From Academic Kids

The Sackbut (var. Sacbutt; Sackbutt), a brass instrument found in the Renaissance and Baroque, is an ancestor of the modern trombone. The name is derived from the Middle French sacquer and bouter ("push" and "pull") and the term survives in numerous English spelling variations including sacbut, sagbut, shagbolt and shakbusshe. In France, the instrument was called sacqueboute;in Germany, posaune, and in Italy, trombone. The term sackbut is used to differentiate the historic instrument from its modern counterpart. Increasing interest in authentic performance in recent years has brought many trombonists to the sackbut.



The sackbut derived from the medieval slide trumpet. It originated in the Middle Ages, a closer to exact date would be around 1480. It evolved into what we know today as the 'Trombone', but is often described as having a more mellow tone. It was employed mainly in alto, tenor and bass sizes. It was one of the most important instruments in Baroque polychoral works, along with the cornetto and organ. Compared to a modern tenor trombone, the tenor sackbut has a considerably smaller bore, and a smaller, more conical bell.


Sackbuts come in several ranges. According to Michael Praetorius, there was an alto, a tenor, quart- and quint-basses, as well as a contrabass. The common standards now are the alto in Eb, tenor in Bb, and bass in F (quart) or Eb (quint). The basses, due to their longer slides, have a hinged handle on the slide stay, which is used to reach the long positions.


Renaissance wind band pitch (music) was typically approximately A=466 Hz, one half step higher than modern pitch. The tenors that survive are pitched at Bb at A=440, which is equivalent to A at A=466. Other period sources describe an alto in D, tenor in A, and bass in D; some groups are beginning to use D and A positions in performance for the sake of greater historical accuracy, rather than transposing their parts up a half step.


The sackbut's sound is characterized by a more delicate, vocal timbre than the modern instrument. Its dynamic flexibility lends itself to a vocal style of playing and facilitates effective shaping of phrases.


The sackbut replaced the slide trumpet in the 15th Century alta capella wind bands that were common in towns throughout Europe. It also was used in church music both for instrumental service music (brought to a fine art by the Gabrieli family in late-16th Century Venice) and as a doubling instrument for choral music. The treble and high alto parts were most often played by cornetts or shawms, with the violin sometimes replacing the cornett in 17th Century Italian music. Sackbuts also frequently played courtly dance music.

In the 17th century, a considerable repertoire of chamber music using sackbut with various combinations of violins, cornetts and dulcians, often with continuo, appeared. Composers included Dario Castello, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Heinrich Schmelzer, Giovanni Paolo and Andrea Cima. Giovanni Cesare wrote "La Hieronyma," the earliest known piece for accompanied solo trombone.

Modern performance

Many groups specializing in period music make frequent use of the sackbut, including Concerto Palatino (, La Fenice (, Piffaro (, the Gabrieli Consort (, His Majesty's Sackbuts and Cornetts, and the Whole Noyse.


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