The Most Dangerous Profession That is Trumpet Playing!

26/6/2010 For some years now, I have been aware of a most curious tradition in Poland. In the City Of Krakow at the top of St Mary’s Cathedral a fanfare is played on the Trumpet each hour. It is repeated four times. This tradition has been going on for hundreds of years. ‘What’s interesting about that?’ I imagine you are asking.

Short video of Henjal Fanfare

The Hejnal fanfare is never played to completion but ends abruptly. Legend has it that during one of the Mongol invasions of Poland, Tatar warriors approached the city. A guard on the Mariacki church tower sounded the alarm by playing The Hejnal fanfare, and the city gates were closed before the Tatars could take the city by surprise. Unfortunately, the Bugler was shot in the throat with an arrow and did not complete the tune. Therefore, as a tribute to the bravery and subsequent demise of the trumpeter, the fanfare is cut short in his honour. It is played four times to correspond to the four directions of the gates of Wroclaw which were torn down in the nineteenth century.

Longer video: Polish Docu of the Henjal Fanfare

During times past, the profession of trumpeter was held in great esteem. In the Renaissance, Philip the Second, of Spain and Holland, paid his Trumpeter the same as his Admiral of the Fleet. There are many accounts and depictions of military Trumpeters meeting their end prematurely. The danger and the importance of signal playing attracted high fees.

The Rout of San Romano with Battle Trumpets: Paolo Uccelo

Trumpeters sought to protect their art and their profession by forming exclusive Guilds. Many Guilds were formed by Royal Charter, restricting others from encroaching and eroding the Trumpeter’s living. One could not even take up the trumpet in many cities without serving an apprenticeship. Court Trumpeters and Tower Trumpeters were differentiated in law and woe betide anyone who crossed the line of demarcation. In one account, the Court Trumpeters of Hamburg broke into the house of the Tower Watch Trumpeter, whilst he was practising and smashed his trumpet. They stood accused of mishandling  him very badly and forcibly removing his teeth to prevent him from playing. In the resulting court case, the Court Trumpeters were found not guilty, as they were adjudged to be merely protecting their interests. Quite right too!

Angels Trumpets and the Archangel Michael: Michaelangelo

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be chang’d, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be chang’d. G.F. Handel: The Messiah

“The Trumpet Shall Sound” Played by Crispian Steele-Perkins

The Trumpet has often been portrayed in mythology as being employed for awesome purposes. The ruin of the Walls of Jericho are of course but one example. The Seven Trumpets of the Apocalypse are another. In the above depiction from The Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo shows the dead being awakened by Angels Trumpets and The Archangel Michael reads from The Book of Souls to be saved. The book on the right contains a list of The Damned, destined for Hell. Actually, the Archangel Gabriel is traditionally the choice of Patron Saint for Trumpeters.


About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
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4 Responses to The Most Dangerous Profession That is Trumpet Playing!

  1. linda says:

    wow…had no idea!!

  2. Brilliant post Brendan, many thanks.

  3. Pingback: Battle Scene – Philips Wouwerman 1649 | Brendan Ball's Blog

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