For a school assignment, I am playing part of Beethoven's 5th Symphony on keyboards. While analyzing the piece, I'm confused by the trumpet part. In the score I am using, it is written as 'Trombe in C', which I interpret as a C trumpet. However, the key signature of the trumpet seems to indicate that it's really an E flat trumpet.
What am I missing here? I doubt this is unintentional, especially since reading it like a non-transposed instrument does seem to be correct.

First system and measure of Beethoven's 5th Symphony


3 Answers 3


Back in Beethoven’s day, trumpets and horns were not in fact chromatic, which is also the reason why scores call for trumpets in different transpositions. It was possible to play horns chromatically by stopping them, less so with trumpets. This led to a convention of writing in the transposing pitch with no key signature, so each note that has to be played differently (due to not being a natural note of the instrument) is marked by an accidental.

So the Trumpet is in C, but it gets notated without a key signature.

  • 2
    This is the correct answer. Fun fact: for most orchestral repertoire (until mid-20th century at least), the horn part never has any key signature, even though it's chromatic and written in F since midway through the 19th century.
    – Oliphaunt
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 19:47
  • 1
    That's interesting. I suppose the key signature becomes irrelevant at that point. Thanks for explaining!
    – Connor
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 23:14
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    @Connor It is not exactly irrelevant, but the accidentals do hold important information about how you need to play the note which is very important here, so you want to have all accidentals that deviate from the natural key of the instrument.
    – Lazy
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 16:58
  • I note that film scores also do this. I always found it weird they don't include both: use the key signature to orient you to the key, but then also use accidentals because they're so important.
    – trlkly
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 15:10

Looks like C trumpets to me. In the second bar of this snippet, the trumpets are playing in unison with the timpani, where the timpani are notated at concert pitch.

You have a transposing score, so the conductor sees the same part that each performer sees, with the same key signature.

Lots of Beethoven has trumpets playing tonic/dominant parts, because the instruments weren't chromatic at that point in their development.

Good luck with your performance project!

The second page of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, showing the entry of for the horns in E-flat, trumpets in C, and timpani C & G.  These instruments have no key signature.  The trumpets play tonic and dominant notes only.


Trumpets, horns and timpani were (and still are, despite today's fully chromatic instruments) traditionally written without key signature.

(And don't forget we're in C minor, not E♭ major!)

  • 1
    Wait, "still are"? I commonly see trumpet and French horn parts in concert band music with key signatures (e.g. shadowrituals.com/pdf/shadow-rituals-score.pdf)!
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 17:43
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    @Dekkadeci: The sense I got from the answers to this question was that key signatures are standard on trumpet parts for concert band and brass band, and that orchestral trumpet parts sometimes have key signatures these days but the traditionalists still frown on it. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 20:39
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    @MichaelSeifert: I wouldn’t quite say traditionalists “frown on it”. In my experience (amateur born player), it’s context-dependent. In modern repertoire, horn parts are usually written with a key signature. Where the “no key signature” is still usually followed is in modern editions of classical repertoire.
    – PLL
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 23:01

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