Monday, February 27, 2017

History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald

For part of our class, we were asked to read, "History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald" by Andre Smith and answer some questions regarding the article. Below are my responses...

What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintets before reading this article? 

I honestly did not know much about Ewald and his brass quintets before reading this article. Having never played the pieces themselves, I only knew of their popularity and that the Ewald quintets are a staple in brass quintet literature.

What did this article teach you about proper research?

This article further emphasized that it is important to know and research your source material. Although a reasoning is given and may make sense, it might not be the correct reason. For example, Smith debunks a claim that brass ensembles were first built on the ideal of creating a unified tone with five rotary instruments. He explains this to be false because of Russia’s long standing tradition of having a diverse grouping of instruments mainly chosen based on who was available to play. 

What questions did this article raise?

I first want to explore Smith’s sources and wonder about the validity of some of his claims? He quite openly disregarded the thoughts of others on topics such as the origins of the quintets and the idea behind the creating ensembles based on the development of a homogenous sound. I’m not necessarily in disbelief of his ideas, but want to explore his sources in some depth before thinking of them as pure fact.

I also would like to read more and am curious about the “rediscovery” of the quintets? Because Smith has such a personal opinion on the matter, I would like to see others thoughts about Smith taking the time to authenticate them. I also would like to hear more from Froides about how she obtained them and whether she knew of Smith’s copies.

What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?

I am a strong advocate for playing music that sounds good, however that may be achieved. I believe it should be a decision of the performer on whether or not to use rotary or piston valved instruments. For most this will be determined based on availability. I doubt that many groups have a full set of rotary and piston trumpets and tubas at their disposal, so playing what’s available will be an obvious choice. The idea that a fully rotary valved ensemble may blend better makes sense, however nowadays, we are so used to hearing a brass quintet with piston trumpets and a rotary horn that I think deviating from that would have to be done so with purposeful intentions.
Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone?”

I do agree to some extent, but only when editing the phrase to say, “There is in general no true ‘valved’ legato on the trombone.” Because of the valveless nature of the trombone, notes can not be slotted. Thus the instrument can not perfectly recreate the sound of a valved instrument playing legato. A trombone can, however, imitate ‘valved’ legato very effectively.

What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13.

In regards to Smith’s ideas on instrumentation, I think that “adventurous musicians,” as he stated, should continue to adapt music for their needs. The early music movement has it’s place in helping to determine the most accurate representation of music and assisting in denoting the authenticity of music from a certain period. 

Nevertheless, I believe music should change and evolve, and it is necessary for performers to breathe new life into old works to keep them relevant. Performers should make new musical decisions from time to time. They can use historical context as a guide, but shouldn’t confine themselves to only focusing on how it would have been played.

In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froides Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet?
The Ewald quintets were difficult to find for a while starting in the 1950’s due to the poor relations between the United States and the USSR. Froides Werke obtained copies of the quintets while in Russia. She then passed them on to the Empire Brass Quintet while they were in Norway in exchange for a medley of Gershwin tunes. Although supposedly Smith had obtained a copy of the quintets much earlier. The American Brass Quintet were the first to premier the quintets at Carniege Hall with Smith writing some of the program note for the production. 

What has been your experience both playing and listening to the Ewald quintets?

Like I said prior, I have sadly never played one of the Ewald quintets. Ironically, out of the handful of quintets I have been in, none have wanted to play the Ewald because the other members already had experience playing one if not more of them. 

While listening to them, I always notice that they seem to be very methodically created and do a great job of featuring each instrument within the quintet. They all have a lot of character and each movement contains new thematic material and moods. To my ear at least, the Ewald quintets are what comes to mind when thinking of “the sound" of a standard brass quintet, much like how the Mozart horn concerto’s comes to mind when I think of a standard horn concerto.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Get Lucky: Brass Band Remix

The Soul Rebels are a New Orlean's style brass band, who do covers of pop, rock, and EDM tunes. Their remix of Get Lucky by Daft Punk is a great interpretation of the EDM song, where they blend some of the basic melodies and rhythmic lines from the original with additional harmonies, chord progressions, and some improv in the middle.

Like in a few brass bands I've discovered, they add saxophone to the classic instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, tuba, and drum set. A neat addition to the mix that has a nice contrast in timbre and the ability to play some more technically demanding passages.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breakaway by David Sampson

Breakaway by David Sampson was piece originally recorded by the trumpet players, Kevin Cobb and Raymond Mase as part of the American Brass Quintet CD, Chesapeake: The Music of David Sampson. The work has a total of three movements and all movements include the use of a tape track.

The first movement, Carving the Stone, has some interesting electronic sounds ranging from very percussion-based to more classic synthized sounds. The most impressive part of this track is the coordination between the trumpet players and electronics. Anytime a player uses a tape track, they quickly learn how unforgiving the recording is in regards to time and tempo. Their precision is wonderfully exact and makes for an impressively clean recording.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Listening Party: Part 1

Today for our Brass Literature class we had a listening party. Although these pieces don't strictly fit in the realm of EBM, I thought you would enjoy a sampling of some of the pieces that were featured...

