Classical Arrangements for Brass Bands

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by eflatbass, Jan 13, 2011.

  1. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    Is there still a demand amongst brass bands for arrangements of classical music? Perhaps more to the point; do audiences still wish to listen to it?

    I am referring particularly to 18th and 19th century (c 1701-1900) music, rather than more modern compositions, and where copyright is generally not a problem.

    Finally; are there classical works that have perhaps been overlooked and, which in your opinion, could possibly be ripe for consideration?
  2. Brass_Head

    Brass_Head New Member

    Classical transcriptions are an important part of our banding heritage and I think they have an important place within our current repertoire. As always a good MD knows his audience when putting together his programme.

    Where I do have an issue is with arrangers in recent times adding parts for snare drum etc when there was only timps in the original. A good transcription is almost a recomposition in itself - imagine the Mona Lisa in sunglasses!
  3. carlwoodman

    carlwoodman Member

    Agreed, Andrew!
    Overture to The Magic Flute being one that particularly grates with me!
  4. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    Perhaps that's one for investigation with a view to a new arrangement?
  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Not really any need; just leave out the SD ...
  6. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Totally agree with that.

    Have come across a few conductors though who pack every concert with classical/romantic orchestral repertoire. I worry about the damage this does... I must say if I really want to hear a great performance of The Magic Flute, I will be off to an orchestra.

    While we'd be foolish to abandon our history, those among us who seek to make brass bands in to orchestras really needs their heads examined.
  7. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    I would certainly hope that we are not seeking to turn brass bands into orchestras. It is quite impossible to recreate the tonal sound and quality of an orchestra when applied to brass writing, but what I always attempt to do is produce the most musical arrangement, whilst remaining as faithful to the original score as possible (within, of course, the obvious constraints of the available instrumentation).

    Replacing the timpani part with a side drum may sound quite ludicrous; however, many of the existing orchestral transcriptions for brass were written well before bands had access to those big booming pieces of percussion. Perhaps at the time, the side drum was a better alternative to the one of using a couple of dustbin lids!
  8. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Sorry, I wasn't trying to pan arrangers or classical transcriptions outright, merely those who use this music as a foundation for their brass band repertoire. Clumsy choice of words in my last post.

    When programmed correctly, a classical arrangement can be a great part of a brass band performance. And cracking fun to play. Festival Overture? Shostakovich V? Don't mind if I do!
  9. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Active Member

    The problem faced by may arrangers of classical music (I include myself in this) is that many classical composers are masters of timbre (as well, as melody, harmony etc). Sadly the brass band cannot conjure up the variety of timbral variety as an orchestra can provide, meaning that many of the transcriptions sound (to me) quite tedious, or simply don't work.
    It isn't helped by the limited range of the instruments (even with the more recent extended ranges shown by the top level players in the brass band world). Finding a single instrument (or instrumentalist, if we are being more specific) in the brass world that can accurately cover the range of, say, a clarinet (or cello, or many more) is almost impossible. This means that what, in the original, might be a flourish on a single instrument needs to be split between two or three different instruments, interrupting the flow and disturbing the music.
    I have played (and heard) a number of transcriptions where the arranger has succesfully transferred all the notes from one genre to another, but the flow of the music has been lost - there is more to music than the notes themselves.

    I can think of a vast number of pieces that have yet to be transcribed for brass, but dare not mention them just in case it gives someone an idea - the reason why they haven't been done already is probably because they are so well written in their original form, rehashing for any other musical genre would be doing the music a disservice.
  10. BoBo

    BoBo Member

    Orange Juice or to give it it's proper name Concerto d'Aranjuez by Rodrigo might give us a clue here. I would guess that the majority of bands have played it since it was made famous by Brassed Off. Audiences (and Flugel players) love it. All this despite there being, as I understand it, no legal arrangement of it available.

    Many who know the brass band arrangement well are not aware that it started life as a concerto for guitar and orchestra and that there are two other movements. How many have heard the guitar concerto middle movement and thought that it is not as good as the "original".

