Breaking up the romance

Too soon?

I’m having too much fun with these titles.

I promised to talk about the decision to transpose this movement of Robert Schumann’s Romance Opus 94 No 1 from A minor to G minor. There’s nothing inherently scary about writing in A minor for brass ensemble, and it sounds good (some keys don’t). The reason is simple – I did not want to compromise Schumann’s registration of the piece.

In measure 20, there is a high E in the solo part (Schumann even wrote an ossia 8vb note for oboe intending the high E for a solo violin performance, but I like the way that phrase is shaped with the high pitch). The high E for B flat piccolo trumpet is an F sharp – certainly playable by a great player, but more accessible a step down. There are also a few other spots in the accompaniment where writing the entire piece down a step created some options. A high written A in a horn part is different than the G a step below.

The only place in the score where I necessarily made an exception to preserving Schumann’s registration was the very end during the last 8 measures of the movement where the piano tessitura overlaps the solo tessitura – it’s a harmonic pad, and I decided to keep the pad below the melodic ideas.

In short, I never want the virtuosity required to play an orchestration to take precedence over musical value. Putting musicians in the best possible position to make music is always the first priority.

Always.


Why the break up?

The opening phrase in the solo part looks like this:

In A minor or G minor, this is playable on any one of the trumpets I’m using (E flat, Piccolo, B flat, or flugelhorn), though the leap up of a ninth will give any brass player pause for thought – that’s a much different proposition on a woodwind or string instrument.

First – When orchestrating this piece, originally intended for a solo instrument and piano, it was not my intent to write a feature piece but rather to create a total chamber music treatment of Schumann’s music. That means viewing every phrase written as melodic (not spotlight), counter melodic, or accompanimental.

Second – I had originally scored this opening phrase down an octave for euphonium, which would have been lovely. But the range of the piano accompaniment under these five measures is in the exact same range as the solo part when played an octave lower. That would have meant trying to create some ‘space’ around the solo either with tone color or by rescoring the accompaniment in a different register.

Nope. I scuttled that idea and scored it for a single trumpet.

After getting the notes entered into a score and making my first organizational pass through the piece by moving notes roughly to where I want them, I begin to look for color decisions, as I have described previously. I also keep an eye on consistency – being true to instrumentation decisions throughout the piece. Sometimes, it is effective to change this up, but as a point of departure, I like to begin with consistent orchestration decisions.

This melody comes back several times throughout the movement, both in simple repetition and in sequence. And for this score, I wanted to remain faithful to my own scoring decisions. As I worked through the piece, I kept finding more reasons to break this up into melodic elements – primarily to create some space prior to a fresh entrance. In fact, Schumann does this himself by tossing small pieces of the melody back and forth between the solo instrument and piano.

So here is the formula I used, and to remain consistent, very close to this every time this idea comes around (non transposed score).

The other thing accomplished by breaking it up this way is that the cylindrical trumpets in the top three voices are all playing in a dolce tessitura of the respective instruments.

There are certainly other ways this could have been scored, but this worked beautifully.

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