When I started making my first cornett in 1982, I had no idea of the marvelous exploratory journey I had just begun. That first instrument has been tried out by later Willem Bremer (the first professional cornettplayer in The Netherlands). His enthusiasm for my instrument gave me the motivation to proceed building cornetts.

 

Nothing can be said with certainty about the origin of the Dutch and German word 'zink' (cornett). It is plausible that the old Germanic word 'tan' (tooth) and the old German word 'Zint' played a role. The Italian 'cornetto' (denomination which is widely used internationally) and the English term 'cornett' are more simple to trace back to the Latin word 'cornu' (horn).

 

Cornetts have been depicted on images, woodcarvings and frescoes since the beginning of the 15th century. An even earlier proof of the use of a cornett can be found in a poem of Guillaume de Machaut (around 1370), in which he writes about "le grand cornet d'Allemagne".

In a chronicle of 1454 we can read about a big celebration at the Burgundian court, where the courtorchestra was playing in a giant pie. Several musicians were to be found in the pie and one of them was playing a "Deutschen Zinken".

 

The cornett used to play an important role in Western-European musical scenes between 1500 and 1650. Cornettplayers were often held in high esteem and earned sometimes as much as the chapelmasters.

 

Michel Nonnenmacher von Ilsfeld ("ein Zinkenblasser und gueter Pfeifer") was an often seen guest at the table of Earl Ludwigen von Helfenstain in 1525. Later, during the Peasant War, Michel joined forces with the peasants and ridiculed the Nobility. The uprising peasants lost the war and the cornettplayer was captured and burned alive.

 

During the second half of the 17th century, the vilolin was mostly taking over the role of the cornett and the windinstrument disappeared more and more into the background. Nevertheless, even in the 18th century, the cornett was still occasionally used. A few cantatas composed by J. S. Bach still had specific parts for cornetts.

 

Even in the 19th century, Germany knew a tradition called 'Turmblasen' in which the cornett played a role.

 

Sources:

-Jahrbuch der Göttinger Akademie der Wissenschaften 2008.

-Basler Jahrbuch für historische Musikpraxis 1981.