Tell a Story on the Trumpet: Part I, the Cadence

When I play trumpet, I want to communicate with the listener. I want to tell a musical story. If my fundamentals are working on the trumpet (breathing, articulation, fingers, lips, tongue placement, etc.), then I can shape and pace notes in ways that help deliver this story, from the details up to the big picture. Perhaps the smallest detail of the story that we musicians can tell is the cadence, which is that part of a phrase that harmonically resolves, usually with a dominant chord leading to a tonic chord.

The melody, which cannot fully convey the harmonic movement, nevertheless can support the underlying cadence. From the Sixteenth Century until today, a very good rule of thumb with cadences is to give more intensity throughout the dominant and relaxing this intensity on the tonic. The reason for this is that the dominant chord is harmonically “far” from the tonic. The dominant has tension, dissonance, or “drama.” Will the dominant resolve? Maybe yes, or maybe no–that is the drama that the listener is confronted with. Imagine a movie where the camera follows the protagonist down a dark hallway. Something will happen. Will it resolve peacefully or will there be a shock? Watching the scene, your anxiety increases, and your heartbeat quickens. This is drama. In a very similar way, the dominant chord sets up expectations which can be fulfilled or denied.

A good movie director underpins the dramatic hallway scene with lighting, music and pacing that helps the audience feel the anxiety more. In the same way, a good musician can highlight the drama of the movement from dominant to tonic with more intensity. This intensity usually means more volume, but it could also be a change of vibrato, timbre (tone color), pacing or articulation. This helps the listener hear the harmonic framework of the music better. It helps to draw him into the “rhetoric” of the music. 

To me, nothing is more “rhetorical” than Renaissance music, so, as an example, I offer this cued-up YouTube video of cornettist Bruce Dickey playing Josquin des Prez’s Mille Regretz. Notice the intensity swelling and then releasing as the dominant resolves to the tonic (this happens twice at 1:24 and 1:29). 

Let’s look at another example from the second movement of Joseph Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet. I want to contrast two great performances with the small difference of this device. In the eleventh bar, we hear a line descending by steps with the longer notes on dominant harmony and the shorter notes on the relative tonic of each successive dominant. In the first (cued up) example, a young Wynton Marsalis, teamed up with John Williams and the Boston Pops, performs this passage smoothly.

But listen to the contrast in rhetorical delivery with more emphasis on these dominant-underpinned notes in a performance by French trumpeter, David Guerrier (who plays a historically-accurate keyed trumpet). This video is also cued up to the same musical passage (it is pitched lower, at A = 430). 

For me, the subtle difference of “leaning” on the dominant notes that Guerrier does in his example helps us hear the harmony more vividly. 

One more example comes from the end of the first movement of G. P. Telemann’s Concerto in D (the “first” concerto). In the first example, listen to the great Maurice André play this last phrase. He has a gorgeous tone, he has chosen a very luxurious tempo (very slow), but his shaping of the inner dynamics from the dominant to the tonic (where he is playing a trill) is pretty straight. There is not much contrast. 

Another example (on baroque trumpet) by Niklas Eklund, shows the dynamic tension on the trill followed by a slight release on the last note, which coincides with the dominant-to-tonic harmony. Notice, in both examples, that the trill starts slow and speeds up, which also helps the drama of the line. This cued-up video is pitched at A = 415, which is lower than the example by André.

 

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