The History of the Mellophone

(As based upon the best current information - contents
may change as new info comes to light. - Greg Monks
)

This information has been revised, January 6, 2006

In 1855, Antoine (Adolphe) Sax lost a lawsuit filed by Antoine Courtois. Courtois won the right to manufacture Saxhorns, and the company that bears his name continues to do so to this very day.

The Koenig Horn

That same year, 1855, Courtois came out with an instrument that bore the name of a virtuoso cornetist and instrument builder named Herman Koenig, this instrument being called the Koenig horn. Koenig’s role is uncertain- he was a very good instrument builder in his own right, but it is also possible that the instruments were built by Courtois at a suggestion or request by Koenig, or the two men may have worked together on the instrument. For Courtois’ part, a number of both instruments and models of instruments were named for famous musicians of the day, and some of those instruments were no doubt built to accommodate the informed demands of musicians, whilst more knowledgeable musicians may have become involved in the manufacturing process.

I said in my original piece on the history of the mellophone that the original Koenig horns belonged to the Flugle family of instruments, but in studying the taxonomies of 19th century brasswinds I have discovered that this claim (made in several of the best-known reference books) is untrue. This bore-profile of this family of instruments is derived primarily from the cornet ordinaire (aka valved furst pless or post horn).

The Cornopean

I said in my original piece on the history of the mellophone that the original Koenig horns were a family of instruments, and indeed a 4-foot soprano instrument in C, played using a Horn mouthpiece, has survived, and came with crooks for Bb and A, but I have since dismissed the claim that this is a distinct instrument belonging to a discreet group of instruments that are their own entity: I am now calling that Perinet-valved C instrument a variation on the valved furst pless horn, and I am adding that there is no evidence that supports the assertion of their being a family of instruments.

The tenor F Koenig horn does retain its place as the progenitor of the instrument we know today as the mellophone, although I must restate that unlike modern versions, the original has a larger bell throat, a somewhat altered bore and taper, and employed the use of a more V-shaped mouthpiece, whereas today’s instruments employ the use of a tenor Saxhorn mouthpiece, and have a narrower bell-throat.

In my original piece on the mellophone, I stated that:

“Years later, in 1868, another virtuoso musician and long-time friend of Sax named Henry Distin sold an instrument design to Boosey & Co along with his own company, and Boosey subsequently manufactured a family of bell-up instruments under the name ballad horn.”
1870's Boosey Bass Ballad Horn

I also stated the prevailing wisdom, that the Ballad horn was originally an entire family of brasswinds that came in soprano, alto and tenor.

My research has shown that there was no such instrument as a bell-up Ballad horn at that time (although later examples in this configuration do bear the name Ballad horn), that the instruments offered as evidence from this period are in fact Ventil horns, or a family of circular, bell-up valved trombones.

Even today, many reference books claim that the mellophone is a type of Ballad horn, or is another name for the same instrument, or list it as merely being a trade-name, whilst others, like the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, tell a different tale. Arnold Myers traces the history of the mellophone back directly to the Koenig horn, and John Webb makes no mention of the mellophone in his article on the ballad horn.

What I have only recently discovered is that the Ballad horn is not as closely related to the mellophone as was once thought, and certain versions of the mellophone differ even from one another. Also- the Ballad horn is a C tenor instrument that came with a crook for playing in Bb; there was no family of instruments called Ballad horns- there was only the tenor version in C, which was called a “bass” instrument by Boosey & Co.

New information that has only recently come to light

I stated in the original piece that the ballad horn was invented in 1856, the year following the Koenig horn. I got this information from a number of sources, most notably the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I’m not sure of the source of this bit of information, but it turns out that this date is a mistake. Resources also stated that the Ballad horn went into production in 1868, when Henry Distin sold out to Boosey & Co.

There is no data to support the oft’-stated assertion that the Ballad horn popped into existence in 1868 and was patented that same year. If such a patent exists, I and others have been unable to locate it, nor does there seem to be any historical references that support such an assertion. All we do know is that the Ballad horn first appeared after 1868, after Distin sold his outfit to Boosey & Co., and it is also known that Boosey manufactured instruments under the Distin name that had no connection to Distin.

The earliest example of an instrument bearing the name Mellophone is in the possession of Arnold Myers, curator of the Edinburg Museum and head of the Brasswind Taxonomy Project. This all-important instrument is the earliest instrument on record bearing the name Mellophone and dates from 1881 at the latest! Another interesting bit of information is that this instrument is a copy of the Boosey ballad horn and was manufactured by Kohler & Son, the implication being that, since this is the first use of the term “mellophone,” then the mellophone is a copy of a copy

.

