A Belated Commission “Performance” – Sonata for Horn and Piano by Sy Brandon

In 2018 I participated in a consortium to commission a sonata for horn and piano from Sy Brandon. I’m very familiar with his music, having recorded his Inventions for Brass Trio on our recent album Scenes from the Bayou.

Brandon’s music is fun for the performers and accessible for audiences, so participating in the consortium was a no-brainer. Part of the commissioning agreement was to perform the new work at some point after its completion, but other obligations have prevented me from programming it thus far. After our state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, I contacted Sy and asked him if he would be willing to provide me with an electronic realization of the piano accompaniment, as well as permission to record and share the piece on YouTube. While not the same as a live performance, I hope this rendition is representative of the work. Each movement was performed in its entirety, and the recording is unedited except for some added reverb and equalization. I hope you enjoy it!

More information about the piece can be found below the embedded video, including the names of the other consortium members and program notes by the composer.

Sonata For Horn and Piano, by Sy Brandon In Memory of David Baptist
Commissioning Consortium
  • James Boldin – University of Louisiana, Monroe
  • Erwin Chandler – Mohnton, PA
  • Patrice Chandler – Mohnton, PA
  • Benjamin Lieser – University of Central Florida
  • Ellie Jenkins – Dalton GA Joseph Johnson – Augusta GA
  • Sarah Schouten – Edinboro, PA
  • Nancy Sullivan – Flagstaff, AZ
Program Notes This three-movement Sonata was created in memory of my dear friend, Hornist, and composer/arranger, David Baptist. To read more about Dave, visit  http://todd.macshare.com/davidbaptist/index.html This work was created with the support of a commissioning consortium. The first movement is heroic in style as Dave was one of my heroes. He had so much talent and yet was very humble. He was one of the first friends we made when we moved to Arizona and his sense of humor was priceless. The movement is in a modified sonata form. The recapitulation begins with the secondary theme, then the closing theme and finally the main theme therefore creating an arch form. The second movement reflects Dave’s love of jazz. This bluesy movement uses a slight twist of the blues scale. Normally the lowered third is in the melody and the normal 3rd in the harmony. While this occurs in this movement, the reverse also occurs. The normal third is in the melody and the lowered third is in the harmony. Frequent use of both the normal and lowered versions of the 5th and 7th also occur. The form builds to a climax about two-thirds through before returning to the opening material. The third movement is in a modified rondo form. The 2/4, 5/8 rhythm of the A theme was inspired by my counting my vitamins in the morning to make sure that I had what I was supposed to take. I counted 1234 12345 which gave rise to the rhythmic pattern. The asymmetrical meter idea is carried over into the B theme where it begins with 4 measures of 5/8 followed by alternating 2/4 and 3/4. The character is similar to the A theme. The C theme is radically different and sounds more like a development with its repeated Horn notes and changing harmonies underneath. I am in the process of preparing Dave’s compositions for publication and observed that Dave used this technique frequently. After the C section the themes return as B followed by A and a coda.The odd meters, articulation, and dynamic surprises create a lighter, more humorous movement. -Sy Brandon

 

First Solos for the Horn Player: Brazilian Set, by Louis Gordon

Continuing with the First Solos for the Horn Player project, here are two brief pieces by Louis B. Gordon, arranged by Mason Jones. There is very little information online about the composer, but here is a brief excerpt from his obituary:

Louis graduated from Beaumont Texas High School. He attended Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1946 and his Master of Music degree in 1947. He went on to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1962.

Louis was a Professor of Music at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, where he taught for 30 years until his retirement in 1993. He was a member of the American Federation of Musicians and a member of Temple B’nai Or, Morristown, NJ. He proudly served his country during World War II as an Army Air Corps cadet.

While I’m fairly certain that this is the same composer whose music appears in First Solos for the Horn Player, I am less certain about the original instrumentation for this “Brazilian Set.” Gordon has a number of other solo and chamber music compositions for winds and piano (though none for horn that I can find), and it’s possible that these two movements came from one of those works. It’s an interesting choice for this collection, and is a nice contrast to the primarily 18th and 19th century compositions found in the rest of the book. If anyone out there has more information about Louis Gordon or this piece in particular I would love to hear it.

