His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts is a group of virtuoso wind players who specialise in playing early music in authentic styles on original instruments. The noble sound of cornetts and sackbuts was among the most versatile instrumental colours available to composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was heard in many musical contexts: in consort or in alternation with voices in the extravagant liturgy of the great Italian and Spanish churches - above all the Basilica of St Mark's in Venice; in aristocratic entertainments such as the intermedii of northern Italy or the masques of Jacobean England; and in the ceremonial and devotional music for the courts and free cities of Lutheran Germany.
In its heyday the cornett was the undisputed king of wind instruments. Blown like a trumpet but fingered like a recorder, it is capable of both astonishing virtuosity and heart-rending vocal expression. In 1636 one writer compared its sound in a church to 'a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows'.
The sackbut is the direct forerunner of the modern trombone - indeed the Italians already called it trombone, or 'large trumpet' - but perfectly matches the vocal timbre of the cornett, thanks to its relatively narrow bore and shallow mouthpiece. Despite its slide mechanism, early composers often wrote for it in an amazingly florid manner.
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Patron: Sir John Eliot Gardiner
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts is celebrating its 25th season this year having given its debut concert in London in 1982. The group’s illustrious sounding name is taken from Matthew Locke’s “five-part tthings for His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts” that were probably played during the coronation celebrations for King Charles II in 1661.
Essentially a recital group comprising two cornetts, three sackbutts and chamber organ, HMS&C often joins with singers and string players, and is frequently asked to take part in projects with choirs: John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, the BBC Singers, and the choirs of Trinity and King’s College, Cambridge, as well as those of Westminster Abbey, St Paul's and Westminster Cathedrals, London.
Activities over the group’s twenty-five year history have been as diverse as sound and vision recordings for the BBC comedy “The Two Ronnies”, to appearances in the Salzburg Festival, St. Mark’s, Venice, and the Sydney Opera House.
Individual members of HMS&C teach at conservatoires and universities throughout the UK and the group is often invited to give masterclasses and workshops as a part of its educational activites.
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts has eighteen recordings to its credit, among them
A Bach Album which was honoured "recording of the year" in Gramophone Magazine, December 2002. 2007 saw the launch of this, the group’s own recording label sfz, the first release winning a five star maximum award from Goldberg Magazine.
Recent highlights in the group’s 25 year career have included two performances in London’s Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms. Here the group joined The Tallis Scholars and The BBC Singers in Striggio’s reconstructed Mass in 60 parts; and, for the BBC’s unique and inspired “brass day”, HM appeared on stage with the Black Dyke Mills and Grimethorpe Colliery bands. At the South Bank Festival, His Majestys joined The Kings Singers in the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a truly memorable occasion, a musical encounter which had been some five years in the planning.
Our basic ensemble consists of two cornetts and three sackbuts with chamber organ (usually also doubling on harpsichord). This core line-up expands - or, occasionally, contracts - according to the requirements of the wide range of colourful programmes that we now perform.
An A-Z for His Majestys...
His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts has played at, for, in, on or with all of the following. and many more…
Athens, BBC radio, tv & Proms, Canterbury Cathedral, Deutsche Gramophon, Edinburgh, Festspielhaus Salzburg, Granada, Hong Kong, Israel, John Eliot Gardiner, King's College Cambridge, Lufthansa Festival London, Melbourne, Nigel Rogers, Oslo, Paris to Perth, Queen's University Belfast, Roger Norrington, Sydney Opera House, Taipei, Utrecht Early Music Festival, Venice St Mark’s, Westminster Abbey, EX Cathedra, York, Zaragoza