Ensembles: the Brass Quintet Oct27

Ensembles: the Brass Quintet...

There are many varieties of small ensembles (sometimes referred to as chamber ensembles) for classical instruments; but perhaps the most popular one for wind players (brass and woodwind) is the brass quintet. This is for several reasons. For one thing, since three fifths of the group is made up of common jazz/pop instruments, these groups frequently play popular music in addition to the more mainstream classical literature. Another reason is its flexibility in performance settings. The group is small enough that it can perform intimate indoor concerts, but the nature of the instruments is such that it can perform equally as effectively outdoors with no acoustic support like band-shells and the like. The standard instrumentation for a brass quintet is two trumpets, a French horn, a trombone, and a tuba. In more advanced groups, the trumpets will sometimes switch off to piccolo trumpet (a trumpet pitched an octave higher than a regular trumpet) or flugelhorn (a trumpet relative with conical tubing that gives it a mellower sound). Some groups will use cornets in the place of trumpets, particularly if their repertoire includes a lot of Americana style music. Other variations will use a euphonium or baritone horn in the place of the trombone, or switch out the French horn with another trombone, or replace the tuba with a bass trombone. These alternations are relatively rare. It may surprise some brass quintet fans how recent the creation of this ensemble is. There were two groups that formed around the same time, in the 1940s, that established this type of ensemble. They were the New York Brass Quintet and the Chicago Brass Quintet. Of the two, the Chicago group is arguably the most influential, due to tuba player Arnold Jacobs being the teacher of Chuck Daellenbach...

The Evolution of an Instrument: The French Horn Aug11

The Evolution of an Instrument: The French Horn...

It’s been suggested that one of the things we could look at in Musebreak’s music articles is the evolution of instruments. Good idea. So let’s start with the one I know best: the horn. Most people (in America anyway) know this instrument as the French horn. However, the instrument is primarily German in origin. Therefore its official name is simply “horn”. The instrument traces its origin all the way back to the “shofar” horns of the Middle East, horns made of actual animal horns. The early metal horns were much simpler than what they would become later; little more than a length of metal tubing with a small flared bell on the end. The design quickly gained a large loop to make it easy to carry on horseback. This was important due to their use as a means of calling the dogs during hunting. These instruments had no valves, and a limited number of pitches available. Like bugles, these horns were limited to what is called the “harmonic series”, a set of notes that can be made by adjusting the speed of the air and the tightness of the lips. (The word for lip tightness is “embouchure”.) When composers started using these instruments in their works in the late Baroque era (around the early 18th century), it was largely to invoke the feeling of outdoor activities like hunting. Soon it was used as more of a fanfare instrument. Since the musical works were written in various keys, you couldn’t just stick any old horn in your orchestra; it had to be pitched in such a way that its harmonic series would fit in with the key of the piece. To that end, horns were made to have sections that could be removed and replaced...