Legendary Trumpet Story – The great David Mason

I studied trumpet with the great orchestral first trumpet David Mason. Our time together, as student and teacher came to almost six years. Many will have heard his legendary playing on The Beatles track Penny Lane.

Paul McCartney was stuck for a suitable countermelody for Penny Lane when he saw David playing J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 on television. Eureka! The sound of the piccolo trumpet was exactly what he was looking for…


Video Documentary Of David Mason & Penny Lane 

David recorded all those symphonies etc, three separate commercial issues of ‘Brandenburg Two’ and  played the solo flugel horn part of Vaughan Williams’ ninth symphony  at the premiere under Malcolm Sargent. David played for Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. He had been or played Principal Trumpet with every London Orchestra. He had forgotten more than I’ll ever know.

David Mason – Wikipedia

David was a man who liked things to be right and wasn’t averse to making a fuss when he wasn’t happy. I think it is a first trumpet thing! …and I don’t just mean about trumpet playing – I mean a fuss about everything…

Earlier today, the eminent musicologist & trombone player, Peter Bassano related a very funny memory about Sir John Barbirolli which also included David Mason. I feel sure he won’t mind me passing it on to you…


“… I regard it as a stroke of good fortune as a young trombonist newly launched into the music profession to have been lucky enough to catch the last year or so of the conducting career of the unique Sir John Barbirolli. Barbirolli and I both shared Venetian ancestry, but I was unaware of that when I first worked with him. An entertaining incident, typical of Barbirolli’s ability to use his considerable charm and wit to defuse a tricky situation arose at a rehearsal of Mahler’s 1st Symphony at the Fairfield Hall which the Philharmonia had planned in advance of it’s Expo 70 tour to Japan.
Barbirolli’s intuitive approach to Mahler was revelatory – a genuine 3-in-a-bar Landler feel to the 2nd movement, for example – but he insisted on unswerving faithfulness to Mahler’s instructions, one of which is that the horns and extra brass should stand to play at the coda of the finale. Unfortunately this meant that David Mason, the principal trumpet, who wasn’t required to stand by either the composer or the conductor couldn’t see Sir John. David started to make something of a fuss about this. Barbirolli as an ex-orchestral player spotted trouble and immediately decided to plow his way through the viola section patting David on the knee and simultaneously lit a cigarette. “Good to see you, David. What’s the trouble?” asked Sir John in his throaty London accent. “Well it’s those horns, when they stand up I can’t see you, how can I be expected to play?” responded David. “You remember when I played the ‘cello”, “Of course, I do, but what’s that got to do with it?”| (remember this was at the time when orchestral musicians – many of them ex-servicemen – weren’t cowed by the power of a conductor) “Well” continued Barbirolli “One Saturday afternoon I had to dep at the Lyceum Ballroom and there was a number in the pad which had chord sequences written, so I said to the conductor “hey gov, what do I do here?” to which he replied bugger about in B flat”. “I’ll tell you what David, when those horns stand up, bugger about in D major and we’ll be alright!” Two weeks later Sir John was dead, his place on the tour to Japan taken by John Pritchard and Ted Downes.” Peter Bassano


David Mason Obituary -Guardian

David Mason Obituary – The Telegraph

David Mason Obituary – Los Angeles Times

David Mason Obituary – Gibson.com

David Mason Obituary_ Spinner

David Mason Obituary – BrassMusicianOnLine

When I look back, on my time with David, I remember such happy times. He taught me EVERYTHING I know. His mantra was ‘turn up on time: know the music: play in time & in tune: and try to generally fit in with what is going on around you.’ His sense of humour was also very sharp. I remember putting on my coat at the end of my lesson at the Royal College of Music, for the very last time. He put his hand on my shoulder, as if to impart one last pearl of wisdom… perhaps, at last he was going to tell me the secret of greatness on the trumpet. “… Remember, my boy, marriage is a vastly over rated passtime. Keep taking the pills…”

Rest in peace old man…

Link to discussion site on Penny Lane

About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
This entry was posted in The Trumpet o-iii<O and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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