Friday, January 29, 2016

Brass History

This past week, we familiarized ourselves with some distinctive styles of early brass ensemble music, from the hunting horn tradition, to Renaissance ensembles, to early brass quintets of the Romantic era.  Although these styles and works are still performed today by both contemporary brass ensembles, and ensembles that specialize in "period performance" practices, the ways in which these styles are performed today are undoubtedly different than the sounds of hundreds of years ago. 

One such example is the music of Giovanni Gabrieli and the "canzona" style of which he was most famous.  The specific listening example was from the new National Brass Ensemble CD (2015) that featured music from the Sacrae symphoniae (1597)  (A stunning recording by the way!!).  The original instrumentation was likely much different as intended by Gabrieli, yet has been rearranged here by Tim Higgins for a orchestral brass ensemble (trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas).  Just the mere presence of the modern tuba gives the music its distinction from the sound of Renaissance brass music. The other instruments in the ensembles have all undergone varying degrees of evolution since the Renaissance, with larger bores and more rounded bell flares giving each instrument a larger, darker sound. 

Apart from the modern instrumentation, the topic of volume was brought up in our discussions.  The nature of brass instruments of the Renaissance prevented the type of volume we might be accustomed to with modern brass instruments.  While no one can say for sure what Gabrieli might think of hearing his music with the volume and power of today's instruments, we would like to think he would be impressed!

Below is a similar performance video and discussion of the same music of Gabrieli, given by the Chicago Symphony brass in 2001.  Also, a performance on period instruments from Gabrieli's Sacrae symphoniae, featuring cornets and sacbuts.

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