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.

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