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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Brass chamber music: the early trumpet ensemble

So far in this brass chamber music series, I have explored the quartet, trio, sextet and septet, which are all groups of mixed brass instruments. Of course, there can be trombone choirs, horn quartets, and tuba-euphonium quartets (two different instruments, but basically homogenous). For us trumpeters, there is the trumpet ensemble. You might think this is a group with pretty limited repertoire, but you would be wrong.

The trumpet ensemble has been around seemingly forever, because of the military nature of trumpets. Armies have, up until the time of modern communication, have needed trumpeters to convey signals. And these military trumpeters have always seemed to get together to play duets, trios, quartets, quintets and more. Starting with the first method books for trumpet, such as those by Magnus Thomsen and Hendrick Lübeck, Cesare Bendinelli and Girolamo Fantini, we see trumpeters writing down trumpet ensemble pieces that were part of their tradition. To my mind, the baroque trumpet ensemble has a unique and wonderful sound. In this post, I’ll explore some trumpet ensemble pieces written for the natural baroque trumpet (without valves).

Perhaps one of the earliest written-down trumpet ensemble pieces was by Claudio Monteverdi in his “Toccata” from his opera Orpheo. Here is the University of Kentucky baroque trumpet ensemble, led by Jason Dovel, playing an extended version of this piece:

Here is a wonderful recording of an 18th-c. anonymous piece from Weyarn led by Julian Zimmermann:

There were hundreds of pieces written down for baroque trumpet ensembles. Here is an ensemble led by Iginio Conforzi playing the Second Entrata Imperiale by Fantini. Notice the intricate form and possibilities for using different spaces and different contrasting instruments for making this performance interesting:


Here is a piece by the famous 19th-c. composer Anton Diabelli:

Here is a split-screen video recording of Heinrich Biber’s Sonata a 7. This trumpet ensemble piece requires “basso continuo” (organ and bassoon in this case).

On my next post, I’ll explore some of the wonderful trumpet ensemble pieces for modern trumpets.

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