b. Poughkeepsie, NY 30 Sept 1869;
d. Wingdale, NY 28 Feb 1950
See examples of Couturier Conical Bore Instruments:
Cornet in Bb/A Tuba in EEb Baritone in Bb
Mellophone in Eb Slide Trombone in Bb
Couturier's early musical studies at age ten were on the piano, but almost total blindness in one of his eyes hindered these studies. He had three operations for this blindness during his lifetime, but they only gave him temporary improvement. Apparently, this condition was present shortly after birth, but was not detected by either the doctors or his parents. He had three siblings who all died before the turn of the century.
He chose the piano at age ten, violin at age eleven, and the cornet at age fourteen. When he entered the New England Conservatory in c1885, his studies improved on the violin, piano, and theory, but he had problems with the cornet. His teacher even recommended to his parents that he stop playing the cornet altogether and spend more time on his other studies. He then left the Conservatory and received employment in his uncle’s watch repair shop in Poughkeepsie. Later, after hearing Theodor Hoch playing in Central Park, New York City, he sent a letter to Theodor’s employer, the Fischer Publishing Company, asking for lessons. Hoch taught Ernst to play with pressure only on his lower lip, leaving the upper one to vibrate freely. He took lessons for four years with Hoch and improved so much that he performed Arban’s Fantasie and Variations on The Carnival of Venice at age seventeen. He had also memorized many solos by Hoch, Levy, Hartmann, and Arban. In the 1880’s, Ernst played in the Twenty-first Regiment Band, the Eastman Business College Band (under the baton of the cornetist, John Hey), and in many touring minstrel shows and circus bands, including the Heywood Peerless Concert Company. He and his own band performed at the St. Louis Exposition of 1892, and beginning in 1893, he was soloist with Innes’ Band and with the Gilmore Band. For a few weeks he assumed responsibility of conductor of the Gilmore Band after Victor Herbert resigned in 1898.
It was during the 1890’s that Couturier began composing. The First Commander March and The Van der Veer Two Step are two works copyrighted in 1896. In 1898, his march The Maine’s Avenger was published, and he also had many piano arrangements published at the turn-of-the-century.
It is possible that Couturier performed at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 either with Innes’ Band (since Couturier had already established a good working relationship with Innes, and the band did play at the fair) or with a band of his own. Couturier was located in St. Louis by 1902 and was appointed conductor of the Louisiana Purchase Band of seventy-five members,"and when the great fair opens will be augmneted to 100 men" (C.G. Conn 1902, 19). The author of this document has not yet found any specific contemporary documentation to prove his musical contribution to the St. Louis World's Fair, but he was listed residing in the St. Louis City Directories in 1903 and 1904. The Fair was postponed until 1904 due to many logistic and financial problems. Beginning on 12 November 1902, Couturier played a solo tour with amateur bands through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. During this period he performed on a CONN Wonder Cornet, which he was reluctant to relinquish for a Queror (C. G. Conn 1902, 19).
In 1905, Couturier and fourteen colleagues established the P. S. Gilmore Band Library Publishing Company in St. Louis, Missouri. Couturier had acquired the entire library of Gilmore’s Band of 18,000 pieces through an arrangement with Gilmore's widow. The best music of the library was to be "rescored and condensed" and republished at a later date (Schwartz 1957, 142). In 1908, Carl Fischer purchased their entire library, thus terminating the company.
In 1906 he visited Europe on a solo tour and astounded his audiences with his high range, as well as his ability to play a total of six full octaves. He also performed multiphonics on the instrument.
He rejected the offer in 1907 to tour the United States with Sousa’s band because of an offer from Holton to be a demonstrator and consultant for their line of cornets. Holton employed him for four years. It was with Holton that the "Couturier Model New Proportion Cornet" was developed. It was a wide bore long model instrument with a small shepherd’s crook. It could be ordered with slides for both high and low pitch (A=440) and replacement slides for each of the valves.
After leaving Holton, Couturier received a patent (US #1073593) for his "continuous conical bore cornet" in 1913. J. W. York & Sons in Grand Rapids, Michigan was the first to produce this instrument, the "York Couturier Wizard Cornet", probably no later than 1915.
In 1916, Couturier, Melvin G. Lathrop, and William N. Barlow opened their own business, "E. A. Couturier Co., Ltd.," with the intention of producing their own line of conical bore instruments. Couturier transferred all of his patents from J. W. York & Sons to his new company. According to their catalogue of 1916, his company did produce an entire line of conical bore instruments, including the saxophone. In 1918, the firm moved from New York to LaPorte, Indiana, and was bought by Lyon & Healy in 1923. It operated until 1929.
He played cornet in vaudeville in Los Angeles until 1928 or 1929 when he returned to Mt. Vernon. He had a mental breakdown and died in the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in Wingdale, N.Y. He was not a highly recorded artist, as he justifiably refrained from the sometimes-cut versions appearing on record by other artists. He recorded for Edison, however, Schubert’s Serenade, Endearing Young Charms, A Dream, and The Rosary.
Information for the above entry appears throughout "Ernest Couturier, Neglected Cornet Virtuoso: A Study in Musical Americana" (Galloway 1985), Pioneers in Brass (Bridges , 37-39), Bands of America (Schwartz 1957, 142), and The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music (Rehrig 1991, 163).