The Trumpet marine-Virtuoso


Baroque dance theater about J.B. Prin, 
trumpet marine virtuoso and dancer
at the court of "le Roi Soleil"


In the new, baroque dance-theater production of  TEATRO ARCIMBOLDO four dancers, an actor, and the musicians of the ensemble tell the fascinating, tragicomicstory of the first and only Trumpet marine-virtuosto Jean-Baptiste Prin (1668-1743): From his childhood in London as a child prodigy on the trompette marine, his dance training in the Paris of Louis XIV, his career at court, and finally the denunciation and his banishment to the West Indies. Six dance scenes (including the Lantern Dance with entry of le Roi Soleil, Dance of the Torturers, Dance of the Sailors/Storm at Sea; Dance of the African Slaves with an Ungurungo in the West Indies) illustrate the exciting life’s story of J.B. Prin. This "commedia" will be put on the stage by TEATRO ARCIMBOLDO in a peppy production exploiting all the possibilities of the Baroque theater. A feast for eyes and ears by means of which we shall carry our audience away into the world of the Baroque. 


Thilo Hirsch


"The Trumpet marine-Virtuoso"

Baroque Dance Theater about J.B. Prin,
trompet marine virtuoso and dancer
at the court of "le Roi Soleil"

Scene 1:

With a handcart, old Monsieur Prin is on a fantastic "tropical" path in Mexico (West Indies). On the cart are all his possessions, a trompette marine case, and a box of books. When one of the cart’s wheels suddenly falls off, he sees himself forced to wait for help on the side of the path. He begins to recount his childhood in London: Although he would have much preferred to have played viola da gamba, he was forced by his father to practice the trumpet marine and to perform on it as a "wunderkind." When Prin then also displayed a talent for dancing, his ambitious father sent him to Paris, the residence of Louis XIV, to hone his skills in dancing and in trompette marine playing.

Dance: Star Dance with lanterns, entry of Louis XIV as the sun.
J.B. Lully, H. Purcell, M. Marais

Scene 2:

Prin arrives in Paris and takes dance lessons with the famous Master Beauchamp at the Academie Royal de la danse, which had been founded by Louis XIV. Through the intervention of his dance teacher, Prin is allowed to perform on the trompette marine before the King in the park of Versailles.

Dance: Virtuoso ballet lesson with the learned dance-master Beauchamp.
J.B. Prin (Premier Concert pour la Trompette marine)

Scene 3:

The King is so taken by his playing that he grants Prin the honor of being present at the "coucher," and also promises him the next vacant position in the Trompettes Marines du Roy. Since that can take a while, Prin finds a job as a dancer and harlequin at the Theatre de la Foire. There, commedia dell’arte pieces are improvised after a canovacco (synopsis) is read aloud. Prin falls in love with the daughter of the director and leading actor; however, since her jealous father keeps her under close watch, Prin can only get near her on stage when she is playing her role as Harlequina.

Dance: Commedia dell’arte scene with Harlequin, Harlequina, and strict father (Pantalone)
J.P. Rameau

***** Intermission *****

Scene 4:

A position at court finally becomes free. However, because of an intrigue by his future trompette marine colleagues, who have denounced him to the censors, Prin is arrested and thrown into the dungeon of the Bastille. In spite of his innocence, Prin confesses everything and anything when the torturers start to apply the thumbscrews, since this would mean the end of his career, for the trompette marine is played only with the thumb. Although it soon becomes clear that the accusations are groundless, he is banished to the West Indies (Spanish America), and may not set foot on French soil again as long as Louis XIV is alive.

Dance: Dance of the Torturers and "Zanni" in the Bastille
Music: A. Forqueray

Scene 5:

Embarking in Nantes, Prin sails for Mexico. The voyage is smooth at first, but then a heavy storm comes up in which the ship almost sinks.

