The Trumpet Shall Sound Program Notes

Concert info:

Saint Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians that the sound of a trumpet will change all things. (1 Corinthians 15:52 if you’d like the full context.) Today’s concert may be hard-pressed to change all things, but it has the potential to change the ways we hear very familiar classical themes and the ways we hear contemporary music. Both of these possibilities are found in the works on today’s program, which cover 19th-century standards and a work premiered only 3 years ago.

Gioachino Rossini: William Tell Overture

Rossini’s William Tell Overture contains 2 of the most familiar and “appropriated” themes of classical music: the bucolic “daybreak” theme found in movement 2, and the “horse galloping” theme of the final movement, made famous as the theme for The Lone Ranger television series. With these 2 common references, listeners can be forgiven for not knowing that this overture was originally created by Rossini for an opera by the same name, premiered in 1829 and the last of the 39 operas he composed. Connected to the opera’s storyline, the music is intended to evoke the Swiss Alps and has nothing to do with horseback riding, however strongly that image is embedded in our collective melodic psyche.

Structured in 4 movements, the Overture is scored for a typical small orchestra of its day, with a heavy emphasis on double reeds, especially in the more bucolic moments, and crisp brass writing as found in the final movement. The less familiar movements also contain many charms and programmatic allusions to alpine themes including the storms of movement 2 and the marching of Swiss soldiers in movement 4. As best you can, listen to this familiar work with new ears and try your best to not conjure up in your mind that masked cowboy and his trusted partner Tonto.

Vivian Fung: Trumpet Concerto

“Vivian Fung’s Trumpet Concerto is very likely the first concerto written by a North American female composer for a female trumpet soloist.” 

– John Chacona for the Erie Times-News

While the Rossini brings to us an ultra familiar sound world, Vivian Fung’s Trumpet Concerto allows us to enter a new world of sonic textures. Born in Toronto, Canada and educated at Julliard, Fung is among the most active and celebrated composers of her generation with a particular interest in allowing culture and communities to inspire her compositions: her 2012 Yunnan Folk Songs was inspired by travels in rural China to document the music of minority cultures there.

Fung’s Trumpet Concerto was written for our soloist today, Mary Elizabeth Bowden, and was co-commissioned by Philharmonia Northwest, along with eight other orchestras in the country including Erie Philharmonic, Anchorage Symphony and Chicago Youth Symphony. Highly virtuosic and displaying the capabilities of the E-flat trumpet, piccolo trumpet in C, and flugelhorn, the concerto creates a dialogue between the soloist and orchestra that builds in energy over time. Transcending the more typical 3-movement concerto format, Fung’s Trumpet Concerto is structured as one continuous piece with various moods and episodes flowing in and out. Of particular interest is the interplay between the longing, almost plainchant melodies of the trumpet solo, juxtaposed against the shifting textures of the orchestra. The music takes on an extra layer of meaning when considering that the genesis of the concerto was found in a conversation between Fung and Bowden about working as women in the male-dominated fields of composition and brass performance. “Ideas of striving, overcoming challenges, frustration, passion, and ultimately joy and celebration are all explored” describes Fung in her own notes about the piece.

Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97 “Rhenish”

While perhaps not as innovative as his chamber and vocal music, Schumann’s symphonies represent solid, 19th-century studies in harmony, form, and orchestration. His 3rd symphony has become a standard and delightfully incorporates inspiration from a trip through the Rhineland he had taken with his wife, Clara, hence the nickname “Rhenish” for this work.

Linking back to our discussion of Rossini, Movement 1 brings us several themes we may find ourselves recognizing without knowing exactly how, the collective unconscious of classical melodies at work once again. This movement feels full of hope and slightly restless, like a river journey with new vistas at each bend. The interplay between winds and brass, each taking turns helping the strings relay their important themes, is particularly exciting to listen for. The horn calls at midpoint are a high point in classical literature as any conservatory-trained French horn student will tell you as they study symphonic excerpts. Movement 2 uses a German folk song known as the Ländler as an underpinning, an apt choice to evoke elements of the Rhineland inspiration of this symphony. Movement 3 provides a calming element with long, sinuous themes that do not stray far from an elemental tonal center and are most often orchestrated with the woodsy timbre of clarinets and low string pizzicato (plucking the string instead of bowing). Note the absence of percussion and brass in this movement – the river cruise has taken a moment of rest in a peaceful harbor – and that sweet, sweet final chord.

Movements 4 and 5 bring us new vistas and dramatic ones at that. Known as the “Cathedral” movement, the 4th is intended to evoke a solemn ceremony with rich, dark tones of low winds, brass, and strings at work at every turn. The themes, always in a minor key, pile upon one another, like light refracted through the panes of stained glass windows, while the brass punctuations are the stone pillars of the cathedral, evoking something ancient. Movement 5 is back to the hope and joy of the 1st, with dancing themes that make use of rhythmic interplay between all sections of the orchestra. Schumann is at his best here, and while he may have not been innovative in his conceptual ideas for symphonic writing, the rhythmic intensity he creates is pushing at many boundaries for the day and a bit of foreshadowing of composers that would come after him. The “trumpet shall sound,” which it does in this movement, and Schumann, like Rossini and Fung, gives us every potential to hear things new.

James Falzone

Dean and Professor of Music

Cornish College of the Arts