The Road to the Classics: a 1928 point of view

The Road to the Classics: a 1928 point of view

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1928, the Theodore Presser Company published a book to teach how to play piano, Music Play for Every Day: The Gateway to Piano Playing. It is one of a legion of such books published in the last century. Perhaps you had piano lessons with the Thompson or Schuam method. Or even this book. They all make it sound so easy.

Many years ago, a friend gave me a photocopy of a page of this method, a drawing titled The Road to the Classics.  I’ve recently obtained an original copy of this book and the drawing is found below.

Hand in hand, the young boy and girl start on the path toward TRIUMPH. How do they get there? PRACTICE. KEEP AT IT. THE JOY OF WORKING. And CAREFUL STUDY. What are the pitfalls? VALLEY OF LAZINESS. FOREST OF POOR MUSIC. And the SWAMP OF JAZZ. Yes, it actually says “swamp of jazz.” Wow.  And who lives in the pantheon of TRIUMPH? BACH, BEETHOVEN, MOZART and their friends. Even MACDOWELL. MacDowell? Between Gounod and Schubert?

Take a few minutes to look at this. If you were making up a drawing to inspire beginners to take up the study of music, what would you include? How would YOU tell the story of musical inspiration?

Road_to_the_Classics_Presser

And I Saw A New Heaven: An invitation to attend a choir concert

And I Saw A New Heaven: An invitation to attend a choir concert

My wife and I attend Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona. One of the ways we serve our church is to sing in the choir, a superb group led by our Pastor of Worship and Music, Dr. Luke Lusted. It is such a blessing and privilege to serve in the choir with our  group of committed, talented members who love God. Our spring concert is on this coming Sunday, May 21, at 3:00 PM. The centerpiece of the program is John Rutter’s Requiem for choir, soloist and chamber orchestra, and the whole program is centered around the theme of “And I saw a new heaven,” taken from the Bible’s book of Revelation, Chapter 21, and Edgar Bainton’s classic anthem with that title.

Luke asked if I would be willing to write program notes for the concert to be included in the concert program and I was more than happy to do so. With his permission, my notes on the program appear below. If you are in the Phoenix area on Sunday, you are heartily invited to the concert. Directions to Camelback Bible Church may be found here on the church’s website. The concert is free and I hope to see you there. Even if you can’t attend the concert, I pray that my program notes provide food for thought, meditation, challenge and encouragement.

•   •   •

SmallSpring Concert 2017 AD

Notes on the program

by Douglas Yeo

The three central events of the Christian faith are the incarnation of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, and his promise to return. The first two are securely in the historical and Biblical record, but the third remains what Titus called, “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13, ESV). The expectation of life after death for those called to Christ is central to Jesus’ teaching:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14: 2-3, ESV)

And so it is that the music performed at this concert reflects the great comfort of God’s promise to his children, and the encouragement that he gives us as we wait for that day and contend for Christ in a fallen, hurting world. Heaven is not “pie in the sky, bye and bye,” but rather something tangible and within sight. There is more to life than our time here on earth, “three score and ten [70 years]; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years [80 years]” (Psalm 90:10, KJV), and composers have often turned to scripture to present the great Truth of suffering on earth paired with the comfort of life after death.

Exhaltation

Song of Exaltation by American composer John Ness Beck (1930-1987) takes its exuberant text from the book of I Chronicles 16:29-36, a joyful hymn of praise to God in gratitude for his sovereignty over the heavens, earth, and the sea. Talk of the life in the world to come starts now–today–by praising God for his mighty works as all creation shouts, “God reigneth!” Beck’s tribute to George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah is unmistakable, when he concludes Song of Exaltation with, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever, and ever, and ever, and ever.”

Quickly_come

The Bible’s final chapters, Revelation 21 and 22, are full of images of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, which is made ready in the new heaven and new earth. The challenges of this present life lead all Christians to yearn for that day, and the New Testament’s penultimate verse concludes with Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon,” to which his children reply, emphatically, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Paul O. Manz (1919-2009) composed his most famous choral composition, E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come in 1954; it has become popular through its frequent use at the annual Christmas Eve Festival of Lessons and Carols at King’s College in Cambridge, England. Manz’s setting of the text is for unaccompanied choir, and it beautifully reflects the anticipation of a time when “night shall be no more . . . for Christ will be their All!”

Saints_Bound

In the wake of the Second Great Awakening, a wave of Christian revivalism that swept across America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, William Walker (1809-1875) published a collection of “Tunes, Hymns, Odes and Anthems” in 1835 that he titled The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It featured well-known hymns and folk melodies, and among them were texts and tunes that Walker both composed and collected. By the 1845 edition, the exuberant song, Saints Bound for Heaven, with a tune by Walker and text by J. King, had been included. Its seven verses–four are included in the arrangement by Mack Wilberg that is sung today–speak of the longing for the breaking of the bondage of the suffering of this life and the crossing “over Jordan” to “the vaults of heaven.”