    An inspired piece of transcription I think which I suggest would a "yes" answer to the original question which started this thread.
  11. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    For Major Works, trying to arrange the Whole piece, as mentioned above by Trumpet Mike, Definitely doesnt work for me.

    Whilst I love the Brass Band sound, and wouldnt want to play anywhere else, I also love the sound of a full Orchestra. I Just have in my mind as an example how much would be lost and missed by say playing the whole of the Pathetique symphony (My All time favourite Orchestral piece) with a Brass Band.

    However I do think, however cheesy this might be, that the Selection/Melodies/Variations/Compilation type of arrangement does work; essentially taking the Highlight themes and arranging those (hopefully with a different angle).
  12. Coverhead

    Coverhead Member

    I heard somewhere that Derek Bourgeois once contemplated the idea of transcribing 'The Rite of Spring' for brass band. Luckily though, in my opinion, he couldn't get the rights (no pun intended!) to it. I totally agree that most orchestral music simply could not be replicated by a brass band. Some pieces though, in the hands of an extraordinarily skilled arranger, can be very effective... the arrangements of Howard Snell and Elgar Howarth spring to mind!
  13. Par10

    Par10 Member

    OK to turn Brass bands into POP groups then????

    The problem with music written purely for Brass Bands is that very few composers want to do it, perhaps it is because it will not get the playing time of other genre's or that there is no money to be made from it, after all a composer has to eat and they also like to take holidays just as most Brass Band players do.
  14. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    There are now a number of very fine composers (and I do not count myself amongst them!) writing original works for brass bands. Thanks to our music colleges, and the ever-improving quality of students attending them, I believe we shall see the appearance of many new works for brass.

    It may be a sad state of affairs for me to claim, but arranging existing works is looked upon by many as the easier option. It's even sadder to say that there are some pretty awful transcriptions published. Give someone with a certain amount of musical theory education a copy of the Sibelius (or similar) software, and they suddenly claim to be a composer. It's infinitely more difficult than simply attempting to transcribe a violin part to Bb cornet!
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2011
  15. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    This seems, however, to encapsualte an important point to me.

    However I'd disagree that it's a transcription by any stretch. The Bolton arrangement of Concierto D'Aranjuez is precisely that. An arrangement. And it's VERY different from the original work for guitar. The point being, that when embarking on the arrangement, it must have been blindingly obvious to the arranger that there would have to be big changes if it were ever going to work for a brass band. That takes not only courage, but also a proper degree of musical cleverness too.

    To pick out an equally famous example, I don't particularly like William Rimmer's arrangement of 'Les Preludes' by Franz Liszt. On a personal level, I much prefer the Bram Gay arrangement, because it's closer to what Liszt originally wrote and to me works musically. But if you asked me which one works better as a band piece then I would have to concede that it's probably the Rimmer arrangement. I don't necessarily like it any more for that (it's been too horribly chopped and musically messed around for me) but the actual scoring for the band in Rimmer's version is far more sympathetic to the instrumentation and at that level, it works a lot better.

    Being able to look at a work and transcribe it for band is relatively simple. Take the parts, drop them onto the staves in a Frank Wright 'well it's a viola part so it must go on a tenor horn' style, and Bob's your uncle. But that often leads to deeply unsympathetic scoring. ('Les Francs Juges' anyone?) Arranging is an entirely different skill.

    The way I've always thought of it is it's like translating from French into English. It's not enough to look the words up in the dictionary because you'll end up with something that can probably be understood, but just doesn't hang together. You have to try to paint a similar picture with different words, and sometimes that involves significant deviation fron the original message, to get the same point across.

    And in that lies an extremely under-rated skill. Not just the ability to arrange the work, but to arrange it in a way that works both musically and mechanically. That's sympathetic to the instrumentation available, but still respects the original work.

    Occasionally this means pretty wholesale changes to fit the new ensemble, like Concierto D'Aranjuez with which this point began, and it's my belief that very often, poor arrangements are largely a product of an arranger trying to stick too faithfully to the original version. One just has to accept that some things written for orchestra simply won't work on a brass band.