First Solos for the Horn Player: I Hear as in a Dream, Bizet

The eighth installment in this series of recordings from Mason Jones’s First Solos for the Horn Player is a transcription of the  aria “I Hear as in a Dream” (Je crois entendre encore) from Act I of George Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers. The first image after the titles is a public domain illustration for the final scene of  Act I as produced at La Scala in 1886, designed by Giovanni Zuccarelli (1846–1897) and illustrated by Antonio Bonamore (1845–1907).

This brief vocal transcription would pair nicely with the other Bizet work in the collection, Song of April. As with most of the material in First Solos for the Horn Player, the range and technical requirements in this piece are suitable for intermediate players. It makes for a great study in playing soft, sustained melodies.

First Solos for the Horn Player: German Dance, Beethoven

Up next in the First Solos for the Horn Player series we have one of several arranged works by Beethoven found in this collection, a German Dance based on No. 6 in the 12 German Dances, WoO 8. It’s a fun little tune, suitable for a high school player.

First Solos for the Horn Player: Andante from Horn Quintet, K. 407, by Mozart

Up next in the First Solos for the Horn Player series is the second movement from Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407. It’s a fantastic piece, easily the equal of any of Mozart’s horn concertos . For more information on this work, check out John Ericson’s article at Horn Matters.

The slow movement is the most difficult selection in First Solos for the Horn Player. At first I thought the book was organized chronologically, which would explain the Mozart’s inclusion near the beginning. However, that’s not quite the case, so perhaps it’s included early so that anyone casually thumbing through would see something they recognize in the first few pages.

This one took me a while to work up, and though it’s not perfect by any means, I’m satisfied with this recording with SmartMusic accompaniment. On the technology front, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better at this point not to stress over the video/audio syncing issues, and instead to focus on making good recordings and including some public domain images to accompany the audio. The syncing issue was never a problem before I started using a Blue Yeti USB microphone, so I presume it will resolve itself when I go back to using my normal audio interface and XLR microphones. For now, though, my current setup will suffice. For the especially curious, here are the technical fixes I’ve tried (unsuccessfully):

  • Set Logic Pro X sample rate to 48 kHz (default is 44.1), and the Blue Yeti specs list its sample rate at 48 kHz.
  • Set Q2n-4K audio sample rate to 48 kHz

Neither of the above resolved the problem, although I have noticed upon further inspection that the camera records at 25 frames per second, and Final Cut Pro adjusts it to 23.9 fps. This may be the problem, but it will take me some time to work out a solution. If anyone has other possible fixes, I would be grateful!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Song of April, by Georges Bizet

For the fifth selection in this series from First Solos for the Horn Player by Mason Jones, I chose Bizet’s “Song of April.” I wasn’t familiar with the work prior to this project, but it’s a lovely tune that lays well on the horn. Technology update: I’m still working on the sampling rate issues I mentioned in my previous post, but have so far not found a resolution. I have a couple more ideas to try…hopefully I’ll have it fixed for the next video.

In the meantime, I have posted two videos for this selection: an audio-only version with some reverb and equalization added, and a version with video that has not been edited. It’s interesting to compare the two, and in the video I get to support one of my alma maters, the University of Wisconsin. Enjoy!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Romance, by Alexander Scriabin

Here’s the fourth selection in the First Solos for the Horn Player video series, Alexander Scriabin’s Romance for Horn and Piano. Here are links to the other recordings up to this point.

Along with the second movement of Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407, this miniature for horn and piano is probably the most recognized work in the collection. The score and solo part are also available on IMSLP, and  there appears to be little difference between the Mason Jones and IMSLP editions.