New_heaven

The theme of this program is taken from the famous choir anthem by London-born Edgar L. Bainton (1880-1956), And I Saw a New Heaven. Its text is taken from the opening verses of Revelation, Chapter 21, where John speaks of his awe at seeing the new heaven and new earth. The imagery of Revelation is exceptionally rich: the sea, that had been home to the Beast of Revelation (Revelation 13:1), is no more; there is no more death, no more pain, “for the old things are passed away.” Apart from the words of Jesus that are spoken from his throne, his words that proclaim, “Behold,” in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, “The tabernacle of God is with men,” Bainton’s setting of this memorable text is warm and contemplative. Written in 1928, And I Saw a New Heaven has achieved status as one of the most beloved and frequently performed of all choral anthems, both in England and the United States.

The earliest surviving musical settings for the church’s ancient mass for the dead, the Requiem–this Latin word means, literally, “rest”–date from around the tenth century. At that time, the text was sung in what is popularly referred to as Gregorian chant, a single, unison vocal line. Over time, composers have treated its many movements–with its traditional words of judgment, comfort and hope–in dramatic fashion as the Requiem has moved from being a piece performed at funerals to a work for the concert hall. Nineteenth century composers Hector Berlioz and Giuseppe Verdi scored their Requiems for huge forces. Berlioz called for a chorus of at least 200 and an orchestra with four brass bands with 38 trumpet, trombone, and tuba players. He famously complained that Wolfgang Mozart’s use of one trombone in the Tuba mirum movement of his Requiem (The dreadful trumpet of the Lord) was woefully inadequate when “not three, not thirty, not three hundred would be enough.” Johannes Brahms was one of the first composers to take a very different approach, fashioning his Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) from selected passages in the New Testament to comfort the living rather than to honor the dead. Benjamin Britten came from yet another direction in his War Requiem, a work that argued against the horror of World War II by combining some of the Requiem’s original Latin text with poems in English by British soldier Wilfred Owen who was killed in battle a week before the end of World War I.

Rutter_Requiem

John Rutter (born in London in 1945) has added his own take on the Requiem’s storied history. Rather than a complete setting of the full, ancient Requiem text, his 1985 Requiem includes selected movements from the Latin Requiem along with passages from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer in English as, “a meditation of themes of life and death.” While those who have died in Christ leave this earth for their heavenly home, it is left for those who are still living to suffer until they are themselves called to their eternal rest.

Three movements, Requiem æternam (Grant them eternal rest), Pie Jesu (Blessed Jesu) and Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) are sung in Latin (you may follow the English translations in your program), Psalms 130 (Out of the deep) and 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) are in English, and two movements, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and Lux æterna (Eternal light) combine both Latin and English texts. The result is an integrated work that is intended for concert performance rather than as part of a church service. The mix of languages and varied texts as well as the Requiem’s arch–the opening and closing movements contain some of the same text, with the Sanctus, the great hymn to the Trinity, standing in the middle–very much speaks to our time.

Psalm 116:15 reminds us that, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (ESV). Throughout this afternoon’s concert, that theme has been present. Life here on earth is but a blink of time in God’s economy. We trust in his promise of the new heaven and new earth even as we work today to do his will in this imperfect world and, by doing so, share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13). That is both the blessing for and blessed hope of those who know Christ. E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

© 2017 by Douglas Yeo

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What is “American Style” in music?

What is “American Style” in music?

Several months ago, my friend, Ronald Barron, with whom I shared 22 years as a member of the trombone section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, posed a question to me:

What is “American Style” in music?

Ron had been thinking about this himself and gave a presentation on the subject at the International Trombone Festival in Valencia, Spain, in 2015. Since then, I’ve continued to think about his question, and the answer that I gave to Ron at that time.

Earlier this week, I was in the radio studios of Central Sound at Arizona PBS, where I regularly go to be the voice of the radio program, Arizona Encore! that is broadcast locally on KBAQ (KBACH) 89.5 and can also be heard anywhere in the world on the KBAQ website at 7:00 pm on Tuesdays and on demand with the Central Sound at Arizona PBS mobile app. In addition to voicing programs, I also write scripts for Arizona Encore! and another program that Central Sound produces, ASU in Concert.

While writing a script for an Arizona Encore! show that included Antonin Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, Op. 12 in F major, Op. 96, Ron’s question came to mind again. I pulled out the comments I wrote when he first posed the question and thought that this would be a good time to turn them into a short article to provoke thought and discussion. I think anyone who lives in the United States would answer this question in their own way. But here’s what I think.

•   •   •

What is “American Style” in Music?

