Brass Quintet: The Theme

Last time I discussed a failed beginning and why it failed.  Today, I’m going to look at the theme a little bit more (based on the Sousa).  It is important to remember that this is going to come in around the middle of the piece, or perhaps the 2/3rds mark – it’s the big reveal that will (hopefully) take the audience by surprise (assuming they didn’t crack the code in the title – more on that later).

Instead of having the quintet play the whole march, which would take up a lot of musical real-estate, I decided to use two sections – the first and second strains without any repeats (in the file on the Imslp page, this is :07-:23 and :40-:56).  The first strain is presented pretty faithfully, with the trumpets taking the lead.  Instead of over-highlighting the offbeat accents (that I wrote about a few posts ago), I have the supporting instruments hop off the accented note (see below).  My reasoning here is that a) the trumpets have quite enough power to give those accents the intensity they deserve (and if I feel like it needs more, I’ll add accents there as well), and b) the fact that the supposed-to-be-accented pitch has a different articulation to the others will make it stand out anyway – sort of a white space thing.

Hopping off the accented note.

Otherwise, this first strain is mostly the same.  I do bring the trumpets down at m. 152 because I’m not sure that this is the right spot to have them screaming up to a high D.  The final change is the horn line in m. 155 – the first hint of non-Sousa chromaticism.  This brings the audience’s attention to the horn, who then picks up the melody for the second strain, where things get rather different.

Air Force Brass – Full Score – Theme 1 (this is for the section I just mentioned)

Air Force Brass – Full Score – Theme 2 (this is for the section I’m about to write about)

So far, the theme has been in G-Major.  The transition between the first and second themes in interesting because it abruptly changes to F-Major, which is not in the original.  I did this for a couple of reasons…a) I thought it would be a nice subversion that would foreshadow the breakdown of the theme in this section, and b) it makes the horn part a little lower and easier to play.

The first instrument to stray from the score is the tuba (isn’t it always?)(sorry tubists…), who adds a lot of chromatic inflection starting at measure 158, and continuing throughout.  The trumpets, who start off with the same offbeat rhythm from the first section, quickly start to have their own melodic moments, and, by 159-160, a trombone scale has turned into the melody.  I like the melody switching between voices as it gives the instruments a chance to rest for a moment, and also creates some nice timbral shading on the line.  The horn picks up the strain again and holds onto it until the first trumpet takes it in measure 169.

At measure 165, the chromatic breakdown of the strain is complemented by a rhythmic breakdown.  The tuba starts adding triplet motion to allow for a full chromatic scale between its important notes (which are still on beats 1 and 2 of the bar – the harmony is still extant…mostly).  The trombone, on the other hand, starts playing duplets, which will clash with the tuba.  The two trumpets are still playing offbeats, but often the wrong ones, and they break into chromatic descents as the strain ends.

      Air Force Brass - Theme
 (this is the midi rendering of the material I discussed in today’s post)

Basically, the Sousa themes, presented so nicely in the first strain of the Theme, are subverted and dissolved as the second strain runs its course.  The question is: why did I do that?  Why not allow the Sousa to play in full?

My answer lies in the purpose of this moment – it’s a reveal…but what do you do after the reveal?  Let’s look at it as analogous to a slight-of-hand magic trick (which is not a terrible comparison).  The magician, having shown his hands empty, produces a burst of flame and a dove (hopefully alive).  The audience oohs and aahs at his skill, or the shock of discovery, or the cuteness of the dove.  But after the oohs and aahs, the magician has to do something else, otherwise he’s a man on a stage with a slightly singed (and probably frightened) dove. He has to either move on to a new trick or do something with the dove.

And so I find myself in the same situation with the Sousa – I’m left on stage with an audience who’s (perhaps?!) appreciative that I have made the famous piece emerge from fragments that they may or may not have picked up on.  They ooh and aah.  But stand there too long–let the piece become the equivalent of that inert dove–and suddenly everyone becomes restless.  Awkward.  So, by the second strain, when the whole audience has seen the trick…knows what has happened, I undertake a new trick – to dissolve the piece and subvert the audience’s expectations.  Also, this is a neat way to get out of the theme without having to stop and start – the ending in measure 173 is nebulous enough that I could go with some more chromatic stuff for the next variation, or something chordal, like a chorale (those are the two options I’m considering).  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Next time, I’ll go back to the beginning and we can explore why I think this one works where the old one didn’t.

(As you can see from the files, I have about a 140 measures of stuff before this that I’m itching to share, and will hopefully start posting more often as the inexorable march to the Ph.D. reaches its climax (excuse all puns).)

Disclaimer: Aspiring Magicians:  Do Not Dissolve Doves.  I hear that is frowned upon.

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