Why Study Brass Quintet Music?

In other words, with the breadth of repertoire already available to us as horn players – etudes of all shapes and sizes, orchestral excerpts, solos, etc., what could these excerpts possibly offer that we couldn’t get somewhere else?

1)  Many of these works are performed frequently by student and professional brass quintets.  Being aware of the important horn solos and other prominent passages in these pieces will keep you from being caught off guard at your next reading session or rehearsal.

2)  Auditions – although professional brass quintet auditions are not standardized in this country the way orchestral auditions are, players interested in pursuing a career in chamber music for brass should definitely know this repertoire.  Players auditioning for teaching positions at institutions  which have a faculty brass quintet would also need to be familiar with these works, since a reading session with the quintet would be very likely during the audition/interview process.  In addition, some professional and regional orchestras also have a woodwind or brass quintet made up of principal players – I know of at least one audition list that stated “Auditionee for Principal Horn may be asked to participate in a reading session with woodwind and/or brass quintet.” (Cedar Rapids, Principal/3rd horn, 1997).

3) Because the majority of original brass quintet compositions belong to the 20th and 21st centuries, studying these works can help prepare you to perform other modern compositions.  You might think of them as another set of etudes to supplement the traditional 20th century horn etude collections – Verne Reynolds, Gunther Schuller, Georges Barboteu, Douglas Hill, etc.  In addition, many of these works were written by well known 20th-century composers who have not composed any etude collections- So although Vincent Persichetti and Elliott Carter didn’t write any etudes for horn, we can study their brass quintet and solo compositions.

4) Other areas of your playing that might benefit from studying these excerpts include, but are not limited to:

a) Endurance, both long and short term –  brass quintet and chamber music in general tends to have more “horn on the face” time than orchestral playing.

b) Technique – these excerpts are full of virtuosic passages, from rapid scales to multiple tonguing to various extended techniques.

c) Range and flexibility – since brass quintet horn parts aren’t specialized in the way that many orchestral horn parts are, the horn player in a brass quintet must do it all – high range, low range, and everything in between – many of these compositions call for a huge, orchestral brass sound one moment, and then woodwind-like technique and agility the next.

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