More advice on romance

I failed to mention yesterday that all three Opus 94 romances for 423.11 brass ensemble are available from Art of Sound Music by clicking here.

And a brief digression. One of the things I appreciated about teaching was that I learned things about my own playing by observing and articulating ideas to students. Teaching made my own playing better.

I’m discovering the same benefit here, By describing the decision making behind choices I’ve made in my own writing, I’m fine tuning my own orchestrating skills – sharpening the tools in my toolbox. So – thanks for that.

While preparing the examples for this morning’s parable, I discovered 2 fine tuning adjustments I want to make to this page of brass score. That’s just these 8 measures. This can also be a slippery slope of second guessing.


Back to our story. This is measures 47 through 54 of the piano score from Robert Schumann Romance Opus 94, No 1.

There are several interesting things to unpack in this sample (we may have differing ideas on the word interesting, but you’ve read this far).

For the moment, let’s focus on the piano writing and how to make that work for brass.

Obviously, there is nothing unplayable here on a brass instrument. It would have been a very simple thing to just write each voice for a single instrument and leave it at that. It still would have sounded somewhat like the Opus 94, No 1. But that’s transcription – not orchestration – and would likely result in opportunities lost to write with color and fine tune balances, and creatively arrive at the composer’s intent (or an interpretation of it). That transcription approach lacks intelligent design, in my opinion.

  • How to reconcile the sixteenth note triplet at the end of measure 48? With piano and oboe – two very different tone colors – this triplet is just a little textural flourish and not likely to distract too much from the oboe. Again, this is playable on brass; I could have just assigned this to a trumpet and called it good. But there is a more important musical idea already being played by a trumpet in my score in the same tessitura. This would have created a little mess and a distraction. I believe Schumann wrote this as the ‘primer’ for the eighth note triplet engine that begins in earnest in measure 51. So I treated it as such – just a subtle introduction of the triplet feel. I simplified it to an eighth note triplet arpeggio and assigned it to the horn – it’s written in a register that will still have some presence without overwhelming the melodic line in the trumpet.
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  • What to do with the eighth note triplets in measure 51 – 54? As written, certainly playable on a trumpet, or horn, or even trombone. But at the tempo (probably a little forward of q = 100), will the fourths and fifths sound gentle and ‘babbling brook’ as I believe the composer intended? Possibly. What to do with the entrance of the additional harmonic tone in measure 53? If we just assign the motion to a single voice, than a second voice has to enter in measure 53. I made the decision to score this as repeating triplet eight notes on the two harmonic pitches. It’s a little richer, and a certainly less up and down movement which could distract from the more important melodic ideas.
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  • Measure 50 – 54 in the bass voice – this looks more like it should be a trombone duet. However, It’s kind of cool as a euphonium / tuba line, it’s not so high on the tuba that it should be a distraction, and most importantly, I needed the trombones available to make a fresh voice entrance at the end of measure 54.
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  • More subtle now – this is one of the things I discovered this morning and will be correcting in the published version. Previously, I had written a dotted half note in measure 47 for Trumpet 3, flugelhorn, and the 2 horns with a dynamic of piano on the down beat. In the original piano score, this is just a quarter note marked piano, but the pitches remain part of the harmony throughout the measure. That informed my decision to write a sustained sound in that measure, once again assuming some sustained sound in the piano due to pedaling, and understanding that 4 brass players playing a quarter note sounds different than 4 brass players sustaining a chord.
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    But I missed two opportunities – 1) to more precisely control the release point;, and 2) to change the nature of the diminuendo those 4 instruments started in the previous measure (sorry – I should have included that measure in the examples).
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    First, brass players will tend to hold a dotted half note in this context to the downbeat of the next bar; but the harmony changes there and I don’t want them doing that. Better to write it then explain it in rehearsal.
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    Second, the previous measure has a sforzando piano attack on the down beat for those voices with a diminuendo to piano. To me, that’s a little shocking for the context so I wrote it as a sforzando with a diminuendo, now over 2 measures to pp. This designs the release and provides a more stretched out dynamic motion in those voices. I like it.
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  • I biffed – it happens. In measures 50 and 51, I broke up a little eighth note line in the alto register – not to make it easier to play, but to add a little richness and interest in the 2 horn parts. In measure 51, I had originally written the final 2 eighth notes for horn 2 with a rest on beat 2. What I should have done is written below.

Again, the brass score below is in C (transpositions are nulled), and is transposed down to G minor.

Next, we’ll talk about the decision to make the brass version in G minor, and why I broke up various melodic elements. I’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

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