Vincent Persichetti – Symphony No. 6 for Band, Op. 69

•May 3, 2011 • 1 Comment


Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was an American composer, teacher, and pianist. An important musical educator and writer, Persichetti was a native of Philadelphia. He was known for his integration of various new ideas in musical composition into his own work and teaching, and for training many noted composers in composition at the Juilliard School. His students at Juilliard included Philip Glass, Michael Jeffrey Shapiro, Kenneth Fuchs, Richard Danielpour, Robert Dennis, Peter Schickele, Lowell Liebermann, Robert Witt and Thelonious Monk.

Persichetti was born in Philadelphia and remained a resident of that city throughout his life. Even though neither of his parents were musicians, his musical education began at the age of 5 when he was enrolled in the Combs College of Music. Originally a student of piano, organ, and double bass,  he later studied music theory and composition with Russel King Miller, whom he considered a great influence. By the time he reached his teens, he was paying for his own education by accompanying and performing. His first public performance of his own compositions came at the age of 14. He attended Combs for his undergraduate education as well; after receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1936 he was immediately offered a teaching position.

By the age of 20, Persichetti was simultaneously head of the theory and composition department at Combs, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute and a student of piano and composition at the Philadelphia Conservatory. He earned a master’s degree in 1941 and a doctorate in 1945 from Philadelphia, as well as a conducting diploma from Curtis. In 1941, while still a student, Persichetti headed the theory and composition department as well as the department of postgraduate study at Philadelphia. In 1947, William Schuman extended an offer of professorship at Juilliard.

Persichetti’s music draws on a wide variety of thought in 20th century composition. His own style was marked by use of two elements he refers to as “graceful” and “gritty”: the former being more lyrical and melodic, the latter being sharp and intensely rhythmic. He frequently used polytonality in his writing and his music could be marked by sharp rhythmic interjections. This trend continued throughout his compositional career; his music lacked sharp changes in style over time. Even though his piano music forms the bulk of his creative output, he also composed operas, symphonies, and string quartets. His 15 Serenades include such unconventional combinations as a trio for trombone, viola, and cello as well as selections for orchestra, for band, and for duo piano. Persichetti is also one of the major composers for the concert wind band repertoire, with his 14 works for the ensemble; the Symphony No. 6 for band is of particular note as a standard larger work.

The Symphony No. 6 for Band, Op. 69 was composed in 1956. When writing about this work, Persichetti stated “…The Symphony No. 6 is called a Symphony for Band because, as No. 5 is for strings, No. 6 is for winds, and I did not wish to avoid the word ‘band’…”

Frederick Fennell wrote about this composition:

[It] is fourth in an extended line of distinguished works that have so deeply enriched music literature and particularly that of the wind band…It is music of glowing substance enriched by the craft of a master; none in this field may avoid it short of clear negligence in dimensions of basic knowledge that certify the art of the conductor.  But it is its extraordinary experience as music that brings the ultimate reward to those who listen, play, or conduct.

The composition is in four movements:

I. Adagio; Allegro
II. Adagio sostenuto
III. Allegretto
IV. Vivace

I could really go on for pages and pages talking about this composition, but that goes beyond the initial scope of this blog.  Frederick Fennell went into great detail with this composition in his book entitled A Conductor’s Interpretive Analysis of Masterworks for Band.  A preview of that text can be found here on Google Books.  It really is a fascinating read, and I strongly suggest you take a look at it.  Listening to this piece is amazing on its own, but learning about how it it is constructed really shows the genius behind the work.

This is one of my favorite works for wind band.  The second movement is especially moving.  It is based on the hymn Round Me Falls the Night.

As with many of the multi-movement works, the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List ranks this dependent upon how many movements are performed.  For a Grade III, perform 1 movement.  If 3 movements are performed, it is a Grade IV.  If the entire work is performed, it is a Grade V.

I hope you enjoy it!


Karel Husa – Music for Prague 1968

•April 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment


Karel Husa (born 1921 in Prague) is a Czech-born classical composer and conductor and winner of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize. In 1954 he came to the United States and became an American citizen in 1959.

