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Schumann Romances

...orchestrated for brass.

I've loved Robert Schumann's Opus 94 Romances since the 80's. I heard them first on a cello recital, and then Floyd Cooley released a solo album with his version for tuba.

Permanently hooked.

Several years ago, the Boulder Brass put together a program of music by romantic composers or inspired by them. This was the first time we played some of the Brahms I had arranged, and we also played an Ewald Quintet and the Jan Koetsier Symphony for Brass. To round out the program, I wanted to make these Schumann Romances work for brass ensemble.

Schumann had skills. Interesting and unusual melodies, and brilliant piano writing that suggests more than the limited notes you see on the page. This was the challenge, and the opportunity.

I'd like to focus on the phrase immediately following the introduction. Here's the piano score (with the oboe solo attached) - this is measure 8 through 14.

A couple of ground rules moving forward - the brass score is in g minor and in the examples below, the transpositions have been nulled (scores in C).

Just looking at the piano part for now and, for the sake of our discussion, disregard the very first measure of this system - the effect here is not just 3 notes (the running right hand figure and the octave bass notes). It's an A minor chord, with motion, and an interesting half step upper neighbor to the fifth of the chord. At the marked tempo of this movement (q = 100) a unique entrance on every eighth note is possible, but there are more interesting and chord worthy choices to make. A couple of observations: 1) the A on beat 1 and 2+ are both going to ring a little louder because of the distance from the other notes and also because they are reinforced in the bass; 2) the f natural is non-harmonic; and 3) the third of the chord doesn't even appear until the weakest beat of the measure.

So here is how I solved these 5 measures for brass:

Some objectives:

  • To make each voice interesting in its own way.

  • To create an amalgamated rhythm without creating awkward rhythms

  • To make certain the weight of each voice was appropriate

Two things to highlight: 1) the bass trombone and tuba parts were easy to write, but in the 4th and 5th measure I edited the articulation and note length; and 2) I 'manufactured' some notes in the horn 1 part to create a voice leading opportunity.

  1. Looking at the piano score above, you'll see that beat 2 of the 5th measure has a pedal indication - this is due in part to the fact that the pianist has to leave the low D (C in my score) in order to complete the passage in the left hand. That D grace note will remain strong in the piano due to the sustain pedal, but it will also have some decay, and the upper tessitura of that figure will dominate the sound. This is why I wrote the tuba to escape the chord earlier than the bass trombone, and also to clear beat 1 of the next measure so the entrance on beat 2 would have a little more natural emphasis (creating emphasis with silence). It's a juicy note - the third of the dominant chord.

  2. The manufactured horn notes in the 6th measure are an octave above the notes in the euphonium part. They don't exist in Schumann's piano score, but there is room in the spacing between the left hand and right for these notes and it leads nicely to the harmonic pitch in measure 15, which is an F major chord in first inversion (third in the bass, double the soprano).

That may seem like a lot of juicy rationalization to apply to just 5 measures of accompaniment. It's not. I spent the better part of a day trying to figure out a crafty way to massage this piano accompaniment into something brass like and, more importantly, musical and Schumann like.

And it worked.

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