C and B-flat Trumpets
The B-flat and C Trumpets are the standard trumpets seen. In bands, the B-flat Trumpet is king, whereas the C Trumpet is much more common in the orchestra. The C Trumpet is written at concert pitch, while the B-flat sounds a second lower than written. In professional circles, the choice of B-flat versus C is completely dependent on the player. If a player feels that the sound of a particular passage is better played on the C when it is written for the B-flat, then they play it upon the C. In some regards, trumpet players completely disregard a composer’s intentions when it comes to instrument choice. They have completely abandoned the old F Trumpet in favor of the smaller instruments, irrespective of the composers’ wishes for the bolder sound of the old instrument.
With all this in mind, I generally only write for the C Trumpet nowadays, unless I know I am writing for a younger ensemble (who only use B-flat instruments). This allows the players to see the notes in concert pitch and to use whatever instrument they feel appropriate. The only time I would write for a B-flat in a professional setting is if I needed a low concert E or F which the C Trumpet cannot play.
In a perfect world, the C Trumpet sounds slightly brighter and clearer than does the B-flat. This is another reason why I prefer to use the C Trumpet. When using it, and its brighter sound, we can hear a clearer distinction between the trumpet sound and the cornet or Flügelhorn sound.
So much has been written about the B-flat/C Trumpet, that I can hardly expound any further. But, what I can say is less is more. We hear a constant drone from the Trumpets in our bands. They never rest. They are never silent. They lose their power. To preserve their voice, I find it a good solution to have the Trumpets playing no more than roughly 25% of the time.
However, everything I have said concerning use is changed when we mute this trumpet. When muted, the sound of the trumpet is so changed that it becomes a completely different instrument in sound. The mute (any of the various varieties) make the trumpet much more like a woodwind. For instance, a B-flat Trumpet with a straight mute is often compared to an Oboe, while with a cup mute it is more like a clarinet, while with a harmon mute it is closer to a saxophone or English Horn.
Opening to Mahler’s 5th Symphony. (C Trumpet, rotary valve – scored for B-flat Trumpet)
Copland’s Quiet City. Even when quiet, the trumpet is loud. (C Trumpet, piston valve)
Artiunian’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (B-flat Trumpet, piston valve)