Clareta (Renaissance Trumpet)

The Renaissance was a time of drastic change in the fundamental inter-workings of the trumpet.  The evolution of the trumpet had diverged into two main groups: horns made of metal and horns made of wood using finger holes.  The metal trumpet (specifically the clareta, or natural trumpet) will be of primary focus here.

The clareta was inspired by its predecessor, the Medieval trumpet.  Keeping a Medieval concept of metal composition, the clareta’s sound was improved by increased precision of metal workmanship and its metal alloy composition.  Using new capabilities to curve hollowed metal without altering the inner shape of its bore, air produced by the clareta performer was able to flow freely through the instrument’s chamber without obstruction.  This advancement produced a clearer sonority and the ability for the performer to obtain the upper harmonics because of the more resonant fundamental pitch.  During this period, the common range of the metal Renaissance trumpet was C below middle C to G’’.  Clareta performers were known for their incredible virtuoso playing in the upper extensions by performing up to an F’’’ (Munrow).

Understanding the usefulness of the brass flare at the end of the instrument, Renaissance trumpet makers, such as Neuschel of Nuremburg, created a smaller, although more efficient flare at the end of the trumpet.  This thickened flare continued to improve upon the brightness and articulate sound of the Renaissance trumpet (ASW).  With its tightly wound, S-shaped tubing, air was expelled faster because of the “exponential” (Monrow) curvature.  Common metal, such as silver and brass, also became determinants in the brightness and clarity of sound.

Continuing to be used for ceremonial fanfare, the clareta was also utilized in civic life.  The instrument became more common in weddings, public courts and by composers.  Monteverdi’s Toccata in Orfeo (1607) calls for a “clarino” which was a high pitched trumpet that was built in the key of D.  With the use of Renaissance mutes, the dynamic range was decreased and the sound was brought down a whole step to the key of C.

With the usefulness of the upper harmonic pitches, the clareta became an instrument useful for polyphonic performance.  As exemplified by Girolamo Fantini’s Modo per Imparare a sonare di tromba (1638), exercise books were written to develop the Renaissance trumpet player’s technique.  The Renaissance trumpet had become an instrument that was on the rise to its great virtuoso usage as documented in the Baroque period.





ASW Guide to Historical Brass Instruments.  Renaissance Brass Instruments.  February 2, 2000.  <>

Munrow, David.  Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  London: Oxford UP, 1976.

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