Handel - Dettingen Te Deum & Bach - Magnificat - Cadogan Hall

Goldsmiths Choral Union and the orchestra, 'Musicians of London' performed Handel's 'Dettingen Te Deum', Handel's 'Te Deum in A' and Bach's 'Magnificat' at Cadogan Hall in London on Wednesday 5th of April 2017.

Brian Wright conducted the choir, orchestra and their excellent group of soloists: Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano), Ruth Provost (soprano), Benjamin Williamson (countertenor), Peter Harris (tenor) and Nicholas Mogg (bass).

Handel's 'Dettingen Te Deum' is one of the most excellent cornerstones of the natural trumpet repertoire, combining significant principale and sublime clarino writing and showing a clear symbolism between instrumentation and vocal text. The fanfares signify military victory, specifically against the French forces in the battle at Dettingen-am-Main in 1743, within the 1740-1748 War of the Austrian Succession. [Incidentally this was the last battle in which a British monarch personally led the troops]. The ‘Dettingen Te Deum' by Handel was composed in just 13 days between 17th and 29th of July 1743 and it was premiered on 27th of November 1743 at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace in the presence of the King.

In addition to the prominent role of the trumpet section in the ‘Dettingen Te Deum’, there are also several solo and duet trumpet moments, most significantly the bass and solo trumpet duet that begins the chorus 'Thou art the King of Glory'. There is another trumpet solo at the opening of the movement ‘Day by day we magnify Thee’. Two trumpets begin 'To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry' and there is another (totally unaccompanied) trumpet duet after the words 'We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge’. This fanfare figure is symbolic as it was played as a judge entered a British courtroom. It is the same as the fanfare from the opening of 'The Trumpet Shall Sound' in Handel's 'Messiah’.

This was the first occasion on which I have professionally asked for a 'bumper'. For those who aren't accustomed to the terminology, a bumper is an extra player in the section used to allow other players a vital break at convenient and helpful moments. It is only now, in writing and reading the word that I realise how unusual the term is. It is only really used within the brass-playing world.

The ‘Dettingen Te Deum’ is a physically demanding piece for any first trumpet player and given the rest of the programme it was definitely a good idea to have a bumper in the section. There were even occasions where the bumper was usefully available to give the 2nd trumpet a brief moment of respite in some of the more demanding movements - particularly those sections with exposed interjections and then sustained trumpet sounds over the chorus.

Being a bumper is a vital and often tricky task - sometimes you have to wait a long time before coming in (cold) and seamlessly integrating into the section. It is a real skill in itself. When I played as a bumper with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, back in November/December 2014, I wrote:

“Being a bumper is a specialised skill - and a very different skill to the usual job of playing first trumpet. The task of bumping really depends on who you are bumping.”

Therefore, selecting a player to be a bumper is not an entirely straightforward decision. It must be an experienced and consistent player, who must expect the unknown. The first trumpet player may ask the bumper to play only one note, or conversely only play one note themselves - and anything in-between. The bumper must be understanding and serve the needs of the ‘original’ section. I was very fortunate to have David Clewlow 'bumping' on this occasion, and he did a great job for us. I was thankful that I had been allowed a bumper trumpet player in the section. The ‘Dettingen Te Deum’ alone is no 'walk in the park', but with the inclusion of Bach’s 'Magnificat' in the second half of the concert I felt that the bumper would be vital. It certainly was very useful and made the whole experience a lot more comfortable.

I was delighted to be able to invite David Clewlow to play alongside the rest of this trumpet section, as I had persuaded him to keep his Tomes trumpet (around the time of the 'Guts & Glory' project). For this performance, all of the trumpet players were playing on trumpets made by Frank Tomes or his instrument-making successor, David Staff.

Russell Gilmour - 1st trumpet
Nick Wright - 2nd trumpet
Will Russell - 3rd trumpet
David Clewlow - bumper
Rosemary Toll - timpani

After the concert I met up with Sue Tomes, the widow of Frank Tomes, who had been in the audience. She was delighted to hear Frank's instruments being played and she commented that hearing the instruments "keeps Frank alive" - a lovely thing for her to say, and it is a lovely thing for us to be able to do.

It was also fantastic to play with fellow Royal Northern College of Music alumni Nick Wright and Rosemary Toll - I played in a section with them in my first ever performance on the natural trumpet at the RNCM in 2007.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.