Brass chamber music: the septet

As we have seen over the past few posts, the tradition of brass chamber music developed strongly in German and Scandinavian countries in the 19th Century. Germany embraced the quartet, German-Russian composers and players developed the quintet (I haven’t gotten to the quintet, yet, in this series of chamber music blogs), and in Sweden the sextet flourished. Finland was the place for the septet, starting around 1870. Before that time, there were brass quartets, quintets and sextets. The Swedish brass sextet was a model for the Finnish septet. The Swedish funnel-bell cornets were often used.

I first heard about the Finnish septet from my friend Michael Holmes, who had studied this in detail as a student living in Finland. He presented this as a lecture that I attended many years ago.

The traditional Finnish brass septet has one cornet in E-flat, two cornets in B-flat, one alto horn in E-flat, one tenor horn in B-flat, one baritone horn (euphonium) in B-flat, and one tuba in E-flat or B-flat. They often represented municipalities, fire brigades or factories. Literature for the groups came from military band repertoire and folk music at first, but later there began to be new compositions inspired by competitions and a growing interest in the distinctive sound of this genre.

Here is a recording of a typical Finnish-style septet:

Even Jean Sibelius wrote some compositions for the brass septet. Here are some examples that are truly extraordinary:

Here’s a split-screen performance of Sibelius’ “Tiera” by students of the Curtis Institute:

Here’s the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble playing the Prelude from Sibelius’ Petite Suite:

Sibelius wrote an Allegro, and an Overture in F-minor for septet. I owe a debt of gratitude to Kauko Karjalainen’s 1997 article, “The Brass Band Tradition” in the Historic Brass Society Journal for much of the information in this post. I think we can all agree that this repertoire is wonderful. Now let’s play and listen to these septets more often!

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Brass chamber music: the sextet

Up until recently, I had known only about one brass sextet by Oskar Böhme, who was born in Germany, studied in Leipzig, and worked in St. Petersburg (and exiled to Orenburg under Stalin’s purge in 1936). Here’s a video recording of members of the Karajan Academy performing this absolutely wonderful work.

There is another notable brass sextet by Philip Glass from 1966. Here is a nice recording from the Third Coast Brass performing the last movement of this work.

At the recent Historic Brass Society conference, there was a wonderful presentation by musicians in the Swedish Cavalry Band called the Prins Carl Sextet. They played traditional Swedish brass music on restored (or reproduced) Swedish-style cornets and other instruments. Their sound was wonderful.

The Sigtuna Brass Sextet

I don’t have access to their video, but I did find another Swedish traditional brass sextet on the Internet–the Sigtuna Brass Sextet. They have some lovely audio recordings that you can hear on this page. You might wonder why there is a clarinet playing with the group, and you would be wrong. It is the distinctive sound of the traditional E-flat cornet.

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