Irish Music for Brass

Jonathan Grimes writes about music for brass in CMC's collection.

This article was originally published in New Music News, September 1998.

THE brass are sometimes seen as poor relations in the hierarchy of musical instruments. Comments about Cinderella status can be heard even among the most experienced of musicians. When it comes to composers, however, it seems that they are far more willing to accept the brass family into the mainstream, and evidence of this can be found in the music in the Contemporary Music Centre's library.

Works for solo brass and brass in various duo combinations includeGerard Victory's Triptyque for trumpet and piano (1968), one of the earliest in this category. Horn players have a number of stimulating works to choose from: John Buckley's Sonata for Solo Horn, written in 1993 for young Irish horn-player Cormac Ó hAodáin and using extended techniques; Elaine Agnew's Rite On! (1995) for the unusual combination of horn and double bass; and Ian Wilson's She passes ... passes ... passes by ... (1991) for unaccompanied horn. Trombone players are well served by John Buckley's Why Not Mr Berio, for trombone and piano, which takes its title and inspiration from Berio's surreal and comic Sequenza V for trombone. Although written over twenty years ago, it is full of freshness and vitality.

Among works for brass and orchestra are Aloys Fleischmann's virtuosic Cornucopia for horn and orchestra (1971), originally written for horn and piano. During the 1960s, A. J. Potter wrote Concertinos for trumpet and orchestra, and horn and orchestra, as well as every trombone player's dream, a concerto for three trombones and orchestra (Sound the Sackbutts). More recently, there is Eric Sweeney's 1993 Concertino for trumpet and string orchestra and Steve Pickett's Landscapes for Tuba and Orchestra(1992-94), which the composer describes as 'a musical journey for tuba across many landscapes, some more friendly than others, some as actual scenes and some not as scenes at all'.

The brass quintet is sometimes associated with what might be called 'lollipop music' but it is an extremely versatile and expressive medium and its serious potential has not been lost on Irish composers. There are seventeen brass quintets in the CMC library, many of them commissioned by groups such as Georgian Brass, the Irish Brass Ensemble, the Brass Ensemble of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and Prelude Brass. Works that stand out include the aptly titled Five Blows for Brass Quintet (1984 ) by Brian Boydell and Gerald Barry's quintet, Sweet Punishment (1987), written for Prelude Brass. There are also a number of works for large brass ensemble, including The Isamnion Fragments (1990) by Deirdre Gribbin and Brian Boydell'sViking Lip Music (1996), commissioned for the Royal Danish Brass Ensemble and recorded by them on CD last year.

This brief survey illustrates that there is a significant body of worthwhile Irish music for solo, chamber and orchestral brass. There are many well written pieces, some of which, regrettably, are still awaiting their first performance. Considering the already small standard repertoire, this seems a shame. The development of contemporary music for brass requires the interest of both performers and composers, but fortunately there are several younger and highly accomplished players who are committed to new music, as well as composers willing to write for them.

Perhaps they could both start by getting some ideas in the CMC collection!

The following is a selection of works for brass currently available in the CMC Library.

Agnew, Elaine: Rite On! (1995), hn db.

Alcorn, Michael: Fanfare for Kabuti (1990), 3 tpt.

Barry, Gerald: Sweet Punishment (1987), brass quintet.

Bodley, Seóirse: Ceremonial Music (1995), brass quintet.

Boydell, Brian: Five Blows for Brass Quintet (1984); Viking Lip - Music (1996), 2 tpt 2 cornet 2 hn 3 trbn euphonium tuba 2 perc.

Buckley, John: 'Why Not' Mr. Berio (1977), trbn pf; Brass Quintet No. 2 (1986); Sonata for Solo Horn (1993).

De Bromhead, Jerome: Brass Quintet No. 2 (1986).

Farrell, Eibhlis: Quintalogue (1989), brass quintet.

Fleischmann, Aloys: Cornucopia (1969 orch 1970), hn pf / hn, orchestra.

Flood, Philip: Movements and Repose (1992), brass quintet; Last November (1992), trbn pf.

Gribbin, Deirdre: The Isamnion Fragments (1990), 4 tpt, hn, 3 trbn, b trbn, tuba; Narrative for a Harlequin (1991 rev. 1996), tpt pf.

Groocock, Joseph: Quintet for Brass (1984).

Johnston, Fergus: Brass Quintet (1985).

Kelly, Mary: Rain (1986 rev. 1989), trbn pf; Mime (1987), trbn.

Kennedy, Vincent: Sonatina for Trumpet (1995).

Kinsella, John: Dialogue for Horn and Piano (1970).

McAuliffe, Mary: Whimsicality! (1996), hn pf.

Mills, Alan: Incantation (1993), trbn pf; Romanza (1994), hn pf.

Pickett, Steve: Landscapes for Tuba and Orchestra (1992-94); Sonata for Tuba and Piano (1995-96).

Potter, A. J.: Hunter's Holiday (1964); hn, orchestra; Concertino Benino (1967), tpt, orchestra; Céad Míle Bienvenues (1972 rev. 1974), 3 tpt hn 2 trbn tuba.

Sweeney, Eric: Dance Clarion Air (1987), tpt org; Concertino(1993), tpt, string orchestra.

Victory, Gerard: Triptyque (1968), tpt pf; Commedia (1985), brass quintet; Concertino alla Grecque (1987), trbn pf.

Wilson, James: Horn Concerto (1967); Prelude for Brass Quintet(1976); Brass Quintet No. 2 (1986).

Wilson, Ian: She passes ... passes ... passes by (1991), hn.