The Origins of the Various Names for
the early instruments

In my original piece I stated that the various names for mellophones and related instruments were trade-names, and this is partially true. It is also misleading.

Mellophone was the trade-name used by Kohler & Son, of their knock-off of the Distin Ballad horn. It was also asserted that these instruments, along with the original Koenig horn, belonged to the flugel or wing (flugle means “wing” or “flank”) horn.

It turns out that, not only is this assertion untrue, but that these instruments have been entirely mis-classified.

The Courtois Tenor Cor

These particular instruments are all alto/tenor versions of the valved furst pless or post horn or cornet ordinaire, invented by Halary, or Jean-Hilaire Aste as he is more properly known, in 1828. So the Koenig horn, Ballad horn and the original Mellophone are actually tenor post horns, and one could claim that the true date of invention is 1828, that the 1855 date marks the emergence of the alto/tenor version of the cornet ordinaire.

The term tenor cor is so widely used, for so many instruments, that there is the temptation to view this as a generic term for any number of brasswinds. Depending on the country, the term tenor cor is used to name the Mellophone, the Eb tenor Saxhorn, and Cerveny Eb alto tuba, which is most often referred to as an alto horn However, the term tenor cor is French, and was used by Courtois to name an early variation of a Mellophone-like instrument which is essentially a furst pless horn in tenor F, often with an extra slide for Eb.

Dotzauer Althorn

The term althorn is also so widely used today that there is the temptation to view this as a generic term that applies to any number of brasswinds, including the Eb tenor saxhorn, mellophone-like instruments, certain types of the Horn, and the Cerveny Eb alto tuba. While the German word alt does also mean old, it does not apply to this horn; alt in this context does indeed mean alto. Other composite words using "alt" are:

Altist = alto
Altistin = contralto
Altzeichen, Altschlüssel = alto clef
Altstimme = alto voice
Altklarinette = alto clarinet
Altsaxohone = alto saxophone

(Thanks to Waldemar Scholtes for bringing this information to light!)

In the instance of the althorn, having rotary keys, is pitched in Eb and comes in both right- and left-handed form.  It is suspected that this is the instrument Paul Hindemith wrote his Alto Horn Sonata for.

The Distin Altophone
Photo courtesy of
Eric Totman @ horncollector.com

The Vocal horns, made by Besson and Rudall, Carte & Rose, were a C instrument that often came with a Bb crook, and were played using a Horn mouthpiece. In bore-profile, these instruments were more Saxhorn-like. I would characterize them as being similar to the Getzen Frumpet.

Although the Antoniophone, bore the Antoine Courtois name, it seems that another company actually designed and built this instrument. In bore-profile and mouthpiece-type, this instrument, which came in both tenor and bass forms, seems closest to the original Koenig horn.

Antoniophone

The Altophones made by Henry Distin have a very large mouthpiece receiver. I have never seen one of these horns with its original mouthpiece, but I’ve often seen them played with an alto trombone mouthpiece, which fits. I play mellophone-like instruments with a larger mouthpiece than is customary, because these instruments perform well when played using a larger mouthpiece. Altophone owners unanimously agree that these horns are superior players.

The Modern "Classic" Mellophone

The Amati Mellophone

The modern “classic” mellophone remains something of an enigma. In design it is a departure from the Koenig instruments, the tenor cor instruments, and the Ballad horn instruments. It is essentially a furst pless horn with an oversized bell. The C Ballad horn, on the other hand, has a proportionate bell. That is to say, when placed side-by-side with a valved furst pless horn, one can easily see that the Ballad horn is a proportionately larger version of the furst pless horn.

The earliest examples of “classic” mellophones seem to have originated in Kraslice, in which is now the Czech Republic. In fact, the earliest example on record is currently in the Kenneth J. Fisk museum, and is named Champion Silver Piston Valves, which was the name of stencil horns manufactured for the US market. “Stencil horns” were horns made by one company that were sold under another company’s name.

At the time, Kraslice was a powerhouse of brasswind manufacture. Amati, Cerveny, and other well-known manufacturers hail from that area.

The Various Tuning Methods and Keys

The 5-Valve King Mellowphone

In the earliest days, the simplest and most obvious way to change the pitch of an instrument was to increase an instrument’s length by inserting a piece of tubing into the mouthpiece receiver. These lengths of tubing are called “shanks” (the straight variety, fitted into the mouthpiece receiver) and “crooks” (the bent variety, often referred to as “pigtail” crooks).

The second method is to switch the tuning and sometimes also the valve slides for a longer set stored in holders in the instrument’s case.

