Getting to know the brass section

Hummel: Trumpet Concerto

A typically ‘Classical’ sounding piece, Hummel composed this concerto in 1803.  It contains quite a few fanfare style phrases, very appropriately as it was written to mark a celebration and first performed on New Year’s Day in 1804.  The associations it creates for me are those of a serious and important occasion.  The first movement contains lots of detached arpeggios and highly articulated phrasing, which the sound of the trumpet seems well suited to as the onset of a tongued note is very clearly audible.  The second, slower movement is in a minor key and is played in a much more fluid, legato style that is less commonly associated with this instrument, but is nevertheless very effective and expressive.  The final movement is probably the most well known: the staccato phrasing and fast repeated notes are evocative of an important announcement being made.

Nino Rota: ‘Love Theme’ from the Godfather

This is a powerful theme tune written for a highly dramatic film, and the trumpet is perfectly suited to it.  The sound made by a trumpet is rich in harmonics, especially when played loudly in its middle register, giving the instrument a unique, full and resonant sound.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Trombone Concerto

As well as being a musician, Rimsky-Korsakov had a career in the Russian military and wrote this celebratory sounding concerto for a fellow officer.  The first movement is very short (only two and a half minutes), playing the role of an announcement: rising arpeggios on the trombone, ending with a drum roll.  The middle movement is marked ‘Andante cantabile’, and the lyrical, legato style does indeed resemble singing.  The accompaniment to this concerto is played by a military band (no strings), so the overall sound is quite bright and resonant.  The second movement leads straight into the finale, which features several trumpets at the start and percussion later on – reminiscent of a marching band.  A solo cadenza part way through the movement has the trombone playing extremely low notes (definitely tuba territory!), much lower than I would have thought possible on this instrument.  It goes on to demonstrate some almost equally impressive high notes, and also features multiphonics.  The cadenza was interesting to listen to from a technical standpoint, but musically I didn’t find the piece as a whole particularly inspiring.

Christian Lindberg: Mandrake in the Corner

This composer was previously unknown to me; he is a Swedish trombonist and his compositions have been mostly focused on this instrument.  This piece is written for trombone and symphony orchestra, in three movements.  The first movement is in a minor key and features off beat rhythms and sudden dynamic changes.  It creates a very dramatic mood, considerably helped by heavy use of the timpani and the strings suddenly cutting in with short phrases.  The mood of the second, slower movement starts off as one of suspense – slow crescendos in the strings and some dissonant harmonies.  It becomes more intense and powerful as it builds up, and the brass section is particularly noticeable in the climaxes.  The final Vivace movement is nothing less than chaotic – very fast articulated notes on the trombone , scalic passages in the accompanying strings and brass.  Lindberg also uses occasional general pauses which create a dramatic effect.  I like the syncopation and cross rhythms, and the piece ends with some characteristic trombone slides.

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