Husa learned to play the violin and the piano in early childhood and, after high school, he enrolled in the Prague Conservatory in 1941 where he studied composition and conducting. After the end of the Second World War, Husa was admitted to the graduate school of the Prague Academy and graduated in 1947. At the same time, he decided to continue his studies of composition and conducting in Paris. After finishing his courses in conducting at École Normale de Musique de Paris and at Conservatoire de Paris he embarked on a career during which he has conducted the world’s leading orchestras and participated in many major projects. He divided his time between composing and conducting, taking an ever more active part in Parisian and international musical life.

His First String Quartet marked a big step on the composer’s path to the realm of international music: the Quartet received the 1950 Lili Boulanger Award and the 1951 award at the music festival in Bilthoven in the Netherlands. It has since also been performed on many other occasions, e.g., at the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Brussels (1950), festivals in Salzburg (1950), Darmstadt (1951), and the Netherlands (1952) as well as at various concerts in Germany, France, Sweden, England, Switzerland, Australia and the United States.

Music for Prague 1968 was composed shortly after the crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Karel Husa was sitting on the dock at his cottage in America at the time, listening to the BBC broadcast of the events on the radio. He was deeply moved, and wrote Music for Prague 1968 to memorialize the events. The work was commissioned by Ithaca College and was premiered in January 1969 in Washington, DC at the Music Educators National Conference by Dr. Kenneth Snapp and the Ithaca College Concert Band.

In order to understand this piece, you have to know a little about the Prague Spring movement.  This was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms. The Prague Spring reforms were an attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. After national discussion of separating the country into a federation of three republics, Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, Dubček oversaw the decision for two, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was the only change that survived the end of the Prague Spring.

The reforms, especially the decentralisation of administrative authority, were not received well by the Soviets who, after failed negotiations, sent thousands of Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. A large wave of emigration swept the nation. While there were many non-violent protests in the country, including the protest-suicide of a student, there was no military resistance. Czechoslovakia remained occupied until 1990.

Music for Prague 1968 is in four movements:

  1. Introduction and Fanfare
  2. Aria
  3. Interlude
  4. Toccata and Chorale

As a piece of program music, the work is bound together by symbolism and allusions. A theme from the 15th Century Hussite song “Ye Warriors of God and his Law” is laced into the music, one symbolic of resistance and hope – the theme is common enough that any Czech would know the melody and its significance. The sound of bells are heard throughout the music, as Prague is also known as “City of a Hundred Spires”. The trombones imitate air raid sirens, and the oboes play sections of Morse code. The piccolo solo represents the bird calls, the symbol of freedom, which the composer himself wrote, ‘the city of Prague has seen only for moments during its thousand years of existence’. It is also interesting to note that the third movement, Interlude, is not only played solely by the percussion section, but that it is also a palindrome, starting and ending with a snare roll.

Music for Prague 1968 is listed as a Grade V on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List.  This piece is difficult for many reasons, including the fact that it is serial, which can also make it a little difficult to listen to as well.  Serialism is a method of composition that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements.  The recording I have chosen to add to this post is by the Interlochen 2010 World Youth Wind Symphony.  There are not many ‘great’ recordings of this on YouTube because of how difficult it is, but this group does a pretty good job.

Some will enjoy this more than others, but it is definitely worth giving a full listen.

Movements 1 and 2

Movements 3 and 4

Darius Milhaud – Suite Française

•April 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality.

Born in Marseilles to a Jewish family from Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud studied in Paris at the Paris Conservatory.  On a trip to the United States in 1922, Darius Milhaud heard “authentic” jazz for the first time, on the streets of Harlem, which left a great impact on his musical outlook. The following year, he completed his composition “La création du monde” (“The Creation of the World”), using ideas and idioms from jazz, cast as a ballet in six continuous dance scenes. In 1925, Milhaud married his cousin, Madeleine (1902 – 2008), an actress and reciter. In 1930 she bore him a son, the painter and sculptor Daniel Milhaud, to be the couple’s only child.

The Milhauds left France in 1939 and emigrated to America in 1940 (his Jewish background made it impossible for him to return to his native country until after its Liberation). He secured a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he collaborated with Henri Temianka and the Paganini Quartet. Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck arguably became Milhaud’s most famous student when Brubeck furthered his music studies at Mills College in the late 1940s (he named his eldest son Darius).