Douglas Yeo

The native people who settled and lived in what we call the United States of America have virtually no voice in today’s broad American cultural conversation. This is highly regrettable, because any discussion of an American Style – whether in music, painting, literature or any of those disciplines that we call “the arts” – has been influenced by them. When talking about American Style – and for the sake of this discussion, I am confining my comments to American Style in music – we must remember that their contributions were fundamental in shaping the great “melting pot” (to use the over-used word) of influences that came to shores to settle in the United States.

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Old_Ship_of_Zion

The African American spiritual, “The Old Ship of Zion,” as published in Slave Songs of the United States, published in New York by A. Simpson & Co. in 1867.

•  •  •

The Puritans (from Boston, England, by way of the Netherlands and Plymouth, England), Roman Catholics (from Spain and Portugal), and traders (from the Netherlands and France) who were among the first European explorers of America brought their religious influences to what we today call the mid-Atlantic and New England states. English Psalm tunes and Italian-influenced Spanish plainchant was heard mixed with the folk music of the motherlands and rhythms and chants of America’s native people. In time, the new colonies – occupied by England, Holland and Spain and, to some extent, France – developed their own form of folk song born out of a newly found freedom of expression. America was a vast place even before its West was discovered anew by Europeans, and the rural, agrarian life brought with it a sense of space, and distance from forces that dictated “proper” style. This mélange of ethnic groups was broadened even more with the introduction of the horrific slave trade. Denominational and non-conformist/free church musical traditions from Europe were influenced by African and West Indian rhythmical expressions, and rather than exploding into the musical equivalent of the destruction of the Tower of Babel, they coalesced around a word that I believe most defines the American musical style:

Optimism.

Whether the music of spirituals, folk music of Appalachia, shaped note music of the South, honky-tonk and saloon music of the West, cakewalk and ragtime of Louisiana, hymnody of the Mormon trail, gospel songs of white churches or what became jazz, it all had one theme: despite its considerable challenges and many problems, America was a good place to live, it was good to be here, and there was more good ahead.

So while the classical and popular music of young, immigrant America was influenced both by the people who had roamed the land for centuries and those who had just arrived, the American sense of optimism – of “can do,” of the foray into the great unknown, of the pioneer spirit, of a gold rush that could (but would not but to a few) make any man rich, of “Happy Days are Here Again,” of the race to the moon – imprinted this place with a musical expression that was positive and looking forward. Even a great composer like Antonin Dvořák, who came to New York in 1892 and wrote music that was infused with an intangible, bright and optimistic quality, realized that he could not have written his “New World” Symphony or “American” String Quartet, in his own words, “‘just so’ if I hadn’t seen America.”

•  •  •

James_Reese_Europe_band

James Reese Europe leads the 369th Infantry Harlem Hellfighters Band in France, 1918.

•  •  •

Of course, by the end of the long nineteenth century – roughly the time from 1776 (the writing of the American Declaration of Independence and all that it brought to the colonial powers who had conquered the land) to 1918 (the end of the First World War, the “war to end all wars” which, of course, it was not), the optimism began to ebb. Post-war ebullience was tempered by the loss of more than of a generation of young men from England, France, and Germany, and many from the United States. The Native people who had once roamed the land had been rounded up and confined to reservations. The promise of true emancipation for the descendants of slaves gave way to Jim Crow. The economic boom of the 1920s paved the way to the Great Depression of the 1930s. A second World War consumed western civilization for nearly another decade, and all of the good intentions of the League of Nations and United Nations could not tame the greedy and selfish appetites of forces that were political, national and religious, whether the Ku Klux Klan, communism or radical Islamic-facism. The optimism gave way to cynicism, to forms of rebellion. The work of the second Viennese School – with its abandonment of 18th century tonal harmony that led music to more and more reflect the chaos and ugliness of the times – even found its way into popular music. American composers like Aaron Copland, who in the middle of the 20th century seemed very much to define the American Style’s sense of space and optimism, traveled the road of the European serialists, not wanting to be out of step with the relentless rush of modernity, seeing if they could find a new voice that was both relevant and honest. Some succeeded better than others, yet there always seemed to be a pull back to the center of the American thought ethos, a desire not to be wholly desperate but rather hopeful even in the midst of what Paul Hindemith called, “confusion, rush and noise” (The Posthorn).

• • •

Small_Moravians_Harpers_Weekly_1888_01

“The Moravian Easter at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,” Harper’s Weekly, Vol. XXXII, No. 1632, March 31, 1888, pages 228-229.

