First steps: Brass Quintet

The piece I am writing at the moment is a brass quintet – one that I’ve been meaning to write for at least a couple of years.  I haven’t written any other pieces with this instrumentation, so it will be an adventure (there are multiple reasons for this…one of which is that I have always had something else that was more pressing.  However, at the moment I’m in some weird limbo place between turning in my dissertation to my committee and actually defending it, so I thought…why not?).

I knew from the beginning that this piece was going to be a “fun” piece, and decided to base it off of a march that I played in a two-piano arrangement when I was little:  The Washington Post, by John Philip Sousa.  I did this sort of thing once before in a piece called Master Variations for a middle school band – the idea is that the piece starts mysteriously, and there are a number of variations, but no clear presentation of the theme until suddenly it appears fully formed in the middle of the piece.  I like this form because it contains a big reveal that the audience can enjoy, and, if they are paying attention (or have read the program notes), anticipate.  This is part of the “fun” factor.

So the first job, then, becomes to look at the quoted piece and pick out bits and pieces that could serve as points of departure (for the score that I’m using, please visit IMSLP – they also have a recording posted).  I’ll quickly look at two here from the very beginning of the Sousa piece:

Sousa Fragment 1

Sousa Fragment 2

Fragment 1 is from the very beginning of the march and is a good example of the chromatic lines that crop up throughout.   Fragment 2 also contains a little chromatic motion (in the first measure), and contains the most recognizable part of the melody.  It also has a rhythm that Sousa uses throughout the piece (short LONG – the fact that the accent happens on the second beat of the bar makes it a little unusual and a possible candidate for a variation).  There are more elements that I’ll discuss as we go along, but these two fragments will form the foundation for the majority of my piece.

Next time I’ll discuss my early attempts at a beginning for the brass quintet, and try to isolate why they failed (or why I didn’t like them).  Tune in!

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