New Brass Trio Arrangements

If you currently play or have ever played in a brass trio, you know that the repertoire for the ensemble is pretty limited, especially when compared to the more popular brass quintet. There are a number of reasons for this shortage: 1) with only three predominantly monophonic voices, the number of possible harmonies and colors are limited, 2) the brass trio is not as prestigious a genre as the brass quintet, so well-known composers tend not to write for it, and 3) there simply aren’t that many brass trios out there, be it at the student, amateur, or professional level.

Yet, the number of ensembles seems to be modestly growing, and there are a few jewels in the repertoire (Poulenc’s Sonata, for one) which help give this medium some credibility.  As part of a faculty brass trio, one of my goals a few summers ago was to help create some more arrangements for our ensemble and for any other brass trios looking for some quality music to perform.   These arrangements have been published, and are now available through Cimarron Music Press.  You can view sample scores and a complete list of my brass trio arrangements by searching for “Boldin” under Composer/Arranger on Cimarron’s website.  Overall I’m very pleased with these publications – the engraving looks terrific, and they work quite well for the brass trio.  (Click here to view a sample page from one of the arrangements) One reason I think they work well is because they all were originally trios: either for three basset horns (Mozart), two violins and continuo (Corelli), or violin, viola and cello (Mozart).  Although transcribing large orchestral works for brass trio can certainly be done, many arrangements often end up sounding thin and watered down simply because of the limitations inherent in this type of ensemble.  The arrangements vary in difficulty from intermediate (Mozart, Divertimento I) to moderately advanced (Mozart, Divertimento III; Corello, Trio Sonatas) to advanced (Mozart, Divertimento for Violin, Viola and Cello).  Both Corelli trio sonatas work well as concert/recital openers, and  Mozart’s basset horn divertimentos are longer, more involved works.  Horn players be sure to check out the part in the final movement of  Divertimento I – it requires quite a bit of agile playing in the mid-low range!  If your trio is looking for a real challenge, try the Divertimento for Violin, Viola and Cello, K. 563.  I only transcribed one movement from this trio, as the later movements get a bit messy with double-stops and other techniques which don’t transfer so well to brass trio.  However, the first movement is a virtuosic showpiece for all three instruments, and would also make a great recital opener.

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I did some brass trio arrangements (transcriptions really) when I was at Madison, including the Mozart basset horn trio (and now I’m kicking myself because it never occurred to me to get it published!).

Do you know the Hindemith Trio for Plöner Musiktag? It’s a recorder trio that he wrote for a music festival in Plön, Germany. It works great for brass trio. I can send you my arrangement if you’re interested. There’s a YouTube video of the original version here, but don’t let it put you off–it sounds much better played by brass: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACHR07_8rTo

Congratulations! That had to be a lot of work. Have you thought of composing something from scratch for this ensemble? After spending all that time with it, both playing and arranging, looks like you’d have a great grasp of its possibilities.

I hope you go for it, and let us know how it goes. My one suggestion would be to be thinking about it between now and this summer and maybe jotting down some sketches and ideas from time to time. That way, when the time comes, you’ll have something to start with instead of a completely blank page. You might end up doing something completely different once you really get into it, but at least you won’t be having to begin from a standing start.

That’s good advice, Lyle. I’m not sure what medium I’d like to try writing for first – probably solo horn since there are fewer variables than brass trio, but hopefully some brass trio stuff in the future.

Hi, James – Whatever you feel most comfortable with is certainly the way to go on a first venture, and given my complete amateur status as a composer, this comment should be heard as coming from way back up in the peanut gallery.

My initial comment had to do with my idea that your having worked all that time getting those transcriptions done for the trio means you’ve already got in your head better than most people what that ensemble can and cannot do. Looks like you’d have a built in feel for the “variables” involved, one of which being a maximum of three pitches at a time, which gives you a lot of flexibility, but sets a nice limit as well.

If by solo horn you mean horn with piano, there are infinitely more variables when it comes to harmony. If you mean an absolute solo for horn, my experience is that creating an interesting single line of music is one of the hardest things out there.

The other thing about horn and piano is the not being able to use the purer harmonies the horn is so good at. I realize the convenience of a piano but feel it confines the tonal palette of the horn.

The other thing about the trio is that surely there are some sounds and effects that it will be particularly at, while there will be others it will not be particularly good at.

All of which is to say I think you’re right on the money thinking about how many variables you want to deal with. Too many or too few makes things more difficult.

Again, I really hope you try your hand at composition. In this age of specialization it’s somehow become seen as something only a few can or should do. My sense is that it’s something a lot more musicians should try. Besides adding fresh things to the repertoire, as an exercise it seems to round out one’s musicianship and musicality because it gets you thinking about music in a new way.

By the way, don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but couldn’t find a contact address for you on the blog. Didn’t particularly want to gum up your comments with my ramblings on a subject I love talking about 😉

At any rate – wishing you all success.

It’s absolutely fine Lyle, and I appreciate the thoughtful comments. By solo horn I did mean unaccompanied, but I see what you mean about it being difficult to create an interesting unaccompanied line. I did a tiny bit of composing as an assignment in graduate school, and I definitely want to get back into it. Sorry for not including an email address on the blog – I was hoping not including it would cut down on spam from this site. Feel free to comment any time, or if you want to contact me by email you can always find my university email address by checking out the school’s website http://www.ulm.edu/music

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