• • •

For the trombone, the staid harmonies of Moravian chorales – by which the trombone was introduced to American shores – gave way to ragtime and jazz. The world found Arthur Pryor’s eye-popping trombone virtuosity to be nothing short of stunning, while Henry Fillmore’s toe-tapping “Trombone Family” of trombone smears – with their roots in minstrelsy and blackface – were found on band programs around the country. As jazz found its legs and kept growing out of the clothes of its African, West Indian, and European roots, styles like be-bop brought the joyful exuberance of Frank Rosolino and J.J. Johnson, whose creative and enthusiastic music and music making belied the dark demons that ultimately led them to point a barrel of a gun at their heads. And pull the trigger. For every trombone concerto by someone like Christopher Rouse – dark, brooding, introspective, even hopeless – there were two or three by composers like Eric Ewazen, who forsook his long exploration down the tunnel of serialism only to come out wholly embracing 18th century tonality and a new Romanticism with a renewed sense of joie de vivre, with a relentlessly syncopated, rhythmic drive, and expansive melodies that seemed to point one to the high peaks and majestic canyons of the great American west.

•  •  •

From_Komatke_Sierra_Estrella

Sierra Estrella (Komatk Doag), Arizona. View from Komatke, the birthplace of Russell Moore. Photo by Douglas Yeo.

•  •   •

As an American who celebrates his 62nd year of life and 53rd year of playing the trombone in 2017, I find myself more and more attracted to – Hindemith, again – “the lasting, calm and meaningful.” Having grown up and worked in the great population centers of the East and Midwest – childhood in New York City, college in Chicago, more college in New York City, and orchestral careers in Baltimore and Boston – I have returned to the west. Having been born in California in the final days of my father’s service in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict – a still unresolved war that became emblematic of the conflicts of the second half of the 20th century and beyond – I now live in Arizona, where the natural beauty and sense of space has affected my artistic temperament in significant ways. From my front porch where at night it is so dark I can see the Milky Way with my naked eye – in the foothills of the Estrella Mountains (that is their Spanish name; the Native Americans who were here long before them called them Komatk Doag), with silhouettes of saguaro cacti on the horizon in every direction – I very much feel like the 19th century American explorers Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery. Like them, I no longer know what to expect around every turn as I did while in my comfort zone in the East. Now, my artistic personality is informed by influences overlooked, forgotten, abandoned and tamped down in the mad rush to settle the continent – the voices of the Native peoples. Their pottery and basketry informs the artistic ethos of our home. I’ve recently been involved in a major research project on Russell “Big Chief” Moore, a member of the Akimel O’odham tribe who in 1912 – the year Arizona became the 48th state in the Union – was born just over the mountains from my home, and went on to be one of America’s great jazz trombonists. A bison skull, a reminder of what the clash of old and new societies nearly brought to extinction, overlooks our patio. Two racks of shed elk antlers on display in my living room and music studio remind me that contrary to the dominant thought that I found so easy to embrace in the fast-paced East, I am not the biggest and strongest thing around. Most of all, though, I am in a place where quiet is easy to find, where I can, within minutes, be where I cannot see another indication of modernity as far as my eyes can see.

•  •  •

Big_Chief_Russell_Moore_MS_Rag.jpg

“Tribute to “Big Chief” Russell Moore,” The Mississippi Rag, Vo. XI, No. 3. Photo by Kathy Gardner

•  •  •

This, for me, is America: bold, beautiful, ever changing, positive, optimistic, peaceful. These American values are ever before me, and remind me that even though these noble aspirations are not always to be found  easily – there is much work to do in this imperfect, fallen world – the challenges faced in desiring them cannot keep me from pursuing them relentlessly. It is these qualities, in a season of life where I no longer need to play any music I do not wish to play, where I choose to put aside the music that tries to reflect the confusion of our present age in favor of music that celebrates the purity of what I wish it to be. I stand with James Reese Europe and his 369th Infantry Harlem Hellfighters Band, Russell Moore and his Pima people, with Aaron Copland and his vision of  Appalachian Spring, Eric Ewazen and his Pastorale, and even Dvořák, whose “American” string quartet, composed in Iowa, reflects his understanding that American Style had to reflect something of the history and greatness of the land, its people, and their struggle.
In this, I am an American musician who embraces what I believe is the greatest informer of American Style in music: Optimism.

 

© 2017 Douglas Yeo. All rights reserved.

Rethinking Mozart’s Tuba mirum – part 2

Rethinking Mozart’s Tuba mirum – part 2

Last October, I wrote an article for The Last Trombone titled, Rethinking Mozart’s Tuba mirum. If you’re reading THIS article and haven’t read my earlier thoughts this subject, please take a minute to read my earlier article so you can have a fuller context for what follows.

For many years, I have puzzled over a question: Why does the trombone solo to the Tuba mirum movement in Mozart’s Requiem seem to be of a completely different character than the vocal text of the movement? In my previous article I raised the question and wondered if we could begin a conversation about this. What happened was quite unexpected: that article about Mozart’s Tuba mirum has received thousands of views. Clearly this question is something that is on the mind of many others.