Suite Française was composed in 1944.  It is listed on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List as a Grade III (performing two movements), a Grade IV (performing three movements), and a Grade V (performing the entire work).  The entire composition is in five movements:

I. Normandie – A bright “loure” dance tune in 6/8 time featuring two songs: “Germaine” and “The French Shepherdess and the King of England”

II. Brittany – A sorrowful and reflective movement including the song “La Chanson des Métamorphoses”

III. Ile-de-France – A rollicking dance movement featuring “With Care I Tend My Rosebush Gay” and “Lo, ‘Tis Saint John’s Day”

IV. Alsace-Lorraine – A movement reflecting misery and slavery of this, the last province liberated by the Allies. The music includes a begging song, “Lo ’tis the Month of May.”

V. Provence – Named for Milhaud’s home province, this celebrates the entire country. The music is a sprightly dance featuring the tambourin, a traditional folk dance with a drum and pipe or fife.

About the Suite Française, Milhaud states:

“For a long time I have had the idea of writing a composition fit for high school purposes and this was the result. In the bands, orchestras, and choirs of American high schools, colleges and universities where the youth of the nation be found, it is obvious that they need music of their time, not too difficult to perform, but, nevertheless keeping the characteristic idiom of the composer. The five parts of this Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defeat the German invaders, who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, and murder, three times, to the peaceful and democratic people of France.”

Paul Hindemith – Symphony in B♭

•April 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist and conductor. Born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Hindemith was taught the violin as a child. He entered Frankfurt’s Hoch’sche Konservatorium, where he studied violin with Adolf Rebner, as well as conducting and composition with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernhard Sekles. At first he supported himself by playing in dance bands and musical-comedy groups. He became deputy leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1914, and was promoted to leader in 1917.

n 1922, some of his pieces were played in the International Society for Contemporary Music festival at Salzburg, which first brought him to the attention of an international audience. The following year, he began to work as an organizer of the Donaueschingen Festival, where he programmed works by several avant garde composers, including Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg. From 1927 he taught composition at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin.

In 1940, Hindemith emigrated to the United States. At the same time that he was organizing his musical language, his teaching and compositions began to be affected by his theories, according to critics. While in the U.S., he taught primarily at Yale University.  He became an American citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe in 1953, living in Zürich and teaching at the university there. Towards the end of his life he began to conduct more, and made numerous recordings, mostly of his own music.

Symphony in B♭ for Band was completed in 1951 and premiered on April 5 by the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, D.C.. Hindemith, along with Schoenberg, was among the first composers to show the public that music written for band, not just orchestra, could be precise, thematic and beautiful. This is categorized as a European-American Band Classic because the composer is European, but this was composed while Hindemith was in the United States.

Although a symphony is traditionally a piece for large orchestra in four movements, the Symphony in B♭ consists of only three movements. Symphonies generally follow a formula in which the first movement is fast, the second slow, the third a minuet or other dance-like style, and the fourth fast. Hindemith’s symphony follows the same basic formula with a few modifications. The first movement is moderately fast, the second begins slow but changes tempo, and the third is fast. As musical techniques developed throughout the years, musical form became more loosely defined and subject to change and interpretation. It is important to note that the pre-Classical symphonies of the mid-18th century contained three movements, either of this form or it’s inverse, slow-fast-slow.

Movement 1 – Moderately Fast, With Vigor

The first movement begins with the cornets and trumpets on a vigorous main theme. The melody is colored by the high woodwinds playing rapid strings of notes. The piccolo, 1st flute, solo and 1st clarinets are playing triplets, while the 2nd flute, oboes, 2nd and 3rd clarinets are playing sets of four notes. The rhythm of two and the rhythm of three played against each other is effective at creating tension in the music, and is a trend throughout the entire symphony.

The second theme begins with solo oboe and is reiterated by tenor saxophone, bassoon and clarinet separately. The number of instruments playing fragments of the theme starts to build as the piece progresses along with the dynamics. A third more fluid, ominous theme in the woodwinds surfaces afterwards with a strong counter melody in the brass.

The piece is written in the key of B♭; however, it modulates between keys throughout the symphony. The piece does end on a sonorous B♭ major chord after a climactic unison run of notes, which gives the movement a satisfying conclusion.

