Taxes done!

April 19, 2016 at 10:30 am

Ugh, the stress, the confusion, the emotional rollercoaster of paying taxes. Well, it’s over now – how about something uplifting to get us out of the grave?

On one hand, I feel bad for Johann Nepomuk Hummel, because he is only remembered for one piece – his Trumpet Concerto. On the other hand, it’s not so bad to have your name forever engraved in the annals of history, even if it’s for a single composition. Anyway, despite a large output of music, he is a classical one-hit wonder.

Perhaps what makes this concerto so popular is its place in history. Before Hummel’s time, trumpets didn’t have keys, and tended to play either extremely difficult, sky-high parts, or dull notes that merely added “punctuation” to orchestral music. The 19th century saw an outpouring of new and improved instruments, one of which was the keyed trumpet (holes in the trumpet, like a clarinet or flute – very different from valves, which is what we consider normal for a trumpet these days.) Hummel’s concerto could not have been played on an instrument without valves or keys, so in a sense, it’s the earliest piece of its kind, and the closest thing to Beethoven or Mozart that trumpet players can play. Eventually the keyed trumpet disappeared because the valved trumpet was far superior. The concerto is brilliant and virtuosic, and began a new chapter in the history of the instrument (and the whole brass family, for that matter).


Happy New Year!

January 1, 2016 at 10:00 am

Dovetailing off of yesterday’s post, another fanfare; this one, to me, feels more appropriate for the first morning of the New Year.

Aaron Copland wrote the Fanfare for the Common Man in 1942 in response to the US joining into World War II. The title says it all; this fanfare is for YOU.



Countdown to Fireworks!

December 31, 2015 at 11:15 am

Many of the instruments in the orchestra were originally used in the battlefield as a way to quickly communicate over large distances. The shrill piccolo or brassy trumpet will cut through loud gunfire or swordfighting (think about why Yankee Doodle is played on a fife, or a trumpet playing “charge!”)

George Frederic Handel wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks to accompany an outdoor performance of fireworks. He wisely used the modern descendants of battlefield instruments because of their ability to be heard outdoors while explosives were going off all around them. The score calls for nine trumpets, nine horns, three pairs of timpani, and no less than 24 oboes and 13 bassoons. Even by modern standards, that’s rock & roll; and, just like a rock concert, the first performances of the piece caused a three-hour traffic jam on London bridge, and a building was burned down. Seriously. Rock.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve! And here’s some early fireworks for you:

There are videos available with pictures of actual fireworks, but I chose this one because I like the high-speed performance.