To recap, the text of Tuba mirum of the Requiem mass speaks of the dead being raised from their graves as they are being summoned before the throne of God for judgment. Here is the text in Latin:

Tuba mirum spargens sonum

Per sepulchral regionum,

Coget omnes ante thronum.

And here is the “standard literal” translation in English:

The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound

through all the sepulchers of the regions,

will summon all before the throne.

Here is a fuller, more accurate translation of the text in English:

The trumpet, blowing its amazing sound to all of the corners of the earth,
signals to all of the dead in the world
to rise from their tombs and come before the throne of God for judgment.

Surely this is a text that demands dramatic treatment. And many composers, like Berlioz, Verdi and even contemporaries of Mozart such as Antonio Salieri, Michael Haydn and Luigi Cherubini infused this movement with fast tempos and loud trumpets, trombones and timpani.

But not Mozart.

After the initial opening “fanfare” of the call of the last trumpet, Mozart wrote what is usually interpreted as a florid, legato passage to accompany the bass vocal soloist. Here is the trombone solo as printed in a commonly performed edition:

Tuba_mirum_part_Barenreiter_excerpt

It must first be said that apart from the three slurs that appear in measures 15, 16 and 17, none of the expressive markings are Mozart’s. He did not live to hear the Requiem performed and the Tuba mirum was left unfinished; he did not even indicate an opening dynamic for the trombone solo. Had he lived, he certainly would have gone back to this movement and edited it more clearly for performance. A look at the except from Mozart’s manuscript at the top of this article (if you are reading this article because you have subscribed to The Last Trombone by email, click on the title of this article to open this page in your web browser and you can see the header image) shows just how little Mozart gave us in terms of expressive guidance.

Still, the tradition that calls for this solo to be played legato dates back to the Requiem‘s first edition, published in Leipzig, Germany c1800 by Breitkopf & Härtel. Below are the first three pages of the Tuba mirum in this edition. The full score to this edition, which is owned by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston and is on deposit at the Boston Public Library for safekeeping, is available online by clicking HERE. You will also notice something that seems a little shocking: after the opening notes of the trombone solo, this edition gives most of the Tuba mirum solo to a solo bassoon (Fagotto in German), not solo trombone. Seriously. But more on this in a minute. Have a look at these pages and you will see that from this first edition, the character of the trombone solo was legato:

Mozart_Tuba_mirum_1800_p1

Mozart_Tuba_mirum_1800_p2

Mozart_Tuba_mirum_1800_p3

Note: You will see that the trombone solo in measures 5-7 is not marked legato even though it is usually played that way by today’s players. I think a case can be made for a detached tenuto OR a legato approach to these measures. Part of this thinking is a consideration of what we are learning about 19th century trombone performance practice and part of it is based on a consideration that these measures might – might – actually depict the initial movement of the dead from their graves.

However, with the mostly legato character of the opening of this movement clearly established from its earliest performances, the question still remains: why does Mozart treat this dramatic text in this way?

After I published my earlier article in which I posed this question, I continued researching in hopes of answering my own question. I had conversations with my friend, Howard Weiner, one of the most respected scholars of the trombone who is also co-editor of the Historic Brass Society Journal, and consulted dozens of books about Mozart and the Requiem. As I looked more carefully at this, some important information came to light and  I think I am beginning to understand why Mozart called for the trombone solo to be played in a gentle rather than dramatic style.

As I was researching this, the Boston Symphony Orchestra contacted me. They were planning performances of the Requiem on April 20, 21 and 22 and asked if I would be interested in contributing an article about the Tuba mirum for the BSO program book. The timing was perfect. While I was planning to write a long article on the subject for a scholarly journal, the offer to write a shorter, 1000 word piece was very appealing to me. It allowed me to concisely present my argument to an audience that was preparing to hear the Requiem in performance. And so, last week, my article about the trombone solo in Mozart’s Tuba mirum was published in the Boston Symphony program book.

For the benefit of readers of The Last Trombone, I am reprinting my article below. What you see below is identical to what appeared in the article except the quotations from various authors are fully cited below. If you would like to read or download the article as it appeared in the Boston Symphony program (PDF file), click HERE.

As you will see, I think Mozart knew what he was doing. Of course, there is much room for discussion and further research, and I hope we will all keep asking questions. Still, I think this is a plausible theory to answer a question that has vexed not only trombonists, but, as you will read below, Mozart scholars for over two centuries. I close this article in a way that is similar to my conclusion to my earlier article on this subject:

I am posing an idea, a theory; I am not presenting this as a settled thought in need of adoption. Certainly more research and study needs to be done.  Let’s keep thinking.

•   •   •

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Reprinted from the Boston Symphony Orchestra Program Book, April 20, 21, 22, 2017.

Tuba mirum” or “Tuba dirum”: Mozart’s Requiem and the Trombone

by Douglas Yeo (© 2017, Douglas Yeo. All rights reserved.)

