Thomas Stevens

Mea Culpa: Joseph-Jean-Baptiste-Laurent Arban (1825-1889)

  • For Trumpeters Only

For the Record: A correction of a decades old Arban story.

For decades, an anecdotal story about Arban has been circulated in certain quarters of the trumpet world, an anecdotal account that has been repeated not only by this writer but one that has been told and retold by more than one leading trumpet artist/teachers.

The story of record was that following Arban’s graduation from the Paris Conservatory, he wrote a letter to the institution’s director, Camille St.-Saens, stating that he had become a great cornetist despite the mediocre trumpet instruction he had received at the school (from Dauverné-of all persons!). Arban further suggested that St.-Saens should dismiss the trumpet professor and appoint Arban as the school’s cornet professor and, further, eliminate trumpet studies altogether from the school’s curriculum (Arban always believed the trumpet had no future and should be relegated to antiquity).

Recently, while doing some research on St. Saens for a publishing project, an interesting item captured my attention: Camille St. Saens graduated from the Paris Conservatory in 1850. Since J.B. Arban had graduated in 1845, five years earlier, the obvious conclusion would be that the age-old story could not possibly be factual. Furthermore, there is no record of St. Saens ever having been the director of the Conservatory.

I contacted my longtime friend, the publisher Jean-Pierre Mathez, who has written a definitive book (currently available only in French) on Arban for clarification regarding this issue. An excerpt from his response is reprinted here, as follows:

Arban studied trumpet with Dauverné and obtained a 2nd prize at the conservatoire in 1844 and the final first prize in 1845 (just a few years before St. Saens…). He switched quickly to cornet and became famous with that instrument. He started teaching at the Ecole militaire, then indeed he made pressure on Auber (Director) to open a cornet class, next to the trumpet class (his argument - there is a clear letter from him about this addressed to the director Daniel-François-ESprit Auber (1782-1871 and Director from 1842-1871) dated November 2nd 1868 - was that the cornet had more future than the trumpet).

This letter, very interesting speaks about the « decadence » of the trumpet …)

Auber suggested then a compromise, opening a new class for cornet, but keeping the traditional trumpet class (Dauverné).

And this compromise lasted until the beginning of the 20th c., when the class was reunified, including the mastering of both instruments.

So, as per the qualifying language on some TV crime shows, the story narrative was basically true, but the names had been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty-ed.).