Movement 2 – Andantino Grazioso

The second movement begins softer than the first and third. The solo cornet, answered by a solo alto saxophone, opens this movement, which gives the movement a linking tone color to the first movement at the beginning.

Before the halfway point, the tempo and overall feel of the piece abruptly changes. Added trills and turns in the music give the piece a more ornamented and whimsical feel. The low brass enters with a fanfare soon after the shift to bring the piece back to its original tempo and feeling.

The movement ends with a run of notes that make a decrescendo from mezzo piano to piano, which contrasts the ending to the first movement.

Movement 3 – Fugue

The third movement of the Symphony is a fugue. Hindemith’s fugue was influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach’s contrapuntal style. Counterpoint is an essential part of the character of the piece. The main theme of the fugue never ceases; it is constantly being played throughout the piece, at least in fragments, by each of the different instruments.

This composition is very difficult to play.  The Texas UIL Prescribed Music Lists ranks this as a Grade V…by playing at least one movement.  I remember performing the first movement in high school, but a few years ago, the UTA Wind Symphony performed the composition in its entirety.  I thoroughly enjoyed performing it, and listening to it. I hope you enjoy!

Ralph Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite

•April 11, 2011 • 2 Comments


Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores.  Like many of his contemporaries, he also collected and arranged folk music. He was born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, where his father, the Reverend Arthur Vaughan Williams (the surname Vaughan Williams is unhyphenated), was vicar. Following his father’s death in 1875 he was taken by his mother, Margaret Susan née Wedgwood, to live with her family at Leith Hill Place, a Wedgwood family home in the Surrey Hills. He studied piano and violin, but preferred the violin. After Charterhouse School he attended the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford. While at the Royal College of Music, Vaughan Williams met several people that would become long time friends crucial to his development as a composer. Among these was a fellow-student, Gustav Holst, whom he first met in 1895. From that time onwards they spent several ‘field days’ reading through and offering constructive criticism on each other’s works in progress.

Vaughan Williams’s composition developed slowly and it was not until he was 30 that the song “Linden Lea” became his first publication. He mixed composition with conducting, lecturing and editing other music, notably that of Henry Purcell and the English Hymnal. He had further lessons with Max Bruch in Berlin in 1897 and later took a big step forward in his orchestral style when he studied in Paris with Maurice Ravel.

In 1904, Vaughan Williams discovered English folk songs and carols, which were fast becoming extinct. The oral tradition through which they existed was being undermined by the increase of literacy and printed music in rural areas. He travelled the countryside, transcribing and preserving many himself. Later he incorporated some songs and melodies into his own music, being fascinated by the beauty of the music and its anonymous history in the working lives of ordinary people. His efforts did much to raise appreciation of traditional English folk song and melody.

Written in 1923, the English Folk Song Suite is one of Vaughan Williams’s most famous works for military band. In 1924, the piece was arranged for full orchestra and brass band by Vaughan Williams’ student Gordon Jacob. The suite consists of three movements: March, Intermezzo and another March, all of which are subtitled with English folk song names. The first march is based upon Seventeen Come Sunday, the Intermezzo upon My Bonny Boy and the final movement on Folk Songs from Somerset. The suite was originally composed as a four-movement suite, including Sea Songs as the second movement.

1: March – “Seventeen Come Sunday”

Seventeen Come Sunday opens after a four bar introduction with the principal melody – the folk song Seventeen Come Sunday – played by the woodwind section. This melody is repeated, and the woodwind is joined by the brass. The phrasing is irregular – the melody lasts for thirteen bars. This melody is followed by Pretty Caroline as a quiet melody for solo clarinet and solo cornet, which is also repeated. A third tune, Dives and Lazarus then enters in the lower instruments. This third tune is notorious for having a grueling 6/8 rhythm played by the upper woodwinds, against the straight 2/4 rhythm of the saxophones and brasses. This third theme is repeated, then leads straight back to the second theme. Finally, the first theme is repeated in a Da capo al Fine. The form of this movement can be represented by A-B-C-B-A (Arch form).

2: Intermezzo – “My Bonny Boy”

My Bonny Boy opens with a solo for the oboe (sometimes doubled or played by solo cornet) on the tune of the folk song My Bonny Boy, which is repeated by the low-register instruments. Halfway through the movement, a Poco Allegro begins on Green Bushes, a typically English waltz, first sounded by a piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and oboe first in the minor context, then repeated in the major with the lower-brass. The first melody is played again in fragmented form before the close of the movement. The appeal of this piece derives from its sheer simplicity.