Written in the last months of his life, Mozart’s Requiem has achieved almost mythic status as one of classical music’s greatest works, despite the fact that he did not live to see it to completion. Today we take for granted the near universal praise of the Requiem, and any criticism is usually reserved for discussion about the perceived inadequacies of those who completed the work from Mozart’s sketches. Trombone players have special reason to be grateful to Mozart, since he has provided them with one of the orchestral repertoire’s finest trombone solos, one that stands alongside those found in Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Yet Mozart’s trombone solo in the Tuba mirum has been a subject of controversy since its first performances and has not always been held in high esteem.

Mozart’s manuscript for the Tuba mirum contains only the most basic of outlines, containing parts for the vocal soloists, solo trombone, and cellos/basses. He wrote no dynamic marking for the opening solo, and he offered only scant articulation markings to guide performers stylistically. Mozart’s trombone solo extends to the end of the opening text that is sung by the bass soloist; the trombone’s music staff continues throughout the entire movement but those measures were never filled by the composer’s pen.

It is the trombone, rather than the trumpet, that introduces the sound of the Biblical “last trumpet,” a quite logical decision when one understands that the word “trombone” literally means “large trumpet.” Banish any thought that the Latin word “tuba” has anything to do with today’s large brass instrument of that name. Unlike the trombone, the natural (valveless) trumpet of Mozart’s time was not capable of playing fully chromatically. Mozart, at age eleven, had written an exceptional trombone solo in his Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes (The Obligation of the First Commandment), K.35, and was well acquainted with the instrument’s capabilities. After the Tuba mirum’s opening measures, the trombone writing changes character, and it accompanies the bass soloist with florid lines and arpeggios until the tenor soloist enters (Mors stupebit) with a minor-key version of the trombone’s opening motif. This is all well and good until one considers whether Mozart’s trombone writing actually reflects the character of the vocal text.

After the drama of the Dies irae, the Tuba mirum text continues with an evocative image of the dead rising from their graves to face the judgment of God. While Hector Berlioz (1834) famously complained that Mozart’s single trombone was inadequate to the task— “Why just one trombone to sound the terrible blast that should echo round the world and raise the dead from the grave? Why keep the other two trombones silent when not three, not thirty, not three hundred would be enough?” (1) —other commentators have objected to the character of the solo. Many have echoed Alfred Einstein’s assessment (1945) that “one cannot shake off the impression that the heavenly [trombone] player is exhibiting his prowess instead of announcing terribly the terrible moment of the Last Judgment.” (2) More recently, John Rosselli, in The Life of Mozart (1998), opines that the trombone solo “strains after majesty and fails.” (3) Perhaps the harshest cut came from Cecil Forsyth in his Orchestration (1914) where he wrote, sardonically, “Only the first three bars appear to have been written by one who understood the instrument. The rest might be better described as Tuba dirum spargens sonum.” The text’s reference to the amazing (“mirum”) sound of the last trumpet became, in Mozart’s allegedly inept hands, simply “awful” (“dirum”). (4)

Yet missing from all of this harsh commentary is an understanding of not only the use of the trombone in late-18th-century Vienna, but also how composers at that time and place addressed the subject of death. It is true that many of Mozart’s contemporaries, including Antonio Salieri, Michael Haydn, and Luigi Cherubini, treated the Tuba mirum in dramatic fashion with loud brass and timpani. But others, like Georg Reutter and Franz Joseph Aumann, wrote gentle trombone solos (and trombone duets) in the Tuba mirum movement of their Requiems. Why did some composers treat this text with dramatic effect while others, like Mozart, took a more gentle approach? We do well to note that in Vienna from the mid-18th century, the idea of “eine schöne Leich” (“a beautiful funeral”) was very much in play. Hermann Abert, in his early biography of Mozart (1855), explains “that Mozart pictures the Lord not as a strict and implacable judge but as a lenient, albeit just and serious, God.” (5)  Edward Young’s poem “Night Thoughts” (1742), which was translated and widely distributed in Austria, also encouraged this view of “a good death.” If one has led a life according to God’s commands, what, then, is there to fear when the trumpet of God calls one to account?

If we accept that Mozart was fully aware of the implications of using the trombone to reflect a more gentle view of the judgment of God, today’s musicians still need to address other important issues of performance practice. While Mozart’s manuscript clearly shows the meter of Tuba mirum as cut time (2/2), the first published edition (1800) changed that to common time (4/4). This confusion led to a host of conductors leading the movement at an exceptionally slow tempo despite the Andante tempo marking. Many editions, starting with the first edition, gave some or all of the trombone solo over to a bassoon, or even viola and cello, a concession to the lack of competent trombone players in many countries in the 19th century. But Mozart’s trombone solo in the Tuba mirum is a superb example of late 18th-century Viennese writing for the instrument. Its character is consistent with Mozart’s view of death, a view he shared with his father, Leopold, in a letter from 1787:

As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but it is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity…to learn that death is the key which unlocks the door to our happiness. (6)

 

Citations:

(1) Hugh MacDonald, Berlioz’s Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2002), 220.

