My casual understanding is that mutes began to be invented and developed amongst jazz musicians looking to create unique sounds. Certainly I've encountered mutes primarily in jazz playing and also in contemporary classical music. I've never encountered a call for muting in pre-20th-century music.

But this is a casual understanding.

When did mutes first begin to appear in trumpet/cornet music?

  • 1
    Hm, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mute_(music)#Brass cites a claim for 1511, and apparently it's called for in Monteverdi's Orfeo... Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 19:50
  • 1
    Oo, and historicbrass.org/edocman/hbj-1990/… looks useful. NB the Mersenne quote and illustration; clearly by 1635 there were objects created specifically as trumpet mutes (as opposed to just cramming something in the bell). Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 20:05
  • @AndyBonner "NB" ... the clearest possible indication of a graduate degree. :-) BTW, still looking forward to the possibility of your answer to the Stradivarius question.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 20:07
  • Lol, I was using it much earlier, as the child of a couple of English majors. And yes, thanks for the reminder. (This one's got me wanting to refresh my knowledge of the similar origins of violin mute use. Somebody, I forget who—maybe Tartini?—talks about affixing a heavy key to the bridge. (Though there was definitely use long before Tartini)) Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 20:20
  • @AndyBonner Yeah, sometimes I ask questions here less because I need the answer — like this one, I could look up the answer on my own — but because it seems like a good thing to have recorded on this site.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


This source says

The Toccata from Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo (1607) is the first appearance of the trumpet in an orchestral score and the "Clarino con tre trombe sordine" called for indicates that the trumpets were all muted. The Toccata is preceded by the instructions “E si fa un tuono piú alto volendo sonar Ie Trombe con Ie Sordine”, a warning that the trumpets will be using mutes and that the pitch will thus be a whole tone higher. The earliest mutes had the effect of shortening the overall length of the trumpet by completely closing the trumpet bell at the point of contact, with the sound going through a hole in the center of the mute. These mutes raised the pitch by a half or whole tone depending on the size of the bell. At some point, probably around the time of Mozart’s Idomineo (1790), mutes that didn’t change the pitch were invented or discovered. Since then the ideal is a mute that doesn’t disturb the orchestral fabric by being too sharp or flat. Most modern mutes fulfill this ideal.

Wikipedia and other sources suggests the first Harmon-style mute showed up mid-19th century. There are a variety of tidbits in this article about the development of mutes and first uses by composers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.