February 20, 2016


Having reminisced on strings a bit in my previous post, I turn to one of my most favorite sections, the brass section. From middle school through college, I played various instruments in the brass family, including trumpet, tuba, and horn. However, I focused most of my time on the lesser-know euphonium (and it's relative, the baritone). The euphonium is a smaller cousin to the tuba (resembling also a saxhorn), usually with 3 or 4 valves (usually piston, but also rotary in some versions).

There is not a great deal of orchestra repertoire for the euphonium, though they are common in wind ensembles (and especially in brass bands). However, with development of the solo / ensemble combination videos on YouTube, you can find many players experimenting. So, for instance, this individual recording the opening to "Pirates of the Caribbean," or this one. Or, with a recorded ensemble, this example of a rotary euphonium playing "Let it Go."

With all of that said, there are (of course) many other instruments in the brass family and many (many) other pieces. As with strings, it would be difficult to pick any one piece "typical" of the family. Therefore, I will pick a few of my favorites featuring brass alone, along with brass-heavy pieces.

I played a version of the below in college, and absolutely loved it. It's from an arrangement of pieces by Tielman Susato collectively called "The Danserye".

Many of the pieces I will discuss are those I (naturally) have some familiarity with from college playing. During college, I was lucky enough to play one semester with the orchestra when they needed a euphonium player for Holst's "The Planets," which is one of the few orchestral pieces to feature a euphonium - particularly in "Mars, the Bringer of War." Here is the Charles Dutoit and Montreal Symphony track of the entirety of "Mars:"

Without knowing the sounds, however, it is difficult to pick out the euphonium. Here is an example of the euphonium parts (particularly around 1:40):

Holst is a composer known for his "standards" for wind ensemble. Two important pieces constantly played by ensembles are his 1st Suite in Eb and 2nd Suite in F, both for military band. The first is here:

More familiar to most people are the movie scores of John Williams and James Horner, often which both feature "big" and prominent brass sections. For example, here is a nice compilation of some of Williams' scores:

James Horner (who recently died) was also a well-known composer of score ranging from Star Trek:II to Avatar to The Rocketeer, and many others. He is not quite as brass heavy as Williams, but he definitely knew how to use the section. For example:

There are, of course, many other movie composers who excel at brass. I'd like to take a quick turn to another composer now, namely Mussorgsky. His work "Pictures at an Exhibition," composed based on artworks by a friend, was originally written for piano. However, many famous composers have orchestrated it, most notably Ravel. Either on piano or orchestrated, the final movement "The Great Gate at Kiev," is stunningly beautiful. On piano, by Evgeny Kissin, is amazing (watch his hands and facial expressions). Orchestrated, played by any number of orchestras in recordings, is simply breathtaking:


The Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods produced any number of composers (like Susato, above) skilled with composing for brass, and I would like to highlight a couple now. Note that these composers are also known for other works. First, Handel (composed for winds, not just brass):

Second, Monteverdi:

Third, Gabrieli:

Finally, Haydn:

Finally, I'd like to highlight two other modern composers, one well known and one less well known. First, the composer Aaron Copland, with a quintessentially "American" sound, and his "Fanfare for the Common Man:"


And second, the composer Alan Hovhaness, and his "Prayer of St. Gregory:"


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