Dance: Dance and Brawl of the Sailors, gradually builds up into the storm.
Music: M. Marais, Lully

Scene 6:

Prin arrives in Veracruz and travels overland to Mexico-Ville. He is amicably welcomed there by the vice-king and the courtly society, since everybody is anxious to hear news of the court in Paris. Because Mexico-Ville strives to emulate Paris, Prin is invited to visit the newly established "Academie" and to marvel at the professors’ (bizarre) inventions. One night, Prin hears strange music. As he approaches a fire, he sees African slaves dancing and playing a peculiar instrument, an ungurungo. Prin immediately recognizes in it the origin of his trompette marine, and a dialogue of dance and gestures develops between the two cultures.

Dance: Dance of the African Slaves with an ungurungo (Prin attempts African dance, the slaves attempt French dance)
Music: African music mixed with French Baroque music (J.P. Rameau).

(Duration: ca. 85 min. playing time)


The Cast:


Producer and director: Thilo Hirsch
Christopher Zimmer / Thilo Hirsch

Barbara Leitherer - dance
Irene Pedrotti - dance
Bernd Niedecken - dance
Dietmar Vonwiller - dance

Thilo Hirsch - J.B. Prin / trumpet marine

Christoph Rudolf - violin
Matthieu Camillieri - violin
Elisabeth Kaufhold - recorder / bassoon
Franziska Finkh - viola da gamba
Agileu Motta - theorbe / berimbao
Marc Meisel - harpsichord
Philip Tarr - kettle-drums / percussion

Choreography: B. Leitherer / B. Niedecken
Costumes: Gigliola Vinci (La Scala / Milan)
Stage setting: Michael Hein (Theater Basel)



This production was supported by the following institutions:

  • Sophie und Karl Binding Stiftung

  • Jürg George Bürki Stiftung

  • Familien-Vontobel-Stiftung

  • GGG, Basel

  • Ernst Göhner Stiftung, Zug

  • Schweizerische Interpreten Stiftung

  • Stanley Thomas Johnson Stiftung


From the idea to the play - "The Trumpet marine-Virtuoso"

In order to explain how this new TEATRO ARCIMBOLDO production, which is very special for several reasons, came into being, I’ll have to go back a bit in time: For quite a while I had been fascinated by the ca. two-meter-long bowed string instrument with only one played string, the trumpet marine, tromba marina or trompette marine which is found in many music instrument museums. I often asked myself what it would sound like, but unfortunately there were until now no CD recordings of this instrument, an instrument that was very widespread during the eighteenth century. In France there was even a trompette marine- virtuoso by the name of Jean-Baptiste Prin (1668-1743), who also wrote four solo concertos for the instrument. When I finally succeeded in finding Prin’s own instrument in a private Swiss collection, I had two copies made of it. The first project in which I played these instruments (together with the ensemble arcimboldo) – and about which Swiss Television DRS produced a documentary – took place in the autumn of 2003 under the title Music with Tromba Marina from Swiss Monasteries. A CD production on the "Musique Suisse" label is also in preparation.

In the course of my research on J.B. Prin, I discovered that he had worked in Paris around 1700 as a dancer, actor (in the role of "Harlequin"), and trompette marine virtuoso. It is also documented that he played at the court of Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, who had a "Trompettes Marines et Cromornes du Roy" band within his royal musical establishment. In 1742 Prin wrote his memoirs, which are a rich source of information about the trompette marine, and in which he also described his discovery of the origins of the trompette marine in the African ungurungo, an instrument that is still today played in Brazil under the name birimbao.

Inspired by this material, by the exciting period around 1700 at the court of le Roi Soleil, historical literature (such as Molière: Le Bourgeois gentilomme, Swift: Gulliver’s Travels, Liselotte von der Pfalz: Letters, J. de Monségur: Mémoires du Mexique, Behr: L’art de bien danser), the numerous outstanding discoveries (Newton: gravity, light; Papin: the submarine), and the fascinating music of the French Baroque (Lully, Marais, Rameau), we – the regular members of ensemble TEATRO ARCIMBOLDO – decided to develop a dance-music-theater piece in collaboration with the Basel author and Holbein-prizewinner Christopher Zimmer.


Thilo Hirsch




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