Ah, high noon approaches on the east coast and I find myself ready to face a worthy adversary: the concert hall. It is a truly strange place, the concert hall. For all its glory and the millions of patrons whose musical palettes have been satisfactorily expanded, it is a discriminating structure when it comes to what comes out of it: Strauss and Stravinsky, Mozart and Mahler. Great composers? Undoubtedly some of the best.
In addition to their astronomically large output of symphonic music, and with the exception of Mahler, each of the aforementioned composers wrote music for smaller consorts of instruments, whether be they strings or winds. It is with great satisfaction I tell you that much of their consort music exists for winds. Yes! Flutes, clarinets, bassoons, oboes (and all the variations thereof, including English horn, oboe d’amore, basset horn, etc.). Chamber music we call it, but by definition, these works were written for musical consorts of wind instruments. Here is a list of three works you may know:
- Mozart – Serenade in Bb “Gran Partita”, for 13 Wind Instruments (1781/2)
- Strauss – Serenade in Eb, for 13 Wind Instruments (1881/2)
- Stravinsky – Octet for Winds (1923)
Other notable works for winds by orchestral composers:
- Holst – First Suite in Eb for Military Band (1909)
- Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite (1923)
- Respighi – Huntingtower Ballad (1932)
- Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy (1937)
- Persichetti – Symphony No. 6 (1956)
- Copland – Emblems (1964)
- Schwantner – …and the mountains rising nowhere (1977)
There are of course others, and far too many to list here. Each of the above works is coveted in the concert hall, and on the rare occasion when a major orchestra programs one of them, it is likely that it will either sell out or receive a standing ovation. Music for consorts of winds…bands of wind instruments. Not too shabby.
My battle with the concert hall has become this: if music for winds was being written in 1781, and it is still being written today, why is it we don’t hear any of today’s wind music performed in the concert hall? Answers:
- “Band music isn’t serious music.”
- “Music without strings is not music.”
- “There are no professional concert bands.”
- “It is not academic.”
- “There are no serious or well-known composers for band.”
- “I don’t write for band because you cannot achieve the same sounds and colors.”
- “People won’t come to listen to band music.”
Remarkably, I feel comfortable enough in my own skin to rufute each one of these heinous excuses. However, to sum it all up in one short answer, THEY ARE ALL WRONG AND UNFOUNDED!!
Band, Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Chamber Winds, Wind Symphony, Symphonic Winds, Symphonic Band, Wind Orchestra, Symphonic Wind Orchestra–many guises, yes. But all are equally as important, established, and legitimate as any Orchestra, Symphony, Philharmonic, or Chamber Orchestra.
For the next few weeks, I plan to feature composers that have successfully and willingly composed for both the orchestra and the concert band. Some such composers include Robert Washburn, Cindy McTee, Joseph Schwantner, John Corigliano, Bruce Yurko, Steve Bryant, Jennifer Higdon, John Mackey, and Ron Nelson. My aim is to feature some of these composers in an effort to not forget about music written for the concert band. The cat is out of the bag: Yes, I am a band advocate, but my love of the orchestra and the experience of hearing that music in the concert hall leaves me yearning for an explanation of the phenomenon.
I hope you enjoy the next series of posts. Great music awaits, and some of it just happens to be for large consorts of wind instruments!