I was listening to this recording of Berlioz symphony by the French orchestra "Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France".

After having a laugh about the clarinetist suffering from the trumpets (see 41:51), I noticed at 42:53 that all trombone players are playing on trombone without F attachment, meaning (usually) a smaller bore than most F-attachment trombone. I rarely see philharmonic orchestra with these instruments, except for older pieces of course where you could get sackbut-type instruments.

Given that Berlioz is a relatively recent composer (the trombone was well establish at this time) why would the player use these instruments ? They are usually less-round instruments, not perfectly suited for classical setting (at least that is my understanding). I'm pretty sure it is voluntary, but it's not something I can find in other recordings :

But I also found another recording by Radio France, different conductor, where they still use trombone without F-attachment.

Anyone care to enlighten me?

  • 1
    Hey, at least they weren't using valve trombones :-) . – Carl Witthoft Feb 23 at 12:49

French composers at that time were writing for smaller, tenor trombones.

Remember, too, that Franck was not writing for a bass trombone, but, as most French composers of the time, for three tenors, which makes his foray into the high range more understandable. Even Berlioz wrote rarely for bass trombone (the only example I have found is in his "Funeral and Triomphe Symphonie"). The Symphonie Fantastique was NOT composed for bass trombone, and the effect of the pedal b flats is quite different on today's .563 bore bass trombone bazooka than on the small, 6.5 inch bell, .515 bore pea-shooter that would have been used (I had two trombones owned by Rochut that he brought to the US when he joined the BSO in 1925 - I gave one to BSO principal trombonist Toby Oft in 2009 on the occasion of his getting tenure in his position with the orchestra - they are tiny, tiny, tiny. When he left for France again in 1929, he took with him a nice big Bach and left his Lefevre trombones behind.). For a taste of the sound Berlioz probably heard (let's not get too far into the "historical instrument" thing, though), listen to Norrington's recording of Fantastique with the London Classical Players. The pedals on the small tenor are frightening! ([SOURCE][1])

Toby Oft's (Boston Symphony Orchestra Principal Trombone) webpage is specific about using a smaller trombone for this piece.

Bach 36G (straight) Berlioz: Phantastique, Ravel: Bolero & Le Enfant, Jazz or Latin Pops repertoire

[1]: http://www.yeodoug.com/resources/faq/faq_text/scores.html#:~:text=The%20Symphonie%20Fantastique%20was%20NOT,small%2C%206.5%20inch%20bell%2C%20.&text=When%20he%20left%20for%20France,his%20Lefevre%20trombones%20behind.)

  • 1
    Amazing references :) For those interested, here is the recording mentioned, with the frightening pedal notes on small bore trombone (youtu.be/MTPA5Da_4gQ?t=120) You also made me discover the 1930 recording of Bolero's Ravel, with such an unusual trombone interpretation (youtu.be/M5FBiQX2p2s?t=509) Thanks! – Thomas Lesgourgues Feb 23 at 5:45
  • small follow up question, in your experience who would make the call to chose the straight tenor : the musicians or the director. My guess would be the director with the musicians giving their opinion. – Thomas Lesgourgues Feb 23 at 5:48
  • @ThomasLesgourgues Regarding the decision on which trombone to use, I genuinely don't know. It would make an interesting question on its own (but check to see if it's been asked before. I have a vague memory of seeing a similar question). Glad the answer was helpful to you. – Aaron Feb 23 at 11:21

Perhaps the clarinettist in your first clip provides a clue. Berlioz made great use of the brass. But was the required sound as heavy as would be produced by today's wide-bore instruments? The clarinettist would have been blown out of the room!

Those instruments are reasonably authentic for Berlioz's time. More interesting, perhaps, is the lack of a bass trombone. Berlioz "declares the lack of bass trombones in Paris a misfortune." Perhaps this also is authentic?


The Amsterdam Concertgebouw retained the old G bass trombone longer than some. I have a recording of Tchaikovsky 5 where the low E 6 before H in the last movement has a wonderful rasping fartiness that could only have come from such a 'peashooter'.

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