Schuller - Blackwood: Chamber Works
New York Brass Quintet: Robert Nagel and John Glasel, trumpets; Ray Alonge, horn; John Swallow, trombone; Harvey Phillips, tuba
Laszlo Varga, cello; Michael Rudiakow, cello; Jules Eskin, cello; Sterling Hunkins cello
Contemporary Chamber Ensemble; Arthur Weisberg, conductor

Gunther Schuller’s Music far Brass Quintet was commissioned by the Library of Congress, and first performed there in January 1961 by the New York Brass Quintet. The score calls for two trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. Metronome markings serve as tempo indications, but the clearly divided movements each have a basic tempo: I is moderate; II, scherzo-like; and III, slow.

The form is characterized by spontaneity and the entire work is stylistically unified. Improvisatory throughout, the Music for Brass contains vestigial reprises in movements I and II; movement III, at the close, uses the atypical tuba call of the opening movement.

The composer states that the first movement “develops an organic continuity by means of fragmentation.” And indeed, the phrases are complex and asymmetrical, but they hew closely to an assimilable length. Repeated hearings indicate that the paragraphs of traditional form are still operative. The time-spacing of these paragraphs, in particular, is reminiscent of song-forms. And about movement III, Schuller, in fact, mentions an ABA form, with the B replaced (untraditionally) by solo cadenzas, which lends credence to the possible influence of these forms in the other movements.

With the Fantasy for Four Celli, as with the Music for Brass, every available resource of the instruments is brought into play—with a result relaxed and unenforced. Think for a moment of the loss in hearing the same music performed by a string quartet. Or think of the Fantasy as performed by the brass, or vice-versa. They are irreversible; further proof of the composer’s careful use of instruments.

Of this work, Mr. Schuller writes, “though, in one movement, [it] is divided into two main sections, the first primarily lyrical in nature; the second more agitated and virtuosic. The work employs, as do all my compositions of the last ten years, the so-called twelve-tone system, limited in this work only to pitch relationships.”

Easley Blackwood’s Chamber Symphony for Fourteen Wind Instruments, Op. 2 was composed in 1955. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; bass clarinet, contrabassoon, and four horns; in the last movement a flute alternates with piccolo. The work is divided into three movements: I Sonata (Moderato), II Romanza (Lento amoroso), III Toccata (Allegro energico), with an introductory section to movement I, marked Andantino.

The Chamber Symphony is in a tonal but highly chromatic idiom. Virtually a cyclic work, the introductory passage to movement I contains some of the fundamental materials, three of which are basic: the serpentine chromatic figure (often appearing in triplet form), the dotted rhythmic figure, and the melodic minor third and sixth. Each hearing bears out their crucial function. The result is a musical integration that is sometimes subtle but always satisfying. The rightness of the entire work is unlocked by this key.




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New York Brass Quintet

Schuller - Blackwood: Chamber Works

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Track Listing

Music for Brass Quintet: I.
Gunther Schuller
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Music for Brass Quintet: II.
Gunther Schuller
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Music for Brass Quintet: III.
Gunther Schuller
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Fantasy Quartet for Four Celli
Gunther Schuller
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Chamber Symphony for Fourteen Wind Instruments, Op. 2: I. Sonata
Easley Blackwood
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Chamber Symphony for Fourteen Wind Instruments, Op. 2: II. Romanza
Easley Blackwood
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Chamber Symphony for Fourteen Wind Instruments, Op. 2: III. Toccata
Easley Blackwood
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