3: March – “Folk Songs from Somerset”

Folk Songs from Somerset opens with a light introduction of four measures before the first melody, the folk song Blow Away the Morning Dew or The Baffled Knight, played by the solo cornet. This melody is then dovetailed around the band before finishing with a fortissimo reprise. A second melody (High Germany) then takes over, being played by the tenor and lower register instruments, while the remainder takes over the on beat chordal structure. As this second melody dies away the original melody is heard once again with the tutti reprise. This then leads into the key change, time change (6/8) and the trio. The trio introduces a more delicate melody, Whistle, Daughter, Whistle, played by the woodwind with a light accompaniment. This continues until the time signature changes again, back to the original 2/4. Along with this time change a final heavy melody (John Barleycorn) enters in the lower instruments while the cornets play decorative features above. This trio is then repeated in full before a D.C. is reached. The form of this movement can be represented by A-B-A. (ternary form)

If you play just one movement, this composition is listed as a Grade III on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List.  If the entire piece is performed, it is a Grade V.

This has always been one of my favorites.  I hope you enjoy it!




Gordon Jacob – An Original Suite

•April 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment


Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) was an English composer. He is known for his wind instrument composition and his instructional writings. Born in London, the third youngest of ten siblings, Jacob was educated at Dulwich College in South London, England.

His career almost ended before it began. He enlisted in the Field Artillery to serve in World War I when he was 19. The vagaries of war pushed him into the infantry, in the trenches in the front line. He was taken prisoner of war in 1917, and was one of only 60 men in his battalion of 800 to survive. He amused himself and his fellow POWs by forming a small prison camp “orchestra” of any instruments they could muster, and arranging music for it. At this period he received the news that his brother Anstey, who had enlisted with him, had died in the Somme, and this he commemorated some years later in his 1st Symphony.

After being released he spent a year studying journalism, but left to study composition, theory, and conducting at the Royal College of Music. Because of his cleft palate and a childhood hand injury, his instrumental abilities were limited; he studied piano but never had a performing career. Jacob’s first major successful piece was composed during his student years: the William Byrd Suite for orchestra. It is better-known in a later arrangement for symphonic band.

An Original Suite, composed in 1928, is still one of the most frequently played of his band pieces. Apparently it was the publishers who insisted upon the word “original” in the title so that audiences would realize that this is a new composition altogether, not a transcription, and not based on folk songs, like others of the time. The three movements give the band plenty of contrasts of tempo and mood from the elegant first movement, to the more pensive second and the perky and quirky third.

The program notes, as found on, state: “The suite begins with a March and includes four themes introduced by a snare drum solo. There is a recapitulation of the opening theme played over a distinctively British dotted eighth-sixteenth accompaniment, and the movement ends as it began with an unaccompanied snare drum. The Intermezzo opens with a seventeen bar solo for alto saxophone and ends with a somber A-minor triad. A rubato tempo is prevalent and subtle shading of tone pervades the movement. The Finale is reminiscent of the first movement. It begins with a polymeter – the clarinets and saxophones play scale passages in 6/8 while the rest of the band is in 2/4. The finale Coda repeats the second theme of the movement and finishes with a flourish of woodwind arpeggios to the final accented chords.”

An Original Suite is listed as a Grade V on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List.

I have always enjoyed this composition. It’s great fun to listen to, and even better to play. I hope you enjoy it!

Gustav Holst – Second Suite in F

•April 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Okay, I’ve had a busy day and have to leave for work in a few minutes, so I won’t go through Holst’s history again.  You can look at the last post First Suite in Eb if you want to review it.

The Second Suite in F for Military Band (Op. 28, No. 2) is Gustav Holst’s second and last suite for concert band. Although performed less frequently than the First Suite, it is still a staple of the band literature. The Second Suite, written in 1911, dedicated to James Causley Windram, is longer and considered more difficult to play than its sister suite.