The third method, which began appearing on mellophones circa 1900, was the introduction of as many as two rotary keys which, when turned, diverted the air through longer sections of tubing.

Some mellophones employ neither system, are in one key only, and are most commonly pitched in F and E flat. Kanstul manufactures a marching mellophone bugle in G, so you will always encounter exceptions and variations.

The circa 1910 vintage York & Sons and King 5-valve models are pitched in F, E-flat, D and C. Other models, usually employing the use of crooks, before and after this same time, could play in such various keys as F, E flat, D, C, B flat, A, and G. Once again, if you dig hard and long enough, you will no doubt find variations and exceptions.

The Various Tuning Methods and Keys

In the earliest days, the simplest and most obvious way to change the pitch of an instrument was to increase an instrument’s length by inserting a piece of tubing into the mouthpiece receiver. These lengths of tubing are called “shanks” (the straight variety, fitted into the mouthpiece receiver) and “crooks” (the bent variety, often referred to as “pigtail” crooks).

The second method is to switch the tuning and sometimes also the valve slides for a longer set stored in holders in the instrument’s case.

The third method, which began appearing on mellophones circa 1900, was the introduction of as many as two rotary keys which, when turned, diverted the air through longer sections of tubing.

Some mellophones employ neither system, are in one key only, and are most commonly pitched in F and E flat. Kanstul manufactures a marching mellophone bugle in G, so you will always encounter exceptions and variations.

The circa 1910 vintage York & Sons and King 5-valve models are pitched in F, E flat, D and C. Other models, usually employing the use of crooks, before and after this same time, could play in such various keys as F, E flat, D, C, B flat, A, and G. Once again, if you dig hard and long enough, you will no doubt find variations and exceptions.

Grouping the Various Modern
Incarnations of This Instrument

This section is now rewritten and restructured

Alto/Tenor furst pless horns: this includes the Koenig horn, the Ballad horn, and the original Kohler & Son. instrument bearing the name Mellophone.
Tenor cors: these instruments, most notably the Courtois, are the French version of the althorn and are generally shorter, pitched in F, often coming with an Eb attachment. Most have Perinet valves.
Althorns/old horns/alto horns: this includes the predominantly Eb, rotary-valved (there are Perinet-valved examples, however), continental European instruments, such as those made by Cerveny, Miraphone and Dotzauer. These are a larger, bigger instrument than your average mellophone instrument. Most of your professional instruments are of this type.
“Classic” Mellophones: these are the predominantly F instruments with a bell 10" and larger. With an eye to mass-production for the US market, these horns were made using parts interchangeable with other instruments, such as the Bb trumpet, cornet, and Eb tenor Saxhorn. The more expensive the horn, the more extras it came with, those extras being shanks, crooks or rotary keys for lowering the pitch to Eb, D and C.

The Mellophone as Horn-
Substitute Myth

This researcher has for years listened to the endlessly regurgitated myth that the mellophone:
-acts as a substitute for the Horn
-is a cheap way to teach students to play the Horn
-serves to replace the Horn in brass and concert band music

In truth, where the Horn is concerned in band arrangements, quite the opposite is the case. In point of fact, the Horn has never been seen as being a desireable instrument in brass band ensembles. It simply isn’t loud enough, for one thing. For another, the Horn is a problematic instrument to carry in a marching situation. Regardless, since the beginning, the Horn has always been seen, from an orchestral standpoint, as best blending with woodwinds and strings.

Is the mellophone the least bit useful in teaching students how to play the Horn?

This question is baseless. The two instruments are unrelated.

Does the mellophone act as a substitute for the Horn in band music?

Actually, the mellophone, when it arrived upon the scene, was but one of many instruments used to play the Eb/F parts, primarily in concert band music. The thing to remember here is that, while the Horn was found primarily in orchestras and in chamber settings that often included woodwinds and/or strings, and the tenor horn was most often found in brass bands, either instrument was often found in concert bands, and this is where the myth of mellophone-as-Horn-substitute originates.

In the early days, parts for this range were scored mostly in both in E flat and F. As the physical record demonstrates, many Horns from this period were manufactured in E flat, and many instruments of this period came with a series of crooks to change the length of tubing to a number of common keys. As well, an examination of the music shows that in concert bands, music for the tenor horn gradually drops out of the picture, leaving parts that very often say things like: F horn, Eb horn (another name for the tenor horn, incidentally), F mellophone, E flat mellophone, French Horn/ Mellophone, and so on. But these parts could just as easily have been played by Antoniophones, Cornophones, Vocal horns, Ballad horns and Koenig horns, and often were.

So the very notion of “substitution” is erroneous. As far as the composer or arranger or band-director was concerned, the part was of far greater importance than the instrument playing it.

