Category Archives: Brass Quintet

Annunciation and Magnificat

annunciationmagnificatp3Annunciation and Magnificat. Brass quintet (with opt. flugelhorns), narrator, 22 minutes

Annunciation and Magnificat is a set of musings on the text of the first chapter of Luke, verses 26 through 55. Beginning with the announcement to Mary from the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus the Messiah, and ending with her song of praise, the text explores her questions and trepidations, the angel’s assurances, and Mary’s visit with her cousin Elisabeth who was then pregnant with John the Baptist. A narrator reads the text, which I’ve divided into eight sections. The quintet plays a meditation on the text after each section is read, the Magnificat ending with the non-scriptural but traditional Gloria Patri:

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
2. She was troubled
3. Fear not, Mary
4. How shall this be?
5. Nothing shall be impossible
6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
7. And Mary arose
8. Magnificat

Elements of the music appear, transformed, as the work progresses. In “Nothing shall be impossible,” the key of D-flat travels quickly to the farthest key away, G, and back again, which journey I tried to make as unnoticed as I could. Normally I take one emotion from each section and attempt to express that musically, but I do, in the Magnificat, follow the text closely. The antiphon recurs as in a sung Magnificat (albeit truncated sometimes), after each two-line thought; the overall feel is of a jubilant dance.

I am thankful to the Gaudete Brass for the opportunity to compose this. Their trumpeters are also excellent flugelhorn players, so I was happy to provide places in the music where those warm-sounding instruments could optionally be used.

Annunciation and Magnificat was premiered 3 December 2016 by the Gaudete Brass Quintet at St. Clement Parish, Chicago.

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.

2. She was troubled
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

3. Fear not, Mary
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

4. How shall this be?
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

5. Nothing shall be impossible
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.

7. And Mary arose
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And what is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

8. Magnificat
And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has showed strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

—Luke 1:26-55, Gloria Patri

Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!

I’ll be writing a Magnificat for this excellent ensemble, Gaudete Brass later this year—yes, a Magnificat for brass quintet. They sound fabulous! Listen to them playing here, one of the instrumental sections from Vespers.

The original is for Renaissance instruments, which are pitched a half-step higher, so Gaudete played this Sonata up one half-step, in Eb. So it sounds in the same key as what Piffaro plays. This page has all the notes, and audio samples, for all of Vespers.

Thank you Paul Von Hoff and Gaudete Brass, for this opportunity! I’m looking forward so much to working with you!

Philadelphia Brass takes Red-tail and Hummingbird on the road


Delighted to report that the Philadelphia Brass has been playing the newest version of Red-tail and Hummingbird, just finishing up two festivals where they featured it. On June 29th they played it at the Sam Maitin Summer Chamber Music Festival in Cape May, N.J., and on July 6th, at the Wildflower Music Festival in the Poconos, White Mills, Pa.

The guys couldn’t decide between the beach or the mountains, so they chose both!

In a short time Red-tail is now up to five versions: Renaissance sextet, brass quintet + bassoon, brass sextet (2 horns), brass sextet (2 trombones), and brass quintet. That’s right, after the Piffaro/Orchestra 2001 premieres, which included players from the Philadelphia Brass, they asked if it’d be possible to make a quintet version. While I was speaking the words “Of course!” my mind was saying “No. No. No. No. No.”

But I worked it out, looking at it as an orchestration challenge, which was a neat trick because it was originally a piece for three duos. Then I made a lower-key version, so that the D trumpets wouldn’t be necessary to haul along on tour. That was easily done, with just a few minor changes to some notes for trumpets and others.

Oh man, that makes six versions, doesn’t it.

Well, this page has more information about the story behind the title, and this page begins a 4-part series I wrote in the Broad Street Review about the process of composing the work.

Thank you, Brian Kuszyk and the Philadelphia Brass!

Red-tail and Hummingbird thanks

hummingbirdMy deepest thanks to Orchestra 2001 and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band for their joint concerts this past weekend, which included the premiere performances of Red-tail and Hummingbird. What warm and happy occasions they were!

Piffaro ended the first half with their version of it; after intermission I conducted 2001 in theirs. The switch from shawms, sackbuts, and dulcians to brass quintet plus bassoon was thrilling. Not that I was in the best position to make a fair judgment: I could sit and enjoy Piffaro’s, but had to work during 2001’s.

They didn’t really need me to conduct, but I was sucked into the vortex by first suggesting tempos at the first rehearsal, and then some phrasing. The players finally told me, and Jim Freeman encouraged me, to get up in front and do it for real.