    But, paradoxically it's also important to know if what one is doing is too great a departure from the original. You can re-score things pretty heavily and so long as the musicl integrity remains intact. But there can come a point when you've done such a re-writing job that in an attempt to make it work as a band piece, you've lost all the musical soul that the original had - at which point in my experience it's best to accept that no matter what you do it's never going to be a good piece to play, and shelve the whole thing.
  16. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Andi and Mike both hit the nail on the head with their posts, in my opinion. Another example would be Denis Wright's arrangement of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture. Faithful to the original? Not quite. The rapid scalic string passages in the final Gaudeamus igitur are absent in the brass band version, and a ****** good job too, because with the dovetailing that would be necessary to transcribe those parts and the number of players needing to be used, it would, in my view, detract and overpower the aforementioned song no matter how well those 'pyrotechnics' were played. That's not the only example of 'cutting the cloth to fit the cloak' that Denis Wright employed in that arrangement, but the overall impression is for me, that it works as an effective arrangement of a well known orchestral work, rather than a transcription.
  17. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Active Member

    I heard a symphonic brass ensemble perform an arrangement of this a few years ago. It was technically incredible, but musically it left me totally flat (and with a desperate urge to go and listen to the original). On a personal level I found that I didn't agree with a lot of the arranging decisions, but my main problem was that it was missing so much colour - the assortment of instruments (and, therefore, tonal colour) in the original just couldn't be replicated by a brass group (even one using the full assortment of instruments/mutes available to them).
    I left the concert thinking "just because you can doesn't mean you should."

    (which is a shame - I have heard the group a number of times and this is the only piece I have ever thought that about)
  18. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    I think much like the type of people who watch these 3 tenor type operatic concerts. I think the average listener wouldn't mind hearing various snippets from bits of classical music in a reasonably true to the original or dumbed down version as the piece dictates. If they can come away hearing a bit of Romeo and Juliet and a bit of Rusalkas song to the moon and a bit of Cavalleria rusticana then they would be happy. What general audiences don't wont is to be challenged by major transcriptions like Howard Snell's amazing arrangement of Daphnis and Chloe for exsample and obviously the dreaded squeaky Gate stuff.
  19. FlugelD

    FlugelD Member

    I saw a TV programme recently - it may only have been on BBC Scotland - about the (recently) late Kenneth McKellar. He was an operatically trained tenor who recorded both Scottish traditional & folk songs and operatic stuff (and represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in the mid 60's - in a kilt :eek:). He also appeared regularly on various shows - Cilla Black, Val Doonican, etc, in the 60's to early 80's (I think....) - and almost always the BBC Scotland Hogmanay show (times may vary in England ;))

    During the programme, I found myself wondering why I didn't mind (and sometimes even liked!) 'trained voice' McKellar, when I so dislike opera singers in general.

    Then it struck me - McKellar used his voice and training to show off the song (operatic or trad/folk) whereas others use the song to show off their voice and training. [Basically, he was saying "Here's a song, in my voice" whereas others seem to say "Here's my voice, doing a song".]

    And that's the potential problem with ALL arrangements for brass band: if it works in a 'brass' voice, oh well and good. If the 'brass' voice is more important than the music, the music's going to suffer....:frown:

    Treat the music sympathetically, please.

    And, on an audience-friendly note, if the original is (say) 14 minutes long, an arrangement could cut a repeat or two, miss the boring bit altogether, and produce a five minute listenable (user-friendly) piece - do Grimey play all of Willy Tell?
  20. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    I wonder who we are classing as the average listener. It could be that a typical audience consists of those who do not have an intimate knowledge of a particular classical piece, and who would readily applaud even an average “edited” version of that composition. On the other hand, there could also be a section of the audience positively cringing at the same arrangement, because of their knowledge of the original work.

    It certainly does pose problems for arrangers. Personally, I would not choose to ignore the classical repertoire, but I have already received a great deal of food for thought from those experienced members who have posted so far on this subject.

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