Brass chamber groups: the quartet

We all love brass quintets. They seem to be the staple of our chamber music. It’s a very good amount of brass players to help with melody, bass, harmony and letting someone usually rest (always a bonus in brass music).

But there are other groups that you should consider. Today’s post is a brief plug for the brass quartet. You might be thinking that the brass quartet would sound skimpy. But it works very well. I played in the U.S. Navy Band Brass Quartet for almost 20 years. Our instrumentation was two trumpets, euphonium and tuba, but you could also configure a brass quartet with two trumpets, horn and trombone, or a number of other ways. A brass quartet has everything a quintet does, except for not as many rests. You have to be just a little more in shape, but not greatly so.

In the Navy Band Brass Quartet, we often wrote our own arrangements, but there is a body of literature that is available. The most famous of which are the six Willem Ramsøe quartets. You can find the first five of the published quartets on IMSLP (the sixth is in manuscript). Ramsøe was a Danish violinist and composer who eventually wound up in St. Petersburg in the late 19th Century. It is there that he wrote his still-popular brass quartets.

My friend Douglas Hedwig is one of the trumpets in this recording by the  Metropolitan Brass Quartet from the late 70s or early 80s. They are playing Ramsøe’s Quartet No. 5. By the way, if you want to hear more of the Metropolitan Brass Quartet, here is a link to a re-release of one of their CDs.

The Kaiser-Cornet-Quartett from 1906 (without Julius Kosleck)

You may be interested to know that the brass quartet was more popular than the quintet at first. The Kaiser-Cornet-Quartett was a great group formed by German cornetist and trumpeter, Julius Kosleck. This quartet was made up of a family of different-sized cornets with a very homogenous sound. They were very popular and toured Russia and America. They even performed at the 1872 World Peace Jubilee in Boston. Many American brass quartets formed after this performance of the Kaiser-Cornet-Quartett’s.

I’m indebted to Eric Roefs, brass researcher form the Netherlands, who presented a lecture on the Kaiser-Cornet-Quartet at the last Historic Brass Society Conference for information on the KCQ.

You can actually find a lot of 19th-c. brass quartet sheet music on the Library of Congress website. Here’s an example. In addition, it is possible to find hundreds of arrangements and compositions on the large sheet music sites. A great site for brass music is Martin Schmid. Here you can find nearly 3500 pieces for brass quartet.

Here is a recording of the U.S. Navy Band Brass Quartet playing a particularly beautiful Brass Quartet No. 2 by composer Thom Ritter George.

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