It is in four movements, each based on English folk songs:

  • March
  • Song Without Words
  • Song of the Blacksmith
  • Fantasia on the Dargason

Movement I: “March: Morris dance, Swansea Town, Claudy Banks”

The “March” of the Second Suite begins with a simple five note motif between the low and high instruments of the band. The first folk tune is heard in the form of a traditional British brass band march using the motif which is derived from the folk song “Morris Dance”. The second strain begins with a euphonium solo playing the second folk tune in the suite “Swansea Town”. The theme is repeated by the full band before the trio. For the trio, Holst modulates to B-flat minor and changes the time signature to 6/8 thereby changing the meter. The third theme, called “Claudy Banks”, is heard in a low woodwind soli, as is standard march orchestration. Then the first strain is repeated da capo.

Movement II: “Song Without Words”

Holst places the fourth folk song, “I Love My Love” in stark contrast to the first movement. Being a mournful piece, a clarinet and oboe solo plays the theme over a flowing accompaniment in F minor. The movement slowly builds up with an added cornet solo.

Movement III: “Song of the Blacksmith”

Again, Holst contrasts the slow second movement to the rather upbeat third movement which features the folk song “Song of the Blacksmith”. There are many time signature changes (4/4 to 3/4) making the movement increasingly difficult because the brass section has all of their accompaniment on the up-beats of each measure. The upper-woodwinds and horns join on the melody around the body of the piece, and are accompanied with the sound of a blacksmith tempering metal with an anvil called for in the score. The final D major chord has a glorious, heavenly sound, which opens way to the final movement. This chord works so effectively perhaps because it is unexpected: the entire movement is in F major when the music suddenly moves to the major of the relative minor.

Movement IV: “Fantasia on the Dargason”

Also known as the “sailboat song,” the finale of the suite opens with an alto saxophone solo based on the folk song “Dargason”, a 17th century English dance tune from the first edition of The Dancing Master. The fantasia continues through several variations encompassing the full capabilities of the band. The final folk song, Greensleeves, is cleverly woven through the fantasia through mixed meters with the Dargason being in 6/8 and Greensleeves being in 3/4. Upon the climax of the movement, the two competing themes are placed in competing sections. As the movement dies down, a tuba and piccolo duet forms a call back to the beginning of the suite with the competition of low and high registers. The name Dargason is derived from an Irish legend, The legend talks about a monster resembling a large bear (although much of the description of the creature has been lost over time), the Dargason tormented the Irish country side. During the Irish independence revolution, The Dargason is said to have attacked a British camp killing many soldiers.

Like the First Suite, depending on which movements you perform, the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List ranks it from a Grade III to a Grade V.


Gustav Holst – First Suite in Eb

•April 1, 2011 • 2 Comments


Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was an English composer, most famous for his orchestra work, The Planets.  He was a student at the Royal College of Music in London, where his early works were influenced by Wagner, Strauss, and fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Holst’s music is well known for his unconventional use of meter and “haunting melodies”.

Holst was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England to Adolph von Holst, who was an organist and choirmaster at All Saint’s Church in Pittville, and Clara von Holst, who was a singer.  Holst was called a “frail” child and was taught to play piano and violin, and began to compose at the age of twelve. Holst had hoped to build his career partly as a pianist, but stricken from adolescence with a nerve condition that increasingly affected the movement of his right hand, he eventually gave up the piano for the trombone, which his father also thought would help with his asthma.

At the Royal College of Music, Holst met Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1895, who became a lifelong friend.  Even though their writing styles were completely different, they often praised each others works.  They also had a shared interest in exploring and maintaining the English vocal and choral tradition as found in folk songs, madrigals, and church music.

The First Suite in E-flat for Military Band (Op. 28, No. 1) is considered one of the cornerstone masterworks in the concert band repertoire. The First Suite was the catalyzing force that convinced many other prominent composers that serious music could be written specifically for the wind band. Remarkably, the Suite in E-flat was actually Holst’s first composition written for military band. Fredrick Fennell stated that “Holst’s scoring for the work is so well conceived and organized for the band medium, that he must have had some previous experiences with groups of this kind.” Indeed, Holst was himself an accomplished trombonist, having already performed several seasons with the Scottish Orchestra prior to the composition of the suite. In addition, while still in college, he performed during the summers with various seaside bands, and was admittedly unsatisfied with the music that those ensembles performed.

