brass ensemble history

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Imperial, Aug 15, 2005.

  1. Imperial

    Imperial Member

    I'm wondering about different brass ensemble traditions in different countrys.
    The traditional swedish brass ensemble, (i.e. the one that was the most common in the end of the 19th century & beginning of the 20th century) is the brass sextet.
    the traditional swedish rbass sextet consists of:

    1 Eb-cornet
    1 Bb-cornet
    1 alto-horn in Eb
    1 valve-trombone in Bb (don't know if that is the right word in english)
    1 Tenor horn in Bb
    1 tuba

    In finland during the same time the brass septet was the most common.
    that one consisted of the same ensemble as above plus an extra Bb-cornet.

    Is there similar traditions in other countrys?
    When did the brass quintet enter the stage?
    I heard that Victor Ewald is said to have written the first piece of music for brass quintet.
    is that true? when was that?
  2. sevenhelz

    sevenhelz Active Member

    have you ever heard of b ollywood brass band? they know some history of so called "brass bands" in india.
    sorry, would be more interested/ing but it's late.
  3. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Brass ensemble history - interesting subject and one that appeals to me greatly!

    I don't think Victor Ewald can lay claim to the first ever brass quintet pieces. That 'award' belongs (probably) to Ludwig Maurer, a German composer who lived from 1789-1878. His 12 'Kleine Stuecke' for quintet weren't published during his lifetime but were believed to have been written around three years before he died. He was writing for small brass ensembles around the same time as the Danish composer Wilhelm Ramsoe (1837-1895) . But Ramsoe wrote a number of brass quartets. You asked if Ewald wrote the first ever brass quintets.

    The brass works of all three aforementioned composers were (I believe) concieved originally for a valved saxhorn ensemble (i.e. no trombones or French horns), though many performances nowadays are played by a standard orchestral-instrument brass quintet.

    As for the Ewald, three of his quintets (there was a fourth) are performed by the Wallace Collection on actual late 19th/early 20th c. saxhorns, on a CD entitled Baltic Brass (Label: Deux-Elles). Heartily recommended.

    Best modern instrument version for me is by the Stockholm Chamber Brass on a CD entitled Sounds of St. Petersburg (label: Bis). This includes the 'fourth' quintet I mentioned earlier. It is believed the first three Ewald brass Quintets started life as string works. The fourth definitely did and was transcribed by an unknown hand (possibly Ewald's) and is the most demanding of the four to my ears. It's certainly the longest.

    Hope this helps.
  4. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Mind you, I spotted this from the Florida State Brass Quintet's 25th anniversary details.

    'Their concert program included the first performances in modern time of a recently discovered brass quintet from the 19th century, written by the French composer, Jean Bellon, shortly before 1850. For you brass quintet fans, you will notice that this pre-dates the Ewald brass quintets by 50 years! This work, Quintet No. 4, is from a series of twelve quintets by this composer which will be published soon by BIM Publications, Switzerland. These quintets represent a charming Romantic period addition to the repertoire for brass quintet.'

    However, deeper delving into this news, I discovered that these 'quintets' were originally scored for a quartet of Eb Flugelhorn, cornet, trombone and ophicleide, so maybe Ludwig Maurer's claim stands. Anyone else with more info on this?
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2005
  5. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Hear, hear. And it was a pity they chose to include the two Sibelius pieces instead of going for a 'full house' and record all 4 quintets, in my opinion. Although if it is particularly long work, I suppose the omission of the 4th may have been unavoidable.

    Right from the very first time I heard the 3rd quintet, on PJBE's Romantic Brass album, I could hear the sound of strings in my head, so the above comment confirms that I may still have a few marbles left.........
  6. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I distinctly remember The Wallace Collection playing a Bellon quintet at the RAM's Brass Festival way back in, I think, 1999. They used period instruments, including an ophicleide which rattled rather a lot, and every now and again a key got stuck! I shall have a rummage tonight to see if I can find the event programme to flesh out the details.
  7. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I agree. I'd love to have heard the fourth too. Should have been possible seeing as on Stockholm Chamber Brass's 'Sounds of St. Petersburg', they managed to fit all four quartets onto the one CD (if it's time constraints we're talking about).
  8. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    That's be great if you could, Jim. Might shed some more light in the programme as to the work's history. Editions BIM (who sell the Bellon 'Quintets') have a note at the bottom of each one referring to its original instrumentation of Eb flug, cornet, trombone and ophicleide so it'd be interesting for a BOC like me to glean some more info about it.

    Cheers, Jim
  9. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I was there at the RAM as well, and I'll try to find my copy in case Jim can't lay his hands on his. If I remember correctly, they were hoping to record the Bellon pieces as well, so hopefully they'll appear in due course.

    Another area where the brass ensemble took hold fairly early on was of course the USA where there were a number of saxhorn bands by the time of the Civil War. The Chestnut Brass Company and others have produced a couple of recordings featuring some of the early repertoire - possibly not written with the aspirations of Bellon or Ewald, but interesting in its own right.

