Sackbut

Music of Yesterday

Sackbut is an early name for the trombone probably derived from the Spanish sacabuche (‘draw tube’) i.e., sacar ‘to draw’, and bucha ‘a pipe,’ originally made of boxwood, the name being also given to a form of pump. Other derivations are from old French saquier-boter (‘to pull and push’) or Spanish sacar del buche (‘to exhaust the chest’).

The form first appears in Spanish literature of the 14th century, the trombone having been evolved from the trumpet about the year 1300.

At the beginning of the next century the French form saqueboute is found, and at the close of the same century, when the instrument was introduced to England, it was known as the shakbusshe and subsequently as the saykebund, sackbut, or sagbut.

One of the earliest uses of the word in English literature occurs in Hawe’s Passetyne of Pleasure (1506).

English players were held in high esteem with the popularity of the sackbut continuing until the 18th century, when it gave place to the horn and serpent.

Burney (Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey, 1784) relates the difficulty experienced in obtaining players on the sackbut or double trumpet, the only performers to be found in England being the six German musicians of the Royal Band.

About the year 1800 the use of the instrument was revived in connection with the Opera, but the old English name was supplanted by the Italian trombone.

Notwithstanding Shakespeare’s allusion (Coriolanus, Act V. Sc. Iv.), there was no authority for believing that the sackbut was known to the Romans, the specimen said to have been discovered in the 18th century at Pompeii or Herculanium having proved a myth.

To so-called representation of a 9th century sackbut in the Boulogue Psalter (MS. No. 20) is also an error, the instrument depicted being a fanciful delineation of the sambuke, an ancient four stringed lyre.

The phrase ‘tuba ductils’ applied in later times to the sackbut, originally meant a trumpet of metal beaten or drawn out by the hammer, i.e., not cast.