(2) Alfred Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work. New York: Oxford University Press (1945), 354.

(3) John Rosselli, The Life of Mozart. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1998), 160.

(4) Cecil Forsyth, Orchestration. London: Macmillan and Company (1914), 149.

(5) Hermann Abert, translated by Stewart Spencer, edited by Cliff Eisen, W. A. Mozart. New Haven: Yale University Press (2007), 1323-1324.

(6) Christoph Wolff, Mozart’s Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies. Berkeley: University of California Press (1994), 84.

•   •   •

DOUGLAS YEO (www.thelasttrombone.com and www.yeodoug.com) was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 2012 and was Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University from 2012 to 2016; his latest book is The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist (Encore Music Publishers). He lives in the foothills of Arizona’s Sierra Estrella and is currently writing The Trombone Book (Oxford University Press) and Homer Rodeheaver: Gospel Music’s ‘Reverend Trombone’ (University of Illinois Press).

Take “The Acrobat Challenge” and help Stephen Sykes beat cancer

Take “The Acrobat Challenge” and help Stephen Sykes beat cancer

While I don’t use Facebook and other social media platforms (WHY I don’t use them is a subject for another time), I recognize their power to help do many positive things.

Yesterday, Bob Thompson, a friend of mine in England, told me about “The Acrobat Challenge,” something that is going viral on Facebook to help raise money to help 26 year old trombonist Stephen Sykes beat cancer. Stephen is the son of Steve and Joanne Sykes, friends I met many years ago when I was in England helping to raise money to build a school in Ethiopia through a great effort called Brass Band Aid.

Young Stephen has been diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and is in need of treatment that is not covered by Britain’s national health insurance program. Through the power of social media, nearly £100,000 has been raised in one month, an extraordinary show of support for this family.

You can read about Stephen and his story HERE. And here is a photo of Stephen at Royal Albert Hall in London with Sting, just before he became ill.

Stephen_Sting

The word about this has been getting out through people taking “The Acrobat Challenge.” It’s a fun little project for trombone players – and any musician, for that matter – to make a short video playing “The Acrobat,” then make a donation in any amount to Stephen’s gofundme fund to help pay for his treatment, and then nominate three more people to take “The Acrobat Challenge.”

Click HERE to join “The Acrobat Challenge” Facebook group and upload your video. Everything you need is there, including the music to “The Acrobat.” You can also make a donation to help Stephen without making a video; just go to his gofundme page by clicking HERE.

Since I don’t do Facebook, I uploaded my video to YouTube and you can see it below, or by clicking HERE to open the video in your web browser. I also made a donation to Stephen’s gofundme account; I assure you that this is a fine, honorable, trustworthy family and your money is going to a very, very good cause. I decided to mix things up a little and I recorded “The Acrobat Challenge” on my 19th century buccin, a dragon bell trombone made in Lyon, France by the maker Sautermeister:

Please join me in taking “The Acrobat Challenge” and help young Stephen Sykes beat cancer. When you look at the videos that have been posted, you’ll be very happy to join with people around the world in this worthy effort.

 

Announcement: a bass trombone concerto with orchestra

Announcement: a bass trombone concerto with orchestra

It is always a great day when a bass trombonist gets an opportunity to stand up in front of a symphony orchestra and play a concerto. Such solo opportunities for orchestral bass trombonists are relatively rare, so I am VERY happy to celebrate and help spread the word that my good friend, Gerry Pagano, bass trombonist of the Saint Louis Symphony, will be soloist with the Saint Louis Symphony (conducted by the orchestra’s music director, David Robertson) on Friday, April 28 at 8:00 pm in Powell Hall in Saint Louis. Below is a flyer about the performance. If you’re anywhere near Saint Louis on April 28, take an opportunity to hear Gerry play James Stephenson’s “The Arch” in its new version with symphony orchestra accompaniment. Bravo, Gerry!

CapriccioItalien_flyer

Residency at Bowling Green State University: serpent, trombone and a face cake

Residency at Bowling Green State University: serpent, trombone and a face cake

I have just returned from a residency at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), College of Music Arts, in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Plans for this residency were first laid in July 2014 when I received an unusual request. BGSU had recently received a gift of a 19th century English military serpent and they wanted to know if I would be willing to come to the University to introduce the instrument to the community. And thus began a very interesting journey.

