Super Slides: Trombones with Extension Handles Throughout History

Trombones with Extension Handles, 1500-1900

Before bass trombones had valves to access extra tubing for lower notes, players were forced to use extra-long slides if they wanted to extend the lower register. These slides were long enough that extension handles had to be attached, enabling players to reach lower positions than would otherwise be physically possible. For an extreme example, see here. Below are numerous artistic portrayals of such trombones from the 16th century through the 19th century in locations including Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Russia, England, and the United States.

For additional historical context and full citation of sources, see the Trombone History Timeline.


c. 1520—Nuremberg, Germany: A mural attributed to Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer depicts 2 trombonists as members of the town wind band playing from a balcony. The trombonist in the front appears to have an extension handle on his slide (see detail and full image below; public domain) (Hindley, 113; Lang, Pictorial History 17).

c. 1575—Munich, Germany: A contemporary painting of the Munich court by Hans Mielich depicts Orlando Lassus, seated at the keyboard, with his ensemble of musicians around him, including trombone, cornett, woodwinds, and strings. The trombonist appears to have a slide extension handle (see detail and full image below; public domain) (Landon 20).

1620—Germany: Woodcuts of the various members of the trombone family appear in Michael Praetorius’s Sciagraphia , a collection of illustrations appended to Syntagma musicum (Treatise of Music). The trombones pictured include alt or discant posaun (comparable to modern alto), gemeine posaun (comparable to modern tenor), quart- or quint-posaun (bass trombones, fourth and fifth below tenor), and octav posaun (contrabass, an octave below tenor) (see below image; public domain) (Praetorius II, plate 8).

1620—Germany: Also included, on a separate plate of Praetorius’s Sciagraphia, is a highly-decorated bass trombone with slide extension handle similar to an extant trombone by Johann Isaac Ehe (Nuremberg, 1612) (see below image; public domain) (Praetorius II, plate 6; Naylor 196).

1625—Stadthagen, Germany: A painting by Anton Boten in the dome of the mausoleum at St. Martinikirche includes an angel playing a large trombone that has an extension handle (see below; public domain).

c. 1635—Copenhagen, Denmark: A ceiling painting in the Rosenburg Castle depicts musicians of the court of Christian IV of Denmark (1577-1648), including 3 trombonists. The trombonist on the far right appears to have a slide extension handle (see detail and full image below; public domain) (Hindley plate 17).

1697-1703—Görlitz, Germany: Eugenio Casparini’s famous organ in the church of St. Peter und Paul features decorative sculptures of angels sitting atop the pipe structure. Each angel holds 2 instruments; 2 of the angels, sitting on opposite outside edges of the structure, hold trombones while playing trumpets. At least one of the trombones has a slide extension handle (see below detail; public domain) (Sonnaillon 92).

1780—Berlin, Germany: Polish-German artist Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, famous for his miniatures and etchings, depicts trombone among a number of other musical instruments. The scale of the individual instruments appears to be off, as the trombone (which includes a slide-extension handle) is barely larger than the trumpet pictured next to it (see below image; public domain).

Early 1800s—Prague, Czech Republic: A slide position chart showing a bass trombone in F with slide extension handle is published (see below image; public domain).

1827—London: A political cartoon by John Doyle entitled The Tory Band includes a trombonist in military uniform playing an instrument with an extension handle (see below image; public domain).

1843—Russia: A lithograph by Rudolf Joukowsky titled Kosakentanz depicts a lively “Cossack Dance.” The orchestra providing the music includes what appears to be a trombone with a slide extension handle (see below detail; public domain) (Berlin, Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte; Salmen, Tanz im 19 75).

1860—England: An early photograph of the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn brass band shows 2 trombonists among an ensemble of primarily brass instruments. The trombone on the right has a slide extension handle (see facing image) (Baines, Brass pl. XIV). See also c. 1870, below.

1896—Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A painting by Alice Barber Stephens depicts the Bethlehem Moravian trombone choir at an Easter Dawn service. A bass trombone with extension handle is clearly shown in the front row. The tower of the Central Moravian Church, from which the trombone choir frequently performs, can be seen in the background (see below image; public domain) (Sweitzer 8).

1899—Leipzig, Germany: A catalog of brass instruments for the firm of Julius Heinrich Zimmermann shows a fairly diverse offering trombones, including alto, tenor, and bass trombones in both valve and slide models. Two of the trombones have slide extension handles (see below image; public domain) (Moeck 106).

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