Friday’s Five Things: Five Compositions Every Trumpeter Should Know for Christmas Season

Are you looking around for your trumpet friends at this time of year and can’t find them? That’s because trumpeters do a LOT of gigs at Christmastime. Here are the five most important gigs to learn:

  1. The Messiah by George Frideric Handel. This immensely-popular oratorio, written in 1741 by one of the 18th-century’s greatest composers, is a nice gig for trumpeters in that there is not a whole lot of playing throughout–only five numbers: “Glory to God,” the chorus “Hallelujah,” the very important trumpet obbligato aria (with bass singer) “The trumpet shall sound,” “Worthy is the Lamb,” and the “Amen.” The main endurance issue is if the conductor wants to do a da capo on “The trumpet shall sound.” This piece calls for two trumpets in D. Here’s a video of British baroque trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins playing  with Alistair Miles singing. 

2. The Christmas Oratorio by J. S. Bach. This is really a collection of six cantatas. If performed altogether, it is really long. There’s another obbligato aria in the first cantata that is very famous. But there are many pyrotechnical passages in this piece. For three trumpets in D. In the example video, I present Jean-François Madeuf on the natural baroque trumpet. Video is not great, but it is rare to hear this played this authentically. 

3. The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This ballet is performed everywhere each Christmas season. Usually the deal is that it is performed many times, so the lucky trumpeters get to play it over and over. The big solo is the Spanish Dance, or Chocolate. Two trumpets (in A and in B-flat) are needed for this popular work.

4. Magnificat by J.S. Bach. This great piece, much smaller in length than the Christmas Oratorio, is frequently performed during the Christmas season. It was actually first performed on Christmas day in 1723. Here’s Crispian Steele-Perkins again in a 1985 recording of the Monteverdi Choir directed by John Eliot Gardiner. This is the “Fecit potentiam.” It has interesting (and high) writing for three trumpets in D.


5. Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson. Hardly a trumpeter has escaped playing the horse whinny in this pops orchestra Christmas-time favorite. Here’s my own band, the U.S. Navy Band, performing this on their 2014 Holiday Concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. MUCS (now retired) Bob Couto is the “whinnier” (it happens at 2’39”). 



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