    The "Yorkshire Waltzes" on Grimethorpe's "History of Brass Music, the Early Years", dates from 1856, but it could be argued that it doesn't really count, as it includes an Eb clarinet in with the brass players.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2005
  10. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    It'd either have to be a recording that's been in the vaults gatheing dust for a long while or another ensemble (perhaps RSAMD Brass?) as the Wallace Collection are now no more. Hope a recording does appear, though; from whoever!
  11. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I have now rummaged and find that my memory is at least partly right. It was 1999, but the concert was shared between the Wallace Collection, including Roger Webster on a period cornet, and the Bellon Quintet, which was the RAM's newly formed period brass group. On the programme was Bellon's first and second quintet. I was definitely right about the clanky ophicleide though (although the programme doesn't specifically mention it!)

    Looking back at this programme, what a fantastic weekend this was. The Wallace Collection, LSO Brass, Luzern Brass, Dyke, ISB, RAM Brass Band doing The Trumpets, new music by Pete McGarr and Andrew Powell, new music by Birtwistle, a Maxwell-Davies concert, demos of helicons, ophicleides and serpents, Allen Vizzutti, Bob Childs, Pat Sheridan, Steven Mead, Sheona White, ****ywood Brass Band, musical theatre pieces, jazz, Guildhall Juniors doing Tim Souster and others, and so much more. And I recall an encore which included Dyke and RAM Brass Band deafening us with Procession to the Minster. Surely it must be time for a repeat??

    PS I see that the Bowdlerisation programme has inserted asterisks into the word which begins with B and rhymes with Hollywood. Why?
  12. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    The programme notes say that the quintets were discovered by Anthony George (who was the guy playing the ophicleide on this weekend) in the British Library. There are apparently eight others, yet to come to light (in 1999, at least). The programme makes the point that they precede Ewald by 50 years. The Bellon Quintet comprised two cornets, horn (French, I think), trombone and helicon, although I can't swear that they performed both the quintets on the programme. One may have been performed by the Wallace Collection, comprising two cornets, horn, trom and ophicleide. The programme gives a few biographical details about Bellon, but you probably know them already.
  13. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Many thanks for sharing this with us, Jim (I hope the original starter of this thread isn't bored yet! :)). As it happens, I know little about Bellon! But I do know that Maurer preceded Ewald prior to the discovery of the Bellon works.

    As for the 'bowdlerization', I guess this is the 'rude word firewall' being over sensitive. Presumably it thinks that any word starting with the first four letters of what rhymes with Hollywood and begins with 'B', will naturally be follwed by 'ocks' ;-)
  14. Imperial

    Imperial Member

    Thanks a lot for your information on this topic!
    I ordered the wallace collection CD immediately. I'm really looking forward to listen to it!
    The petite suite mentioned above is a nice piece which I have played a lot. It't written by
    Sibelius in his youth while spending time in his summerhouse. He wrote it for the standard finnish brass septet which I mentioned before.
    I think it's really challenging to play original brass music written by such big composers.
    I also know one piece written by Grieg originally for brass: "Sorgemarsj över Rikard Nordraak" recorded among others by german "Brass Partout". (sorgemarsj=mourning march)
    It was written by Grieg for his friend Rikard (the guy that composed the norwegian national anthem) for his funeral.

    however one of my original questions in this topic is still unanswered. What about the standard brass settings of the 19th century? Of course there where different standards around. But which were the most common brass ensemble settings? In sweden for example as I said before the brass sextet was the most common (in the same way as the brass quintet is the most common today). How about England?

    Still another question (maybe only partially connected to this topic): The swedish period brass instruments of the early 20th century has a different fingering system: three walves. the first and second intonated as today. second valve lowers the tone one half tone, the first two half tones. BUT the third lowers the tone 4 half tones instead of the modern three half tones. Yielding the following differences in fingering:
    the modern grip 2-3 is replaced by 3
    -"- 1-3 -"- 2-3
    -"- 1-2-3 -"- 1-3

    of course the instrument manufacturing technique of that days made the instruments intonations worse than today. But theoratically it appears to me that that system should make the instruments play in a better intonation. Isn't the rule that the more valves you use, the more you lose intonation? (as 1-2-3 usually is way to high.)
  15. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    This is where my brass knowledge gets a bit fuzzy. I'm not entirely sure that in the 19th century, England had any sort of brass ensemble history. The brass band was in development (albeit with the addition of the occasional woodwind instrument). And there are certainly a couple of pieces that date from the early 20th century for an ensemble of saxhorns (Percy Fletcher wrote one but I can't recall its title). Maybe someone with more knowledge can help out here.

    As for the brass quintet in England, the legendary Philip Jones Brass Ensemble was formed in 1951, firstly as a quartet. Indeed John Gardner and John Addison wrote pieces for their combination of two trumpets, French horn and trombone. (And if you've never played the Addison Divertimento, try it if you get the opportunity. We had a run through it at the recent WMA Summer School and what a fabulous bit of writing!). Eventually expanding to a quintet, it took the PJBE 19 years from their formation to get their first 'solo' commercial LP recording (they had appeared on a number of discs accompanying choirs etc. in the mid to late 1960s and made an Extended Play 45rpm single with the 'brass' part of Instruments of The Orchestra in around 1965). But really, most ensembles in the UK as far as I can recall in the early 20th/late 19th century would maybe have been formed 'ad hoc' to play pieces written for an orchestral brass section. However, more than willing to be stood corrected! As I said, my knowledge on this particular area (19th/20thc. brass ensembles in England) is a little fuzzy.

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