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It seems to me that brass in the orchestra is reluctantly used, held back for the big explosion, almost like percussion. Particularly in the romantic era/ nineteenth century (whatever you want to call it). I understand as time has progressed that brass has had its wondrous moments of melodic bliss but they are quite few and far between. Mahlers Funeral March in his 5th symphony is a good example.

I'm hoping you guys can prove me wrong by presenting a work (or part of) from any era, could even be one of your own works, that displays a good use of the Brass ensemble. It would be grand if you could explain why as well.

I'd probably put this forward as the finest use of the Brass ensemble in a Romantic orchestra- Verdi's Triumphal March from Aida

I think this particular march possess' fantastic orchestration for Brass. When the main theme of the march is presented on solo trumpet and is likely accompanied by lower brass you question where Verdi is going to this... he doesn't explode into an array of noise. Instead theres a brief explosion in the orchestra before the theme is repeated. This time by two trumpets. < so subtle but beautifully effected, it portrays the unity that a march should possess. The theme is repeated a third time but the trumpets separate, one possessing the theme and the other the counter-melody. The strings and wind then take over for a brief interlude before the brass re-enter playing what I believe is an earlier theme. Then whats this the trumpets return in a grandioso finish accompanied by the full orchestra. I just think its incredibly effective orchestration and Verdi doesn't lose the effect of the brass when they return at the end. Instead it is probably heightened as we are just waiting for them to return!

Anyway... It would be cool to see what any of you find.

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In my experience the romantic era made the brass section more important. The trumpet becomes more than an extention of the timpani (cf typical classisictic and early romantic orchestration). I think of say, Tschay 4, Shos 11/12, not to speak the later german high romantic (blech)

The biggest issue is balancing with the woodwinds. That is I think the main reason for some reluctance.

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I think as a trumpet player, you should already know the answer to this to some extent.

The instruments were severely limited in their abilities at the time because many of them did not have the valves that they do today, even well into the Romantic period. They were thus limited to the partials of whatever crook they had in them (hence trumpets/horns in D, in A, in G, etc.), and some of those partials would have been out-of-tune with a bad player who couldn't compensate. The tuba didn't even make a real appearance prior to 1850 or so and wasn't picked up immediately. (The rather unreliable ophicleide was its predecessor.)

A few things are puzzling, however. Elaborate trumpet parts existed in the Baroque period but mostly went out of style in the Classical period. Maybe it was a question of aesthetics. Also, the trombone, which was far more capable than trumpets or horns, existed in music for operas and churches, but not the regular orchestra. Beethoven's fifth symphony seems to be their first appearance outside their traditional domain, and if you look at the last movement, you'll see how much more they were able to do versus the horns and trumpets.

I feel Berlioz and Wagner wrote well for the brass. Off the top of my head, perhaps you should check out the march from Les Troyens and parts of the requiem (I forget if it's the tuba mirum or the dies irae--they are joined movements anyway, I think). As for Wagner, the funeral march from Götterdämmerung and the ubiquitous Ride of the Valkyries would probably be good examples. Tchaikovsky and Verdi have already been mentioned. I'm sure Richard Strauss did too, but his music mostly makes me ill, so I can't really give you any examples other than Zarathustra. Dvorak had some nice brass passages in his symphonies also.

If you want to hear something a little quirky, Vaughan Williams wrote a tuba concerto. ;)

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What what ? reluctance ? this is one of those moments when my english totally fails :( 'cause I don't understand the topic...

Examples of good use of brass ? For me all Berlioz, wagner, bruckner, mahler, r.strauss, stravinsky, scriabin, debussy, ravel, prokofiev, shosty etc all that is good use of brass.

an sorry to be harsh in this but i'm not fan of verdi at all, I have Aida and La Traviata in dvd and each time I watch with my family I listen hours and hours of the cheapest orchestration, a simple harmony support for the singer, that is all.

In my signature you have links to my orchestral pieces, (just op.12 didn't upload score and Lament has no brass)

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an sorry to be harsh in this but i'm not fan of verdi at all, I have Aida and La Traviata in dvd and each time I watch with my family I listen hours and hours of the cheapest orchestration, a simple harmony support for the singer, that is all.

I used to have similar thoughts regarding Verdi; then I started to realize even though he is often over-the-top, there is a lot of passion in the music, and that has to count for something in and of itself. It's like bel canto--but taken to the next level. Plus, he is a very good melodist and his music is far deeper than, say, Donizetti or even Rossini. I'm actually at the point where I prefer him as an opera composer to Wagner, which is the exact opposite of what my opinion used to be.

Only about half of Aida is any good, though, despite its popularity. You might try some of the later operas like Otello and Don Carlos. I don't know Falstaff, but many people think it's his masterpiece.

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Where is this reluctance you speak of? Come on, know a bit of history before asking a silly question.

Just a short list of pieces that use the brass a heck of a lot and/or they are crucial to the effect.