A few interesting technical notes about this recording, and thoughts on this project thus far:

  • I experimented with the recording process on this one, using a Blue Yeti USB microphone in stereo pattern to record the audio into Logic Pro X. My hope was to sync this audio with the video from my Zoom Q2n-4k camera, and apply some equalization and reverb to improve the overall sound quality.
  • The latter effort was successful, and the overall sound quality belies the modest recording environment, a bedroom! The sound of the digital accompaniment is pretty good too, although it would have been nice to be more flexible with the tempo and dynamic subtleties. With a collaborative pianist, this would have been easy and natural.
  • Syncing the audio from Logic Pro with the video file should have been a routine task, and one which I have done several times in the past, though not with an identical set up. But as you can tell from the absence of video footage, I could not get it to work! Despite spending several minutes playing around in Final Cut Pro and consulting help pages, it still wasn’t working. I have very limited technical knowledge, but my guess would be that the sample rate between the Logic Pro recording and the camera recording was not the same.
  • Because the sound quality of the audio-only recording was superior to the camera audio, I decided to use it without any video footage, and insert a public domain image of Scriabin and his mistress, Tatiana Schloezer. For the next video I hope to work out the syncing issues.
  • A final note: I decided early on to NOT record every solo in this book. There’s a couple of reasons for this, not least of which is that recording the entire book would probably run afoul of “Fair Use.I haven’t settled on which solos to record for the remainder of the project, but I anticipate five or six more. Enough to to be representative, but certainly not a majority of the book (or even half). After that, I have some ideas for future projects, more to come.

 

First Solos for the Horn Player: Air from Rosamunde

Next in this video project series is an arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Air from Rosamunde. Like the previous selections in First Solos for the Horn Player, this brief solo emphasizes lyrical playing. The range and technical requirements are suitable for beginning to intermediate players.

A few technical notes: if you have the book First Solos for the Horn Player, you probably know that the second movement from Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K. 407  is actually listed third in the book. I will be recording that one as well, but could use some more time to practice it! I also think a more suitable place for that one is near the end of the collection, along with the rest of the more extended and difficult solos. It’s certainly the most recognizable work in the whole book, which probably explains its early inclusion.

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be recording these from home for the foreseeable future. I haven’t edited the audio in any way, other than to trim the beginning and ending. The sound is consistent with a small room, but overall acceptable, I think, as is the sound of the SmartMusic accompaniment. Although nothing has been decided yet, it may turn out that our students play juries this way: recorded or live streamed from home with pre-recorded accompaniment. As such, another goal of this project is to demonstrate the possibilities and limitations of  this recording set up.

First Solos for the Horn Player: “No More, I Have Heard Everything,” by W.A. Mozart, arr. Jones

The next video in the First Solos for the Horn Player project is “No More, I Have Heard Everything” (Non Più, Tutto Ascoltai), by W.A. Mozart. Paraphrasing some of the information provided by SmartMusic, this short work was originally for soprano and tenor with chamber orchestra, and was later included in Act II of the opera seria Idomeneo. It’s a lovely tune, and offers ample opportunities for the horn player to work on expressive playing.

For those who might be interested, here’s the equipment I’m using on this project.

  • Horn: Yamaha 667V
  • Mouthpiece: Houser, San Francisco 14-0-2 with 17.5mm Houser E Rim
  • Camera/Microphones: Zoom Q2n-4K
  • Video Editing: Apple Final Cut Pro

I might add that this was the last video recorded in my teaching studio at the University of Louisiana Monroe. Shortly following this session, we were advised that further precautions were being enacted to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rest of the videos will be recorded from my home, and I might need to adjust camera placement, microphones, etc. to fit the new space. Stay tuned!

New Video Project: First Solos for the Horn Player, by Mason Jones

Like many colleagues around the world, I am now working exclusively online, and all upcoming performances have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. In lieu of live chamber and solo performances, I thought it would be useful and fun to start another video project, similar to my Kopprasch Project from several years ago.

My repertoire choice this time is a book of horn and piano arrangements by Mason Jones, First Solos for the Horn Player. It’s a great collection, but not nearly as well known as his “yellow book,” Solos for the Horn Player, the contents of which can be found on a really great recording  by Gregory Miller. The works in First Solos for the Horn Player are generally shorter and less complex, but are very tuneful and lay quite well on the horn. Any of them would make a fine addition to a recital program in need of lighter, accessible pieces.

I plan to post a few of these each week, recorded with SmartMusic accompaniment. It is my hope that teachers and students find these videos useful during this difficult time. If you like these pieces, be sure to order the book!

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