01_Yeo_Varney

It seems that Dr. Glenn Varney, BGSU Professor of Management (Emeritus), shown with me in the photo above, had gifted a 19th century serpent to the BGSU College of Musical Arts. This instrument, an English military serpent with four keys that was probably made around 1830, had been in the family of his late wife, Ruth P. Varney for many years, having been purchased from a dealer in London who said the serpent was last used by a musician in a regimental band during the Boer War (1899-1902). Over the years, the serpent had suffered some accidents  – then again, wouldn’t YOU be in rough shape if you were nearly 200 years old? – and some needed restoration was done by J.c. Sherman of Cleveland. The University contacted me to ask if I could give some kind of a program at BGSU that would feature the serpent.

Now, those who know me know that I have played the serpent since 1994.  I’ve played many historical instruments in museums around the world, but before I could commit to playing a concert on an instrument I had never seen – let alone played – I needed to hold it in my hands and spend time with it. So last year, BGSU shipped the Ruth P. Varney Memorial Serpent to me so I could get to know this instrument.

07_rehearsal

No two serpents are alike and it took me several months to understand the unique qualities of the Varney serpent. My friend, Phil Humphries, a serpent player in England who plays in the London Serpent Trio and the Mellstock Band, likes to say that every day before he picks up his serpent, he looks at it and says, “Well, what kind of mood are you in today?” In time, I managed to come to grips with the playing characteristics of this particular serpent to the point where I could commit to use it in performance. I organized a program of chamber music that had been written to include the serpent, a program I had given in 2011 in Rouen and Paris, France: marches by Christopher Eley, Samuel Wesley and Josef Haydn, and a Divertimento attributed to Haydn that included the famous “St. Antoni Chorale” that Johannes Brahms famously used as the basis for his “Variations on a Theme By Haydn.” The concert that we presented – the group was superb, featuring a mix of BGSU faculty, students and other local players – was enthusiastically received by the audience. The group included Nermis Mieses and Jana Zilova, oboe; Derek Emch and Erin Cameron, clarinet; Andrew Pelletier and Kristen Running, horn; Greg Quick, Alex Meaux and Jack Smolenski, bassoon; and Charles Saenz, trumpet.

05_Yeo_concert

I titled the concert, “The Ruth P. Varney Memorial Serpent: A Conversation and Concert Led  By Douglas Yeo.” In this, I was able to engage the audience with information about the serpent, its role in music – from its important work accompanying chant in the church in France from the 16th century through its introduction into military bands, chamber music and the symphony orchestra – and the generosity of Glenn Varney in donating this extraordinary instrument to BGSU in memory of his late wife.

06_Yeo_seminar

While at Bowling Green, I also had the opportunity to lead a music history seminar that discussed the serpent. The class, taught by Dr. Arne Spohr, provided an opportunity to discuss how the serpent was part of musical culture in France, Germany and England, and its particular role and sound in large and small performance spaces. This was a very stimulating class with great discussion and questions from the students.

03_Yeo_trombone_class

In addition to a masterclass for the BGSU tuba/euphonium studio – the photo at the top of this post was taken in that class as I was demonstrating the serpent (if you receive posts from The Last Trombone by email and can’t see that photo, click on the title of this post to open it in your web browser where you can see the photo) – I also gave a trombone masterclass where I worked with several students on solos, heard a low brass section play excerpts from Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and also a trombone quartet. These were talented students and working with them was a great pleasure.

04_Yeo_cake

And, hey, it’s not every day you get to see a face cake with a serpent on it. Following the concert, the College of Musical Arts hosted a reception in honor of Glenn Varney and his gift of the serpent in memory of his wife, Ruth. On the cake was a famous image from the British Museum of the Duke of York’s Band, c1790, with serpent front and center. Seriously!

Yeo_cake

My time at BGSU generated some nice articles in the local press that you can read here:

Musical serpent to be celebrated at BGSU (BG Independent News)

Serpent performance to send BGSU back in time (Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune)

Over the years, I have conducted many residencies at colleges and universities around the world. This residency at Bowling Green State University was one of the most diverse I’ve ever conducted and it was exceptionally well organized and very satisfying in every way. I owe a big “thank you” to BGSU Dean of the college of musical arts, Dr. William Mathis, tuba instructor David Saltzman, adjunct associate professor of trombone Garth Simmons, associate professor of horn Andrew Pelletier, and associate professor of musicology Arne Spohr for all they did to organize my various activities during my visit. And I must also thank Lindsay Gross, manager of Public-Community Relations for the BGSU College of Musical Arts who was of tremendous help in making everything during my visit work so smoothly.

Most of all, I left Bowling Green with gratitude to Glenn Varney, whose gift of his wife’s family’s serpent was the driving force behind my visit. Thank you, Glenn, for providing me with this rich opportunity to engage with students, faculty and the BGSU community and to bring the serpent to the fore in a very unique and special way.

[NOTE: All photos in this post were taken by Lindsay Gross.]