Orchestral repertoire: upper limit?

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by darobsta, Oct 16, 2007.

  1. darobsta

    darobsta New Friend

    Oct 15, 2007
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Hi there

    I'm not really a brass player (I'm a pianist/bass guitarist/double bassist and a self-taught trombone & trumpet hack), but I hope you'll help out a poor n00b.

    I'm a student composer doing research for a seminar on the trumpet for Orchestration class, and specifically the question of how high you can safely write for the orchestral trumpet player, using examples from modern orchestral literature. (I'm specifically looking at writing for the trumpet section of the modern symphony orchestra, not a soloist in a concerto, not a jazz/big band player, not a wind orchestra player, not a brass band/quintet player, not in a solo work for trumpet).

    While it may seem like I'm some poor immature schlub obsessed with the high range of the trumpet, there is a great disparity in range between what is expected of 1st trumpet in a symphony orchestra and, for example, lead trumpet in a big band - one of my questions is why this is so. For the purposes of narrowing down research, I'm limiting myself to American composers (though I'm interested in hearing of other works and trumpet parts too).

    Adopting the C Trumpet as the orchestral standard (though fully aware of differing transpositions and that in the main you can't physically play higher on a C Trumpet than a Bb trumpet), it seems there is an upper ceiling of C6, and composers are too scared to write above it. Adler's Study of Orchestration tells me "Many trumpeters are able to player higher than the range given here, but it is risky to write above [C6]."

    I've got some questions:
    - What are some renowned examples of taxing trumpet repertoire, or examples of archetypal sustained high playing?
    - Are there any works that spring to mind that call for notes above concert C6 for the trumpets of the orchestra?
    - Are there any modern works that spring to mind that call for piccolo trumpet (or any trumpet smaller than C?)

    I have found some examples of trumpet writing up to the C above the stave (e.g. the part for Barber's Night Flight looks like a mission and a bundle of nerves on that exposed entry, Medea's Dance & Vengeance looks devilish too), and I am yet to investigate the scores of Copland (e.g. Rodeo, El Salon Mexico) and Gershwin.

    The only orchestral work I can think of that breaks that C6 limit is West Side Story Symphonic Dances, but surely there must be more out there that I haven't heard of. Orchestral works with jazz or Latin influences that call for something more from the trumpeter? Works that call for high register squealing of indistinct pitch? Anything along those lines?

    All comments and answers are appreciated!

    (cross-posted to brass-forum.co.uk)
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2007
  2. Johntpt

    Johntpt Pianissimo User

    Feb 11, 2004
    Toluca, Mexico
    There are plenty of examples of things written higher than the high concert C - Strauss' Alpine Symphony comes to mind, with plenty of high D's and Db's. Mahler's Eighth Symphony has a nice high Eb, although it is in parenthesis. Mahler 7 has a nice melodic and muted high Db. Strauss' Rosenkavelier has several high Db's. Ginastera's Estancia has some muted high Eb's. Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra has a famous passage full of Db's, as does Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. Mexican Orchestral music is full of high notes. Sensemaya by Revueltas has a nice high D, and check out the Chavez Piano Concerto for a real workout.

    Parts for smaller trumpets can be found in many pieces - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Symphony of Psalms, Turangalila Symphony by Messiaen, Joan of Arc by Honegger, Bolero by Ravel, and Hymn of the Universe by Naji Hakim all have parts written for D trumpet which are today commonly played on a piccolo trumpet.

    These pieces are largely from the standard repertoire and numerous recordings can be found. More "modern" composers have frequently written high squeak notes for the trumpets.

    I think you were asking for American pieces, and I'm sure others will chime in with more.

  3. Johntpt

    Johntpt Pianissimo User

    Feb 11, 2004
    Toluca, Mexico
    I thought of a couple more. Check out Sun-Treader by American composer Carl Ruggles. Respighi's Roman Festival's has a high D, and also check out the big orchestral pieces by Varese, especially Ameriques and Arcana.