I used to conduct a bit, but haven’t for ages. I re-learned a couple of things: give them what you can, give it clearly, and get out of their way. They were brilliant.

And so was Piffaro. To make my enjoyment even fuller, as if I needed such a thing, they excerpted my five-part sonata “Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!” from Vespers.

It was interesting hearing musicians and non-musicians talk about which version of Red-tail they preferred. The entire concert, including a premiere of an Arne Running brass quintet and various lovely offerings by Julianne Baird with Piffaro, was quite a lot of fun.

A four-part series on the writing of Red-tail and Hummingbird begins here.

Red-tail and Hummingbird

Brass quintet version performed by the Philadelphia Brass

Red-tail and Hummingbird. For various ensembles of 5 or 6 players. 6′ Commissioned by Orchestra 2001 and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band for joint concerts on February 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, 2013, for a short piece to contrast the sound of modern and early-instrument ensembles.

From our front porch last summer my wife and I witnessed a young hawk attacked and chased by a hummingbird. The musical depiction of this beleaguerment became Red-tail and Hummingbird. A lazy afternoon’s peaceful reverie of chirps and replies is shattered by the two feathered protagonists. In canon, one voice closely chases the other, filling the human and avian observers with awe, and the human observers also with humor. As the hawk vainly attempts to flee its tormentor, an aerial tango is imagined, then a waltz. They leave and—breaking the false hope of peace—return, but do, finally, leave for good.

I first toyed with the idea of a work the groups would play together, but leaving aside the pitch differences of the instruments (Renaissance instruments are generally pitched a half-step higher than moderns), I decided that it was important for the players to feel comfortable within their own tuning systems. Musicians have performed exclusively in equal temperament for more than a century, but historical music specialists now play in a variety of just-intonation sound-worlds. Mixing them, I felt, would only make some instruments appear to sound “off” to the audience. So each group played the work by itself in each concert.

Red-tail and Hummingbird is written for three matched duos, but any six instruments that fit the ranges may perform this. As much as is possible, pairs of same or similar voices may make up each of the three duos. At the premieres the instrumentation was:

Orchestra 2001: 2 Trumpets in D, Horn in F, Bassoon, Trombone, Tuba
Piffaro: 2 Soprano Shawms in D, 2 Tenor Sackbuts, Bass Dulcian, Quartbass Dulcian

A four-part series on the writing of Red-tail and Hummingbird begins here.

The Philadelphia Brass asked if it were possible to produce a quintet version, and I found that it was. There are now six versions of Red-tail, the two listed above, plus:
brass sextet with two horns (2 tpt, 2 hn, tbn, tba; trumpets in C or D)
brass sextet with two trombones (2 tpt, hn, 2 tbn, tba; trumpets in C or D)
brass quintet, high version in C (trumpets in C or D)
brass quintet, low version in Bb (trumpets in C)

Four French Carols

The Concord Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Jamin Hoffman, performs my Four French Carols at The Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, 2 pm Sunday December 12th, 2010.

I first wrote these for the Westminster Brass, a brass quintet, in 1988, for whom I’ve composed a number of things. These were written to be used as preludes or postludes in church services. I revised them in 1996, because Westminster was getting them ready for publication. Then I orchestrated them in 2002 for the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra in Maryland, Sheldon Bair, Music Director, who commissioned the orchestration. They premiered the orchestral version on 7 Dec 2002 (eight years and one day ago, as I write). I’ve also made a version for string orchestra.

I recall that “Saw ye never” was a tune new to me, and that I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it.

Four French Carols
3(2+pic).3(2+ehn).2.2- 12′

1. A Cry Went Up at Midnight View full score

A cry went up at midnight,
One like it was never heard there
In the country of Judea: Christmas.

2. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella View full score

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!
Bring a torch, to the cradle run!
It is Jesus, good folk of the village;
Christ is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! ah! beautiful is the mother!
Ah! ah! beautiful is her Son!

3. Saw You Never View full score

Saw you never, in the twilight,
When the sun had left the skies,
Up in heav’n the clear stars shining
Through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the wise men, watching,
Saw a little stranger star,
And they knew the King was given,
And they followed it from far.

4. O Come, Divine Messiah View full score

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,

And sadness flee away.
Dear Savior haste;

Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,

And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah!

The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,

And sadness flee away.

Four French Carols
string orchestra. 12′

Four French Carols
1988/96; brass quintet. 12′

1. A Cry Went Up at Midnight (1:15 excerpt)
2. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (0:39 excerpt)
3. Saw You Never (0:56 excerpt)
4. O Come, Divine Messiah (0:36 excerpt)