Music for Brass Ensemble by Richard Strauss

As horn players, we are all familiar with the epic brass writing of Richard Strauss in his operas, tone poems, and solo horn concertos, but Strauss also wrote some great brass ensemble music as well.  Selections from this handful of works are performed fairly often in various brass ensembles, but everyone may not be familiar with all of the works and the circumstances under which they were composed.  Recently I found a great online resource, Classical Archives, which has tons of free information on composers and their works.  Some of the content is accessible for a subscription fee, but I was able to view for free a very substantial works list for Richard Strauss, complete with information on his brass ensemble pieces.  The information on each work is quoted (in italics) from Classical Archives, but I’ll also include the individual links so you can view the pages themselves.

Festmusik der Stadt Wien, for brass and timpani, TrV286

An important work among late Strauss pieces, this work has remained unpublished and is only known for a shortened version made later by the composer himself. During the 2nd World War, Strauss used to spend the winters in Vienna. In 1942, the Trompetenchor der Stadt Wien (Brass Choir from the City of Vienna) asked him to write a piece for them. This was a famous ensemble made up from the brass players of the three symphony orchestras in Vienna, and comprised twelve trumpets, eight trombones, two tubas, timpani and percussion. Strauss divided these forces almost evenly into two choirs for his piece, but excluded the percussion. The work opens with the main motive intermingled with a fanfare-like call, with both choirs responding to one another. Then, the opening motive takes a lyrical and extended appearance in the voice of a solo trumpet and the first choir. The second choir gives a more martial version of the theme, which is further developed in their dialogue. A second subject with a nostalgic air reminiscent of Der Rosenkavalier leads to a brilliant section in semiquavers, which is followed by a more subdued one with a tint of melancholy. A brief crescendo leads to a recapitulation of the first motive. There is a pause, followed by an allegro proclamation that includes a key intervention of the timpani. The final section presents both choirs united in a chorale recapitulation of the themes, culminating with an exciting coda. © All Music Guide

Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniter-Ordens, for brass ensemble, TrV224

Written in 1909, the Solemn Entrance of the Knights of the Order of Saint-John is scored for 15 trumpets, 4 horns, 4 trombones, 2 tubas and timpani. It is a majestic piece marked Slow and Solemn. The opening motive is a distant call underscored by a timpani roll, concluding with what sounds like a reference to Wagner’s Siegfried. The introductory phrase is repeated, but this time it culminates in a climax. After a pause, a solemn chorale-like melody carried by the trumpets develops slowly. A second and a third long-winded phrases, separated by repeats of the introductory calls, make up the body of the work. In the final climactic section, the intensity grows all the way to the end. This work has been described by Robert Matthew Walker as “almost Brucknerian in its simplicity and power”. © All Music Guide

Wiener Philharmonic Fanfare, for brass and timpani, TrV 248

The Fanfare für die Wiener Philarmoniker was written in 1924. It is a short and celebratory piece with no discernible sections, scored for 6 trumpets, 8 horns, 6 trombones, 2 tubas and 2 sets of timpani. A trumpet opens and its call is replied by other instruments. The texture builds up to a chorale-like passage. The antiphonal calls of the opening return, and after a brief and more subdued passage comes the ending which closely resembles the beginning. © All Music Guide

Fanfare zur Eröffnung der Musikwoche der Stadt Wien im September 1924, for brass and timpani, TrV250

The Fanfare zu Eröffnung der Musikwoche der Stadt Wien was written to celebrate the opening of the Music Week in Vienna toward the end of 1924. This work is scored for 6 trumpets, 8 horns, 6 trombones, 2 tubas and 2 sets of timpani. It is a solemn and slow piece made up with long-breathed themes. It opens ecstatically with a succession of soft horn chords. A series of trumpet calls in fourths precedes another quiet passage that slowly builds up to a restrained climax and then subsides once more. The last section, announced by the motive in fourths, is a crescendo, which reaches its climax at the very end, underlined by the marching rhythm of the timpani. The last chord lingers while fading away. © All Music Guide

Though they are not among Strauss’s most famous works, the writing is thrilling, as one would expect, and I think every brass player should be at least familiar with these works.  Looking at the instrumentation, you can see that the forces they call for are at times massive (15 trumpets on Feierlicher Einzug ). If you don’t know them, check out the following recordings.

Richard Strauss: Complete Music for Brass Ensemble, Royal Academy Symphonic Brass, James Watson, conductor

Richard Strauss: Music for Symphonic Brass, Locke Brass Consort, James Stobart, conductor

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