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This instrument is not to be confused with the modern brass "cornet" which is a small trumpet. The history of the earlier cornett stretches right back to the 10th Century, when it is first mentioned in English writings. It was very popular in Elizabethan times, with references to it in some of Shakespeare's stage directions. The cornett is a wooden instrument with a distinctive slightly curved shape. Unusually, it is made in two separate halves which are then glued together and covered with leather.

Picture of the wooden, leather covered cornett

Cornett Sound Clips


play clip size: 98 kb


play clip size: 95 kb

Large printable image of the cornett - 1

Large printable image of the cornett - 2

 Picture of the unusually shaped 16th century serpent - a large version of the cornett It has a mouthpiece similar to a modern brass instrument and is played in the same way, though some precision is required to sound the notes accurately. It was considered in the 17th century to be the only instrument to have the same expressive qualities as the human voice, and Bach used it in some of his cantatas. The unusually shaped 16th Century "serpent" was a larger version of the cornett which remained in use in orchestras right up to the 1930s.

Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000