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His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts (Wind Instruments Ensenmble)

Founded: 1982 - England

The original incarnation of His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts was founded in 1516, and for almost three centuries was the jewel in the crown of the English royal musical establishment. The noble sound of cornetts and sackbuts was among the most versatile instrumental colours available to composers of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was heard in many musical contexts: in consort or in alternation with voices in the extravagant liturgy of the great Italian and Spanish churches - above all the Basilica of St Mark's in Venice; in aristocratic entertainments such as the intermedii of northern Italy or the masques of Jacobean England; and in the ceremonial and devotional music for the courts and free cities of Lutheran Germany.

In its heyday the cornett was the undisputed king of wind instruments. Blown like a trumpet but fingered like a recorder, it is capable of both astonishing virtuosity and heart-rending vocal expression. In 1636 one writer compared its sound in a church to 'a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows'. The sackbut is the direct forerunner of the modern trombone - indeed the Italians already called it trombone, or 'large trumpet' - but perfectly matches the vocal timbre of the cornett, thanks to its relatively narrow bore and shallow mouthpiece. Despite its slide mechanism, early composers often wrote for it in an amazingly florid manner.

The modern reincarnation of His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts (= HMS&C, HMSC) is a group of virtuoso wind players who specialise in playing early music (especially of the 16th and 17th centuries) in authentic styles on original instruments. It was founded in 1982 and was initially directed by Timothy Roberts. HMSC quickly established itself as the leading ensemble of its kind. The group was immediately in demand with festivals and concert societies throughout the British Isles and in continental Europe, subsequently toured Australia and South-East Asia and to date has performed in more than a dozen European countries. They have collaborated with singers such as Emma Kirkby, Catherine Bott, and Charles Daniels, and numerous period instrument conductors, including Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner. The ensemble has been featured at many prestigious music festivals, such as those at Salzburg, Utrecht, and Edinburgh.

The core of the ensemble consists of two cornetts and four sackbuts accompanied by a harpsichord or chamber organ, but the group regularly expands when the repertoire demands. It was for this illustrious ensemble that composers such as Matthew Locke supplied numerous works. The core of HMSC consists of: Jeremy West (cornett), James Savan (cornett), Adam Woolf (baroque trombone & co-director) , Abigail Newman (alto & tenor sackbut), Stephen Saunders (euphonium, tuba and bass trombone), Gary Cooper (keyboards & co-director). HMSC currently offers: chamber recitals involving the core ensemble players; programmes in collaboration with singers; larger instrumental shows with HMSC's "expanded family" of specialist wind, string and percussion players; mixed vocal/instrumental programmes with a newly formed vocal group, His Majestys Consort of Voices, directed by HMSC's keyboard player Gary Cooper; coaching and tuition or original and modern instruments.

HMSC has appeared on television and video, has broadcast live on radio, and has 15 recordings to its credit. Some of the superb pieces written for this famous ensemble - including Matthew Locke's celebrated music "For His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts" - can be heard in HMSC's concert and CD programme of the same name. The group this year (2006) is launching their own record label - sfz, and we will be issuing two of their own discs early in 2007.

Since 1995, His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts has been an ensemble-in-residence at the Royal College of Music, London.

Source: All Music Guide Website (Author: Robert Adelson); His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (January 2003, November 2006)

Timothy Roberts: Short Biography | His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts | Recordings of Vocal Works | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Individual Recordings:
A bach Album - Timothy Roberts & HMS&C

Links to other Sites

His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts (Official Website)


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