Where Did the Large-Shank Kruspe Trombones Go?

by Hubertus Schmidt

Kruspe’s family name in relation to manufacturing musical instruments goes far back in history to the 16th century and the town of Mühlhausen, Thüringen Germany. Mühlhausen today is a beautiful little medieval city with lots of history, especially that of J.S. Bach as an organist in the year 1707, before he left for Weimar. In 1836 Kruspe moved to Erfurt and had his first factory very close to where I live. Later, around 1910 Eduard had branches in Leipzig under brother Carl Kruspe, also Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Hannover, Helsinki, Chicago and West-Hoboken NJ! Unfortunately all these stores were closed during WW1 because after the war there is no evidence of the existence of any international Kruspe branches.

In virtually the entire 19th century the only models available from the Kruspe factory were for military bands and there was only one trombone model as you can see in the illustration. The only trombone available was the “Penzel-Model” with a large-shank receiver, because Johann Christoph Penzel (1817-1879) designed it after making small changes from his Leipzig mentor in trombone manufacturing, Christian Friedrich Sattler (1778-1842). This model is the real prototype of German trombones. Large shank and single bore slide. Not only the military used this model, it was the model in almost every orchestra and Kruspe got orders from Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Cologne, Vienna and many others.

At the end of the 19th century Kruspe changed their company’s philosophy away from focusing on the military to well-known players in symphony orchestras. Kruspe started experimenting with symphonic players designing new individual models. At the 1893 world exhibition in Chicago, Carl Kruspe came from Erfurt to present 27 different instruments and be awarded a bronze medal. After that success Kruspe’s instruments got more and more famous in European orchestras and in 1894 the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig ordered 5 trombones; still the one and only large-shank model. In 1895 trombonist Robert Müller from Leipzig worked with Kruspe and together designed the first f-attachment model. Kruspe started offering trombones in 3 different bore sizes and later built alto and bass trombones. In general we can say that the Penzel large-shank trombone was used all over Germany before the 1st world war.

After the war, from 1918-1923, a well known player joined the trombone section of the Gewandhausorchester; Joseph Serafin Alschausky (1879-1948). He came from Düsseldorf, Berlin, Halle (my orchestra) and got the principal trombone job in Leipzig in 1918. Alschausky designed his own trombone with Kuhn in Wuppertal, who studied with Schopper in Leipzig. His model had a very small bore but ended up in a big bell size. He invented the dual-bore slide for this model (which I don’t prefer) to have an instrument as conical as possible. Alschausky was not easy to get along with and was fired from most of his orchestra positions. He was known to play along with singers while they sang on stage and he in the pit! In 1923 he started a tour thru the USA and played in the Cincinnati Symphony for a while. He ended his career as a teacher, arranger and composer and died in 1948 in California.

Other trombone makers started making dual-bore instruments as well, and it came to be known
that dual-bore trombones were in favor at that time, but this is not true. The most famous dual-bore Kruspe trombone is the “Virtuosa” but the other well known Kruspe trombone, “the Paul Weschke” model has a single bore slide.

Paul Weschke (1867-1940) had the position as principal alto trombonist in the Berlin Opera, (today’s Staatsoper unter den Linden.) Weschke made a strange experiment with Kruspe; a double trombone that combined an Eb alto and a Bb tenor, with a valve. Weschke ended up with a very small tenor to use in his position as principal alto trombonist! In effect he then played all alto trombone parts in the music of Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Dvorak etc, on a small bore tenor. This was his philosophy and he taught many students this way.

His most famous student and successor was Prof. Alfred Jacobs. He was the teacher of my former teacher Willy Walther, who won the principal trombone position under Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1945 when other German orchestra’s were being closed down. Walther was the first player who played the Tuba Mirum legato because Furtwängler wanted it that way at his audition. Before that, everybody played the entire solo articulated.

Willy Walther was also a famous teacher and his former student Christhard Gössling still plays a Kruspe Weschke-Model in most music as principal of the Berlin Philharmonic. Willy Walther was also one of two principals in the Bayreuth Festival orchestra. The other principal was Prof. Paul Schreckenberger who grew up in west Germany in the American section after WW2. He learned the trombone from American army players and in jazz clubs. Because of this, he used a King 3B in the Bayreuth orchestra.

One day Prof. Alfred Jakobs asked Mr. Schreckenberger to play a German trombone and he replied; “if you eat a German banana, I will play a German trombone.” The era of German trombones ended in western Germany after the 2nd world war completely. In Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart, almost everywhere musicians preferred playing the American trombones thereby changing the unique character of the classic German trombone sound. The last few examples of the large-bore Penzel-Kruspe horns were gone. Some players were Jewish musicians leaving nazi Germany, emigrating to the USA, Japan or Israel; others had instruments confiscated so that the metal could be melted for use in the war effort.

After the war it was very different in east Germany. There were no American jazz clubs, no U.S. military bands, so they used the old German trombones they had left and copied them in their own factories under the communist regime, which owned every factory. That system produced poor quality instruments because of the state controlling all manufacture. Instrument makers had no reason to produce quality products, only to be taken and sold in state-owned music stores. The 40 years of East German government rule produced musical instruments of poor quality, not reflecting the glorious tradition of German brass manufacture.

Hopefully, this year 2020 will overcome the virus pandemic and great music and orchestras will once again be heard. I stated many years ago after listening to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Cologne playing the music of Brahms; “the Chicago Symphony is the orchestra with the absolute best German sound. No bad habits, clear, pure and round sound with perfection in technic, intonation and musical style.”

The old large bore, large shank trombones by Kruspe can be used in romantic German and Bohemian repertoire because of the very mellow sound and quick speaking piano, which produces a wonderful sonority.

One of the firms manufacturing secrets was the art of making very thin bells and the fact that Kruspe got his metal from the forests of the Czech Republic. They put as a secret ingredient a portion of silver in their brass alloy. This makes it stable without breaking up and makes the sound very soft as well.