressing might ,heroism , barbarism or religious fever . From that time on the instrument has flourished as an orchestral member. It might have been the impressive volume that prompted Richard Strauss to illustrate this with the words: Never look at the trombones …. It only encourages them".
It is pre-eminently the instrument to conjure up the gods of the tragedies of olden times as well as those of the Wagnerian legends. It can also be diabolical. The brilliancy of its power is that of Zeus, as it may be that of Wotan or Mephistopheles.
One can say that that the trombone has a touch of nobility.
"Musique pour Trombone" / Paris / Alphonse Leduc
Sybille Liemen, Dresden