Mary B. Martin Blast of Brass Program Notes

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For those of you who were unable to attend our concert on January 22nd, you missed a rousing good time! The audience was mesmerized by the sampling of music written for brass, percussion and even the organ. I have to admit that I went into the concert thinking Toccata in D minor BWV 565 would be my favorite, but now that I’ve heard them all, I’m not sure my initial supposition was right. There were so many good pieces from which to choose, but the organ still sent chills down my spine!

It’s a shame if you missed it, but I’m posting the Program Notes from the concert for your reading enjoyment. Hopefully it will leave you with a little sense of what it was like to listen to the halls of Central Pres filled with those glorious sounds. We hope to see you at our next concert on March 10th; “Bouquet of Baroque” in Abingdon.

See you at the Symphony,

GM

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PROGRAM NOTES FROM “MARY B. MARTIN BLAST OF BRASS CONCERT”

The Concert was held on Sunday, January 22, 2011 at Central Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee

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The works on today’s concert nearly all feature members of the brass family of instruments.  Brass instruments have a long history and early examples of these instruments (with the exception of the ancestors of the trombone) were only able to play certain notes (notes of the harmonic series).  This is why the characteristic “fanfare” sound is made up of melodies that move by leap rather than by step and help give the genre its characteristic sound.  By 1500 trumpets (and timpani) were associated with royalty.  The more important a monarch was, the greater number of trumpeters he would have announcing his entry with a fanfare like the one that opens our performance.

The second piece on today’s program is an example of 5-part writing for brass.  The idea of having five separate parts in a brass choir dates back to the Renaissance; however, this example comes from the turn of the twentieth century.  Russian composer Victor Ewald was a civil engineer by profession, but was also a composer, cellist and

tuba player.  Ewald’s five-part brass writing utilizes two cornet parts, an alto (E-flat) horn part, a tenor (B-flat) horn part, and a tuba part.  Today these works are generally played on trumpet, French horn, trombone, euphonium, and tuba.

J. S. Bach was a talented organist, writing many works for that instrument.  His toccatas are works made up of contrasting sections that show-off the instrument and the skills of the performer.

The lyrical opening is only one of the moods found in Felix Alexandre Guilmant’s Morceau Symphonique. This short work for trombone and keyboard explores the range of the instrument as well as contrasting lyrical melodies with a buoyant ascending tune that returns several times.  You might like to listen for the short cadenza-like passage a few minutes into the work where the music comes to a stand-still and the trombone briefly plays on its own before the two musicians launch into a statement of the faster buoyant ascending melody.

German Baroque composer, Samuel Scheidt’s Galiard Battaglia is dedicated to the Brandenburg court cornettist.  Much of Scheidt’s instrumental music was originally intended as dinner music for the court of the Margrave of Brandenburg.  A Galiard is a lively (triple meter) dance, and the word Battaglia is Italian for “battle.”  Listen for the upper voices (originally played on cornets) trading off fast, elaborate phrases and I think you will see the significance of both the title and the dedication.

Claudio Monteverdi wrote mostly vocal music.  Deus in Adjutorium is part of the music for the service of Vespers.

One of his most popular works, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man needs little introduction.  It has been used extensively to accompany everything from political campaigns to sporting events.  Commissioned by the conductor Eugene Goosens for the 1942-3 Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra season, this was only one of a series of fanfares written for the orchestra that year (by composers such as Virgil Thompson, Roy Harris, and Walter Piston).  Goosens wanted these fanfares to be “stirring contributions to the war effort.”

Peter Schickele is an American composer, educator, and satirist who writes humorous pieces under the pseudonym P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742!)  In Schickele’s satirical The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach, the entry for the Fanfare for the Common  C old begins “Nothing whatsoever is known about this piece, so the author would like to tell an amusing story he heard the other day…”

The first half of the program concludes with Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon in double echo for two brass choirs and organ. Gabrieli worked at St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice, and took full advantage of the two balconies on either side of the inside of the church to position choirs of instrumentalists and/or singers in each balcony thus creating a “stereophonic” effect that was known as the polychoral style.


In 1919 Richard Strauss took up the position of co-director of the Vienna State Opera and so began a long association with this group of musicians.  When not performing with the opera, the orchestral musicians of this organization are known as the Vienna Philharmonic, and are some of the most talented orchestral musicians in Austria.  Strauss’ Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare for Brass and Timpani makes full use of the expanded brass section in this rich and sonorous work.

American composer Leroy Ostransky taught at the University of Puget Sound and was a pioneer in Jazz education

O Magnum Mysterium is one of Morton Lauridsen’s best known works.  Originally for choir, the sustained sonorities of this composition work well when translated to wind instruments.  Lauridsen comments on his website (http://homepage.mac.com):

For centuries, composers have been inspired by the beautiful O Magnum Mysterium text depicting the birth of the newborn King amongst the lowly animals and shepherds. This affirmation of God’s grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.


We take a break from the brass instruments with our next piece: James Moore’s Psalm Collage for Speaker and Percussion. James L. Moore is an important figure in the world of American percussion as a teacher, publisher, performer, and not least composer. In this work, Moore uses the percussion section to respond to verses declaimed by the speaker from the Biblical Book of Psalms.

La Virgen de la Macarena is a traditional paso doble (a lively dance whose title means “double step”). This type of music is often associated with Mexican bullfights

British composer Joseph Horowitz (b. 1948) has a playful sense of humor that can easily be observed in his Music Hall Suite, which together with Lew Pollack’s 1914 rag That’s a Plenty conclude tonight’s program

©Alison P. Deadman, December 2011.