  • Mahler 1, Mov. 4
  • Mahler 2, Mov. 5 (and 1 somewhat)
  • Mahler 3, Mov. 1
  • Mahler 5, Mov. 1, 2, 3, 5
  • Mahler 6, Mov. 1, 4
  • Mahler 7 (meh)
  • Mahler 8
  • Mahler 9, Mov. 3
  • Bruckner 7, Mov. 1, 2, 4
  • Bruckner 9, all of it.
  • Strauss' Don Juan
  • Strauss' Ein Heldenleben
  • Tchaikovsky 2, Mov. 4
  • Tchaikovsky 4, Mov. 1, 4
  • Tchaikovsky 6, Mov. 1, 3
  • Wagner, pretty much everything he ever wrote ever
  • Stravinsky: Rite
  • Stravinsky: Firebird
  • A bunch of other operas such as the Verdi you quoted.
  • Shostokovich 5, Mov. 4 (and 1 somewhat)
  • Berlioz: Requiem, Tuba Mirum
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, Mov. 4 and 5
  • Respighi: Pines of Rome, part 4
  • Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Catacombs, Great Gate of Kiev (and others)
  • Holst: Planets, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus

I might as well name the entire Romantic period minus stupid composers like Grieg, Schumann, and Chopin who didn't use the brass sections effectively.

Any questions?

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I think the OP was referring to how the section isn't used with the same facility as the strings and woodwinds. Apart from the technical problems already noted, another fact to consider is that the brass just wouldn't sound right playing passages such as those given to strings and woodwinds. Apart from the trumpet, they're not really effective playing fast passages in the same way a bassoon would be, for example.

I might as well name the entire Romantic period minus stupid composers like Grieg, Schumann, and Chopin who didn't use the brass sections effectively.

Any questions?

I can think of at least one movement in his symphonies where Schumann uses the brass to beautiful effect: the Feierlich movement from the 3rd symphony. He also wrote a concerto for four horns, though it's been a long time since I've heard it, so I won't say whether he wrote well for them. Schumann isn't considered a great orchestrator by most people, after all.

Pictures at an Exhibition was orchestrated by Ravel, in case that slipped your mind.

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Yes, I knew it was Ravel.

And no, its silly to compare the technical facility of the Wws or Strings with the brass; they're not designed to be fast. They're designed to be loud. And when seven men can outplay over 70, its pretty impressive.

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Yes, I knew it was Ravel.

And no, its silly to compare the technical facility of the Wws or Strings with the brass; they're not designed to be fast. They're designed to be loud. And when seven men can outplay over 70, its pretty impressive.

Yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that's what you were saying. I just didn't want to put up two posts. ;)

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I don't think this is really an issue with contemporary music. By the middle of the twentieth century composers had pretty much exploited the abilities of every section of the orchestra equally (witness the massive expansion of the percussion section under Stravinsky, Varese, Messian and Lutoslawski amongst others) and brass were no exception. This saw new approaches such as using a few brass soloists in smaller orchestras (Webern's orchestration of the Bach Ricercer), external brass groups with an orchestra (Ives, Janacek) and things such as simply not just using the brass section as noise-makers but using every dynamic level. This is not even to mention the many extended techniques that have come from jazz and elsewhere. If you look at some contemporary orchestral works or even more mainstream music such as film scores you will see the ways in which the brass section can be used nowadays.

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Tokkemon hit it one the head. You have to know history. Classical-period didn't use because the brass outside of trombone couldn't do it. For whatever reason, they just never explored it's capabilities. Valves weren't around until 1826 (and we can thank Berlioz for using them in the orchestra first!)

Yes, brass parts in Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven may seem boring; however, we must respect history and understand what was going on during each composition presented.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Where is this reluctance you speak of? Come on, know a bit of history before asking a silly question.

Just a short list of pieces that use the brass a heck of a lot and/or they are crucial to the effect.

  • Mahler 1, Mov. 4
  • Mahler 2, Mov. 5 (and 1 somewhat)
  • Mahler 3, Mov. 1
  • Mahler 5, Mov. 1, 2, 3, 5
  • Mahler 6, Mov. 1, 4
  • Mahler 7 (meh)
  • Mahler 8
  • Mahler 9, Mov. 3
  • Bruckner 7, Mov. 1, 2, 4
  • Bruckner 9, all of it.
  • Strauss' Don Juan
  • Strauss' Ein Heldenleben
  • Tchaikovsky 2, Mov. 4
  • Tchaikovsky 4, Mov. 1, 4
  • Tchaikovsky 6, Mov. 1, 3
  • Wagner, pretty much everything he ever wrote ever
  • Stravinsky: Rite
  • Stravinsky: Firebird
  • A bunch of other operas such as the Verdi you quoted.
  • Shostokovich 5, Mov. 4 (and 1 somewhat)
  • Berlioz: Requiem, Tuba Mirum
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, Mov. 4 and 5
  • Respighi: Pines of Rome, part 4
  • Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Catacombs, Great Gate of Kiev (and others)
  • Holst: Planets, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus

I might as well name the entire Romantic period minus stupid composers like Grieg, Schumann, and Chopin who didn't use the brass sections effectively.

Any questions?

Silly questions provide the best responses.

Thank you for your list, I particularly agree with the Bruckner.

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