Some Remarks on the Proliferation
Of These Functional Instruments

There is a curious matter that from the beginning has left this researcher scratching his head. In light of the fact that all of these instruments played a minuscule role in nineteenth and early twentieth century music, why on earth were there so many of them, and in so many varied forms?

Since the advent of the modele anglais cornet in 1855, for example, cornettists have been content to allow this model to dominate. The same goes for most other brass instruments. Why, then, had this upper-middle brass range seen such an explosion of design for instruments whose purpose couldn’t have been more mundane? Most of these instruments are interesting only in their outward design. On the inside, it’s only the same few ideas, tried over and over and over again, ad nauseam.

First off, we have to remember that the 19th century was a period rife with manufactured gimmicks and contraptions on the one hand, and a buying public that was caught up in the mystique of novelty, a trend that lasted until the end of the 1920's. On the other hand there was a naïve innocence about those times when it came to the emerging modern technologies, and your average member of the buying public did not have the same access to information that people do today. Instrument builders and other tradesmen were often very secretive about their individual craft, just as knowledge of music performance and composition got passed along via methods that for the longest time were closely guarded secrets. So a 19th century gentleman listening to a music store proprietor singing the praises of a brand-new 1868 Boosey & Co ballad horn wouldn’t have had the least inkling of what he was really purchasing. What would have lured him in is the fact that these instruments were cheap, attractive, easy to play, and very popular.

Instrument of Controversy:
The modern corno da caccia

Thein corno da caccia

The Mellophone, though being only tenuously related to the historic corno da caccia in terms of remote ancestry, is nevertheless cousin to the modern incarnation of this instrument.

The modern valved corno da caccia, made by such instrument-builders as Thein and Friedbert Syhre, is a departure from the original spectrum of design.

The original natural instrument was a hunting/signaling horn whose name, literally translated, is horn of hunting. Its use paralleled the natural trumpet in early classical music, and in terms of technique was deemed easier to play, and with greater facility. It was featured prominently by J. S. Bach, and by the early 18th century was a dominant instrument.

Lorenz Natural Horn

Unlike the modern Horn, which is the natural instrument in its original form and length with valves added, the modern corno da caccia is a half-length instrument, and as such is considered by many experts to be in reality a furst pless horn (post horn or cornet ordinaire).

“Half-length instruments” are brasswinds whose lengths were shortened when valves were added. The addition of valves meant that less tubing was required for obtaining the notes. Natural (hole-less, valve-less, key-less) instruments are of greater length in order to bring the partials (harmonics) close enough together for scales to be played.

Guttler corno da caccia

In defence of the modern cornos da caccia, their half-length design can be seen as the natural evolution of the instrument. The problem, however, is that halving the instrument, to all intents and purposes, turns it into a variation of the furst pless horn.

The only way to avoid this duplication would have been to do as was done with the Horn, which would mean adding valves to the existing natural instrument at its original length.

In any event, because of the manner of their construction, the modern cornos da caccia have become close cousins of the Mellophone (not the “classic” but the original Kohler & Son instrument which was a copy of the Distin Ballad horn) which is essentially a tenor version of the same instrument.

A List of Mellophone Manufacturers

Accord, Amati, American Student, Antoine Courtois, Bach, Blessing, Boosey & Co, Boosey & Hawkes, Bryant & Newell, Cerveny, Champion Silver Piston Valves, Concertone, Conn, Coutierre (J. W. Pepper), Distin, Dynasty, Elkhart, Fidelity, Getzen, H. N. White, Hatbox, Holton (Frank), Huttl, J. W. Pepper, Jupiter, Kanstul, Kenny, King, Kohler & Son, Lyon & Healy, Miraphone, Olds, Oxford, Raison Brass, Reynolds, The Players Co., Thibouville-Lamey, Weltklang, William Frank, Winston, Yamaha, and York & Sons.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to express his heartfelt thanks to Alan David Perkins for posting this information, and for being so patient with my many shortcomings as an amateur researcher. I would also like to mention the awesome work of Arnold Myers, curator of the Edinburgh University Museum, whose definitive remarks on the mellophone appear in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

I would also like to thank Stéphane Gaudet, whose grandfather Emmanuel purchased Courtois in 1911; Mike Gudbaur, the advertising manager at Leblanc for putting me in touch with M. Gaudet; David Neil, who put me in touch with Bruno Kampmann, president of the French Instrument Collector society called Larigot; Rick Schwartz of the Cornet Compendium; Joel Bristor of Joel Bristor Music fame, and Niles Eldridge, paleontologist extraordinaire and knowledgeable collector of musical instruments.