Friday, October 03, 2008
Last night I went to a guest recital that featured horn ensembles. The last piece of the evening was composed by a colleague for 12 horns and percussion. The colleague himself is a brass player, and it struck me that all of the pieces I know that were composed by brass players for brass instruments share a key characteristic. All of these pieces are neo-tonal, emphasizing the sonorous harmonic series through lots of quartal chords and triads. Thus they allow the brass instruments to reinforce each other, allowing the strong overtones to align and make the chords ring. This focus on sonority comes from a emphasis on producing beautiful sounds in brass pedagogy. Creating a big, round sound is the goal of every brass player, often to the sacrifice of other musical considerations. Likewise brass compositions emphasize these beautiful sounds to the detriment of more interesting harmonic progressions. I'm thinking of works by trumpeters Tony Plog and Thomas Stevens, and trombonists Jim Beckel and Christian Lindberg. Exceptions to this rule would be jazzers like Bob Brookmeyer who glory in crunchy chords.