Breakaway by David Sampson
I: The Carving Stone

This features two trumpets and was originally recorded by the trumpets in the American Brass Quintet,  Kevin Cobb and Raymond Mase. I will be expanding on this piece in a later blog post. Get excited!

Music for Brass Instruments by Ingolf Dahl
I: Christ lay in the Bonds of Death

This was performed by the New World Symphony Brass. The instrumentation is unique in that it includes two trumpets, tenor and bass trombone, horn, and has an optional tuba part. The recording we listened to included tuba, and I think it is a good addition to the ensemble because it does really help to fill out the section. It includes some very pleasant slow choral sections with a contrasting fast section in the middle.

by John Rutter
III: Vivace e Ritmico

The recording we listened to was recored by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. The instrumentation included organ, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion, and choir. The piece has a sacred feel mainly because of the instrumentation and the text in vocal lines. The third movement includes a lot of polyphony and canon. It sounds very celebratory and this recording does a great job of balancing the singers and brass section. I can even hear the altos.

Concerto for Brass Quintet by Mark Rheaume
III: Atto Terzo

This was performed by the Eastern Illinois University Brass Quintet and orchestral winds. The piece is based on an opera. Each brass player is thought of as a character in the opera whereas the winds act as the orchestra. The movement has very old sound reminiscent of the old opera buffa style.

Corpendium 1 by Richard Bissill

Originally written for six horns, this recording featured the Guildhall Horn Ensemble. This piece has a number of fast moving and intricate parts. It's features a lot of dense textures and this recording in particular is extremely clean.

Konzertmusik fur Brass, Two Harps, and Piano op. 49 by Paul Hindemith
III: Massig, schnell, kravtvoll

Performed by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, it features four trumpets, three horns, three trombones, tuba, two harps, and piano. This piece has the characteristic Hindemith tonality, but is still pleasant to listen to, given that I am not the biggest fan of his music. The two harps and piano really add a nice contrast in timbre and lighten up certain segments of the movement.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Uncluttered Path

Much of my work for this blog mainly deals with digging through various sites just to find music that is available for electronics and brass ensemble. I finally had some luck in discovering a piece titled, The Uncluttered Path by Jeff Beal.

Jeff Beal
is known best for his more commercial work and has written scores for notable shows such as House Of Cards, Rome, and Monk. He started out as a jazz trumpet player and recording artist, but quickly shifted towards composing during his studies at Eastman School of Music.

The Uncluttered Path (2001) was commissioned by the Corning Corporation for their 150th Anniversary and was premiered by the Prism Brass. It has four movements:
I. Dawn of The New Day
II. Permanence of Change
III. Fathers And Sons
IV. Illumination

There aren't any youtube recordings, but you can listen to the whole movements here by scrolling through the page to where the piece is located.

The first two movements are just brass alone, and the electronics are introduced near the end of the third. In my personal opinion, the electronic music isn't the most compelling, sounding very reminiscent to some of T.V. theme songs from the 1990's. Reading Rainbow is one of the first that comes to mind. Nevertheless, it is nice to see that music has been composed for this type of ensemble!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tim Souster: An Innovator of EBM

Tim Souster (1943-1994) was a highly regarded composer known to create pieces with the aid of electronics. Souster also was heavily influenced by the genre of art rock, which was a avant-garde style of rock music that often included experimental, and modernist elements (David Bowie is a great example of a musician that would often experiment with this genre). 

Along with his more academic work, he has a successful career as a commercial composer and wrote music for both television shows and commercials. One of his more famous claims to fame is that he wrote the soundtrack on BBC's The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981).

He focused more on the use of brass in his pieces starting in the 1980's. Souster wrote electronic based music for a variety of different ensembles including solo trumpet, solo flugelhorn, and brass quintet. Souster even wrote the first piece for brass band and electronics titled, Echoes (1990).

Although he wrote a large amount of works for brass and electronics, many of the recordings are difficult to track down. I was able to find one recording of his brass quintet piece, Equalisation for Brass Quintet and Live Electronics (1980), which can be found here.

In Equalisation, Souster mainly used two electronic devices. He applied a digital delay line to alter the acoustics of the room and a pitch transposer to add parallel intervals to the live music be played. If you would like to learn more about the piece itself, detailed information provided by the composer can be found here.


While randomly scrolling through videos on Youtube, I came across a band called BEAUTY SLAP. They are a funk band that mixes brass with EDM. They have some of there own music, but their most popular videos are their covers of EDM songs.

Their band consists of two trumpet players, two trombone players, and one member playing synthesizer and live mixing the tracks.

Although BEAUTY SLAP is a lesser known group, it's fun to see how they are able to meld EDM and brass playing so cohesively. They also show how the traditional funk band can be modernized when combined with EDM.