Sunday, February 28, 2016


Arguably the most significant composer in the advancement of the brass' importance in the orchestra and the sophistication of the writing was Richard Wagner.  His operas (Ring Cycle) and other symphonic works made significant and frequent use of brass instruments.  Much of his work remains prominent in the brass world for the excerpts and historical application. 

One of my favorite albums of Wagner's compositions comes from the German Brass, in their 2013 album Celebrating Wagner.  

A favorite of so many brass groups for arranging is Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral from Lohengrin (and NOT, as questioned by anyone born this century, from the movie Frozen :-) )  I had the privilege of performing this trombone choir arrangement while at Florida State University in 2013, arranged by Wesley Hanson. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Operatic Brass

One of my favorite musical settings from which to "borrow" repertoire has to be the opera house.  Brass ensembles of all shapes and sizes have long admired the overtures, instrumental interludes,  arias, and choruses of the most famous (and often less familiar) operas.  The most popular composers of operas that brass ensembles form transcriptions/arrangements include Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, W.A. Mozart, and Gioachino Rossini.  The beautiful, singing quality of opera music can be imitated on brass instruments.  Also, audiences will undoubtedly be familiar with some opera music, if not the names of the operas themselves at least. 

I had the pleasure of performing this arrangement of Mozart's Overture from The Magic Flute in the Seminole Trombone Quartet in my time at Florida State University.  These operatic arrangements offer tremendous technical challenges to brass players because of the imitation of the string parts.  Here, the Budapest Trombone Quartet gives a stunning live performance of this overture.

Another great example of an overture arranged for brass comes from Verdi.  This performance of his Overture to "Nabucco" is performed by the Gomolan Brass Quintet. 

Finally, on a more comical note, the Mnozil Brass with their own opera medley.  The Mnozil brass, a European brass ensemble that transcends the boundary between musicians and actors, is most known for their incredible brass playing and comical wit. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

J.S. Bach

The most often "stolen" music that is arranged and performed for brass ensembles of any size has to be the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  The enormous volume of repertoire composed by Bach (due mostly to his job requirements during his time in Leipzig) has allowed brass players and composers of brass music the ability to access the music of arguably the most influential composer of western classical music. 

Very few of Bach's compositions used brass instruments.  Yet, Bach's use of imitation, motivic development, harmonic organization, and varied textures allow for a seamless transition to brass ensembles.  Additionally most of the repertoire used by brass ensembles comes from the organ music of Bach.  Brass instruments have been used throughout Western history to simulate an organ in many religious traditions and classical settings (i.e. the Moravian tradition).  Thus, the transition or organ music to brass instruments is very logical and frequently visited by brass ensembles.

My personal favorite example of music of Bach arranged for brass is the Passacalia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582.  In the video below, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass perform an arrangement by Eric Crees.    The recording is from their album "Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live" on the CSO Resound label. 

Another popular trend in the use of Bach's music is the use of homogeneous ensembles of the same instrument.  This can create very unique opportunities and challenges for these types of ensembles.  Dealing with the same BWV 582 piece discussed above, this performance is an arrangement for trombone octet by Donald Hunsberger, the famed conductor and arranger for the Eastman Wind Ensemble for many years. 

A final example in the link below is a performance of Bach's most famous organ composition, the Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV 565, performed here by the German Brass at the Bach Festival in Leipzig.