  4. robertwhite

    robertwhite Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    I think the question of why there's a disparity between the range required in big band/commercial settings and traditional orchestral settings has to do with a basic difference in the required quality of sound.

    In an orchestra, a concert c' played fortissimo is extremely intense - even with all the other brass blowing along. It will fly out above the entire orchestra. In a big band, you have a much, much more intense volume level generally, even at soft dynamics. This is mostly because of instrumental timbre, but also because of more dense scoring, coloristic chord voicings, amplification, etc. Again, I'm speaking very generally. Anyway, the timbre required of trumpets to project in that setting is quite different from what the orchestral player uses most of the time. Such a timbre is more conducive to the extreme upper register. This is why it's rare to see someone truly excel at both kinds of playing (not unheard of, but rare). They require substantially different kinds of tone that are not easy to turn on and off.

    My .02
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2007
  5. CJH

    CJH Pianissimo User

    Mar 15, 2005
    Boston, MA
    I think this about sums it up. If you write high Ds and Ebs, you risk having your composition sound... not the way you want it. Nothing is more uncomfortable for an audience than listening to someone trying to play notes that they can't play. Piccolo is an option, but it's a different sound and might not be what you are looking for. Also, picc doesn't really make high notes any easier to play, just more secure.. you've still got to have the chops.

    If you are having the NY Philharmonic premier your piece, you can get away with it. If you would like to hear a wider range of orchestras (community, etc) playing your music, stick to high C as the ceiling.

    Another pieces with high notes -- Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. Has Dbs and Ebs. All pretty exposed. Great piece of music, but a nasty trumpet part.
  6. siarr

    siarr Pianissimo User

    May 18, 2007
    Hollywood, FL, USA
    There's the famous high Eb concert (written Bb for Trumpet in F) in Mahler's 8th Symphony (1st mvmt., 5th bar after #17)). I also recently got familiar with Britten's huge ballet, "Prince of the Pagodas," which, as in some of his other works, assigns the (high) D trumpet part to the 3rd chair player. I assume that the first and third players swap parts for much of the piece, as the tessitura is very high, sometimes hitting D and Eb. It's a killer piece, one of Britten's most inventive and challenging. Varèse also wrote some high notes, as did Schönberg and Prokofiev (Scythian Suite has a D trumpet part that hits D concert).
  7. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    As crossover is no longer a sin in the orchestral world, there is no reason that a DOUBLE C should be avoided! Who says that orchestral music should be limited to the "average" safe range of turn-of-the-century orchestral players? All of the orchestral players that I know have at least a solid high G. If the section can't hack it, book a Tony Kadlek, Wayne Bergeron, Bobby Shew, Lew Soloff, ...... or one of the hundreds of unemployed aces with that range!
    Composing in the stratosphere should be in "style". The trumpet has a unique sound up there and that CAN be used to great advantage!
    If more of this stuff was required, orchestral trumpet players would have to reconsider their choice of mouthpieces................!
  8. iguananaught

    iguananaught Pianissimo User

    Mar 10, 2005
    Dave Brubeck's Elementals has the first trumpet going up to F# above high C repeatedly. Oh, and it is marked mezzo forte. Thanks Dave........

  9. wiseone2

    wiseone2 Artitst in Residence Staff Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    Many moons ago,1972 I think, I played lead along with Jimmy Stubbs, on the American premiere of Ornette Coleman's, "The Skies of America,"with the American Symphony Orchestra. The tempo is ♩= 50. The time signature is 12/4. The first note is a G, four leger lines above the staff. The first phrase is the melody in slow twelve for five measures, at the end of the twelve measures there is a repeat. Oh, did I mention, the written dynamic was ppp:-o Tony, Wayne, Bobby and Lew would have had tired chops on this piece. I have the LSO recording of this piece.............strange things are going on during the opening measures.
  10. _TrumpeT_

    _TrumpeT_ Piano User

    Apr 26, 2006
    Are you saying that the composer expected a ppp high G on the large Bb trumpet? Ouch.

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