3. The Christ Church Cornetts

A straightforward performance of the extrapolated lines of the organ score of Loosemore’s Verse presents problems of range and tessitura in the instruments that have prevented this piece receiving any attention from players of historical instruments until now. The main hurdle is that the ostensible ‘cornett part’ (Loosemore’s second line down according to the title of his piece) is consistently, and occasionally unplayably low. I began unpicking this issue during practice-led research using my second artefact, modern reconstructions of the Christ Church cornetts, historical examples of the type of instrument on which this piece may have originally been played.1 The Christ Church instruments are two of only three surviving cornetts whose English provenance can be stated with any degree of certainty, having been purchased, according to the plaque on the case in which they are kept, for the visit of James I to Christ Church Cathedral on 27th August 1605. Both instruments have ornate silver ferrules bearing the college crest at the mouthpiece end (see the image on page 1). These serve a decorative function, and also lower the pitch of the instruments, possibly in response to a discrepancy between the organ and cornett pitches when they were first made. According to Jamie Savan, the Christ Church instruments are pitched at a'=448–452 without their silver ferrules, the addition of which bring them down in pitch to around a'=440.2 In Figure 1, I have drawn on the work of Bruce Haynes to visualise how both incarnations of these instruments (with and without their ferrules) interact with a selection of known organ pitches from seventeenth-century England.3 This shows how, as Haynes and Savan suggest,4 upwards transposition by a tone in the cornetts would have been one way of reconciling the cornett and organ pitches where organs are pitched especially high (for example, the King’s College, Cambridge, Christ Church, Oxford and Canterbury Cathedral organs clustered around Q+1 on the diagram).


Informed by the respective pitches of the Christ Church cornetts and the King’s College organ, this is how I initially proposed we approach the Loosemore Verse during practice-led research, extrapolating instrumental lines from the organ score and allocating them to the instruments in the order Loosemore lists them in the title of his piece, using instruments a tone lower than the organ. On this occasion, cornetts were used on the both the treble parts due to the absence of a violinist at the workshop, but the interchangeability of cornett and violin during this period in terms of range and technical demands of the repertoire makes this a workable compromise. In order to maintain a one-tone separation of the instruments, the cornettists played instruments pitched at a'=415 (our Q-1) to match the a'=465 organ (our Q+1). With the wind instrumentalists using one-tone-up transposition from the original notated key of the organ part, the instrumental parts arrive at a more idiomatic sharp key that avoids awkward cross-fingerings, also lifting the tessitura of the second line (nominally the cornett part, if Loosemore’s ordering of the instruments in his title is accurate) into a range suitable, if a little low, for a cornett. This is the scenario I set out to test, to establish whether it would make a satisfactory, or indeed playable performance practice solution to Loosemore’s piece.


Figure 1: Pitches of seventeenth-century English organs in relation to Quire-pitch and Italian-pitch transposition grids (after Haynes).