Brass chamber music: the modern trumpet ensemble for 3 and 4

Yesterday’s post explored the trumpet ensemble in terms of early, natural trumpets. Today, I’d like to introduce the trumpet ensemble from the perspective of modern trumpets with valves. I forgot to mention some of my ideas that go into defining a trumpet ensemble.

In my opinion, a trumpet ensemble is a group of three or more trumpets, piccolo trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns, alto trumpets or bass trumpets (or any combination of these instruments). The ensemble can have accompaniment, as we saw yesterday in the Biber Sonata a 7 for six trumpets and continuo, or percussion, or perhaps any other collaborator, as long as the main musicians are the trumpets. Now that we have a working definition of a trumpet ensemble, what about the repertoire? There are a few places to check for sheet music: Trumpet Ensemble Music and Triplo Press are good places to begin.

I think we can start off by mentioning the Benjamin Britten Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury, because this straddles the line between natural and modern trumpets. The three trumpet parts are notated for modern trumpets in C; however, they are actually written using only the notes of three different harmonic series based on F, C and D and could be performed on three natural trumpets in those three keys. The interesting things is how the three trumpets seem to play completely different, unrelated, material at first, but that Britten later puts them together in a convincing way.

There are also nice trumpet trios by Henri Tomasi, Thomas Stevens, and Elliot Carter.

With four trumpets, we have some fanfares by Joan Tower that can be played by four trumpets.

Here is a Northwestern trumpet quartet playing an arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody.

At this point I’ll sign off, but it is worth noting that good trumpet ensemble music and competitive performances often start with made-to-order arrangements and compositions. Sometimes the best solution is to think of a great musical selection and arrange it yourself–or get someone to arrange it for you!

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