Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Ewald Brass Quintets

For ABEL class, we were asked to read André Smith's article "The History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald." We were then asked to answer a few questions, which I am including here:

What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintet before reading this article? 
Before I read this article (and Smith's other article specifically about Ewald), I knew little to no information about Ewald or his works. This semester, my brass quintet worked on Quintet No. 2 and it was my first experience playing or listening to one of his works. Perhaps the only idea I had of Ewald in my mind was that his brass quintet pieces are considered "the standards."

What did this article teach you about proper research?
This article does remind us to use as many primary sources as possible when we are doing research. Also, it implies the benefits of communicating with others about your research. It is important to seek out others with knowledge of your topic. This article makes me also think that since it is so difficult to obtain primary resources if you can't travel outside the country, why don't we do more research on American music?

What questions did this article raise? 
For me, I question Smith over-the-top concern for his research before releasing/publishing anything.  I appreciate his scholarly efforts to authenticate his findings and the music manuscripts. He states, "This quintet has been in hand for the past ten years but, considering the importance of the discovery, any move to release it before the present time seemed premature. Not only was it necessary to authenticate it, if possible, but its appearance yielded a thrust to speculation: If there was, indeed, a flourishing and growing brass field, was it likely that less than a handful of compositions for brass would have resulted?" I'm not suggesting that he should have released his finding immediately. I just think that if I was suddenly aware of a great piece of music, no matter who/what/when/where it came, I would share it with everyone so it could be played and enjoyed as soon as possible.

What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?
I think that unless someone is trying to do an exact reproduction of the premiere of a piece, or construct a performance based on the exact wishes of the composer, it is completely fine to play the piece with whatever instruments are available. The brass instruments which are more foreign to me, (rotary trumpet, valve trombone, tenor horn, etc.), seem so cool. I would not be opposed to trying other instruments any day. In Ewald's case, it may not be clear which type of valve he had in mind. Does the valve significantly affect the artistry of the music though? I doubt it.

Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone."?
No. Legato is produced by your air and the buzz of the lips, not the instrument. If anything, it seems to me that a trombone is more capable of legato than valve instruments. The slide can actually aid in connecting two notes as opposed to the valve where there is potentially the smallest microtone of a pitch which is skipped between two notes.

What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13? 
This relates to my thoughts for the earlier question about valves. Smith states, "It is only since the so-called early music movement gained a widespread influence beginning in the mid-1950s that a self-conscious inhibition has prevented many otherwise adventurous musicians from adapting any music of their choice to their needs." I think this relates to the concept that has developed of the composer being the artist rather than the performer. Of course the composer was an artist but so is the performer. Reproducing the composer's wishes is great but it also lacks creativity, originality, and a unique experience. I don't think that we as musicians should limit ourselves or others with ideas of what we can't or are not supposed to play.

In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froydis Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet? 
Froydis Werke received copies of the Ewald quintets while she was studying horn in Russia. The Empire Brass then received this music from her when they were in Norway.  Smith's article shares this information as if it were scandalous that they were not aware of that he was secretly in possession of the music for a decade. Smith also shares how he was the one who sent the music back to Russia where it was distributed to Froydis. Again, I don't find an issue with sharing great music so I don't blame Vitaly Buyanovsky for distributing it immediately. The American Brass Quintet was the first group to premiere the pieces in the west.

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