In addition to being a serious work written for band, the suite was perfectly tailored to handle the inherent challenges of the military band due to its ingenious orchestration. As stated above, there was no standarized instrumentation from one band to the next. To address this problem, Holst scored the suite for 19 instruments, with 17 remaining parts labeled “ad-lib,” meaning they were unnecessary for performance. Given that most British military bands of the day employed between 20 and 30 musicians, the 19 required parts could reasonably be expected to be covered, and the remaining parts could be added or discarded as needed without disturbing the integrity of the work.

The First Suite has three movements, each with its own character and form:

  • Chaconne
  • Intermezzo
  • March

The complete composition is based upon a 8-measure melody reminiscent of English folk song; however, the tune is original to Holst. Most notably, the theme statement that begins the first movement is developed throughout each movement.

The First Suite is rated between a Grade III and a Grade V on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List, depending on which movements you play. I could spend hours talking about this piece, but could never cover it completely.  I’ll just skip straight to the recordings.  This is one of my favorite compositions for wind band, and I never get tired of listening to it. I hope you enjoy it!

Antonin Dvořák – Serenade in D minor

•March 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment


Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) was a Czech composer during the Romantic period whose compositions included operas, symphonic, choral, and chamber music.  He was born, and lived most of his life, in Bohemia, near Prague. His Bohemian heritage would play a large role in his music.  He received his earliest music education at the age of 6 when he joined the village school.  From 1857-1859 he studied music in Prague’s only organ school, and became an accomplished player of violin and viola as well.  He wrote his first string quartet at the age of 20, two years after graduating. By the time he was 18, Dvořák was a full-time musician, making about $7.50 a month.

In 1877, a critic had told him that his compositions had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, who had a huge influence on his work.  Over the next several years, Dvořák and Brahms became friends, which eventually led to Dvořák being published by Simrock, one of the major European publishers.  He composed several more works, including Symphony No. 7, and visited England almost ten different times, often conducting his own works there.

It was about this time, in 1878, when Dvořák composed his Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44, a chamber piece for winds, cello, and double bass.  It was written in only two weeks.  The new Serenade was very well received. The following year, Hermann Krigar wrote, “What fine artistic expression, what compelling melodies and touching harmonic progressions the composer has at his disposal.” Brahms not only influenced Simrock to publish it, but wrote of it to his violinist friend Joseph Joachim (who had just given the premiere of both Brahms’ Violin Concerto), saying “A more lovely, refreshing impression of real, rich and charming creative talent you can’t easily have… I think it must be a pleasure for the wind players!” Brahms was certainly correct.

It is listed in 4 movements:

  • Moderato quasi marcia
  • Menuetto. Tempo di minuetto—Trio. Presto
  • Andante con moto
  • Finale. Allegro molto
  • Recordings and a full score can be found here on the IMSLP database.  Below, I have listed each movement in order for your listening pleasure!

    Charles Gounod – Petite Symphonie

    •March 30, 2011 • 1 Comment


    Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was a French composer known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Romeo et Juiliette. He was born in Paris in 1818. His mother was a pianist, his father an artist. He entered into the Paris Conservatoire where he won the Prix de Rome in 1839 for his cantata Fernand. Around 1846-1847, Gounod almost left music for the priesthood. Before taking his holy orders, he left and returned to composition. Later, Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Feliz Mendelssohn, introduced Gounod to the keyboard music of JS Bach. Gounod said that The Well-Tempered Clavier was “the law to pianoforte study…the unquestioned textbook of music composition.”

    Petite symphonie pour neuf instruments à vent, or the ‘Little Symphony for Winds’, was composed in 1885. His friend, and flute professor at the Paris Conservatiore, Paul Taffanel, commissioned him to write a chamber piece for winds. It’s instrumentation of a wind octet, with an added flute part in honor of Taffanel, is modeled after Mozart’s wind serenades.

    This complete miniature symphony is elegant, delicate, and sweet. The first movement uses a slow introduction, like that of Haydn, and an Allegretto in sonata form. The second movement features the added flute part. The scherzo that follows is based on a hunting theme, with a lively finale in the 4th movement to end the symphony.

    Scores and recordings can be found here on the IMSLP database.

    I found a recording on YouTube of the first two movements, but have yet to find a the same group playing the last two movements. If I can’t find one, I will substitute it with something else later on. Enjoy!