The Trumpet By John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan

60_book_coverThe Trumpet
By John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan
Yale University Press
ISBN 978-0-300-11230-6
$40.00 hardcover, 360 pages
Publication Date: May 15, 2012

“What mouthpiece do you use?” is the usual conversation opener, one trumpet player to another. So now we have another opener: “Have you read The Trumpet by John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan?” This book is a most welcomed addition to the libraries of seasoned professional trumpeters (like me), a “must-have” for any aspiring trumpet student or for anyone wishing to follow the evolution and vibrant history of one of the world’s oldest instruments.

The Trumpet follows a broadly chronological pattern, starting by highlighting the prehistory through civilizations of the ancient world. Summaries of developments in the instrument and its playing techniques follow, setting the stage for more in-depth investigations of these topics in subsequent chapters. The Trumpet then chronicles a period of more than a thousand years, from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century through to the end of the 16th century. Wonderful inclusion of articles by Don Smithers and Peter Downey provoke fresh interest and controversy regarding this relatively neglected period in the history of the trumpet.

Further chapters explore the trumpet in the 17th and 18th centuries, often referred to as “the golden age” of the natural trumpet. I find particular interest in the attention to detail regarding sophisticated performance conventions and the virtuosic repertoire of the Baroque, including detailed studies of the trumpet parts in the works of Bach and Handel. Exploration of the new-found chromatic possibilities toward the end of this period leads beautifully to a detailed analysis of the concerti for the keyed trumpet by Haydn and Hummel. As these are staple audition, examination and performance repertoire, so the insights shared here by master teachers Wallace and McGrattan are invaluable.

Commentary outlines 19th and early 20th century development of valved instruments which redefined the possibilities of the trumpet and the ways in which it was understood by players, composers  and audiences. The charting of detailed and useful technical developments and focus on the implications of these innovations for performance is followed by discussions of the often complex relationships between natural and valved instruments, trumpet and cornet, as well as the development and use of the piccolo trumpet in solo and orchestral contexts.

In discussion of the development of the trumpet as an orchestral and a solo instrument since the early 20th century, homage is given to Maurice André who significantly extended the solo trumpet repertoire by commissioning new works and by performing transcriptions of baroque music. From the 1960s, collaborations between trumpeters and avant-garde composers led to an expansion of classical solo repertoire; a very useful appendix of 20th-century solo works is included as well as numerous orchestral excerpts to provide further clarity.

The role of the trumpet in jazz is a principal theme in the final chapter, with analysis of the early recordings of Louis Armstrong, a fascinating discussion of the more mainstream fields of popular music, brass chamber music and the use of the trumpet in scores for television and the motion picture industry. A welcomed inclusion is the consideration of the image of the trumpet player, exploring, among other things, the significant role of female trumpeters in jazz and classical music. Finally, the future direction of jazz is considered through the prominence of Wynton Marsalis and other influential jazz trumpeters, inspiring the re-emergence of the trumpet as a solo instrument in music today.

Author John Wallace was for nearly two decades principal trumpet of the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, and is principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Alexander McGrattan is on faculty at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, is a freelance trumpeter, and a leading exponent of the natural trumpet.

Perhaps worth consideration is the British (er, Scottish) perspective inherent within this work. While for some, this gives it a special appeal, for others, it may result in references which are less immediately accessible. It has been suggested that this is the first major book devoted to the trumpet in more than 20 years. In this reviewer’s perspective, and as a trumpeter, I would have to agree.

Trumpeter Garry Page, The WholeNote’s recently appointed director of marketing, is “subbing” for regular BookShelf columnist Pamela Margles who will return next month.


Unheard of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer by John Beckwith

66_beckwith-unheard-finalfront-colourUnheard of: Memoirs of
a Canadian Composer
by John Beckwith
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
408 pages, photos, musical examples; $29.95 paper

At 85 years of age, Canadian composer John Beckwith can look back from a singular vantage point. Because his life is so intertwined with the development of modern music in Canada, and since he has been so productive in many aspects of it, his memoir has a particularly wide range of material to cover. He describes his early childhood years in Victoria, his complicated first marriage and family life, his experiences as a professor and Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, his years working at the CBC during its heyday, his extensive writings as a music critic, most recently reviewing CDs for this magazine, and, above all, his achievements as the composer of over 150 works.

In describing his most significant works, he offers a revealing glimpse into how he created them. Taking a Stand, which he wrote for the then newly-formed Canadian Brass, shows the spirit of adventure that he brought to a great deal of his music. It’s interesting to see how operas like Crazy to Kill, Night Blooming Cereus and Taptoo! were born out of a deep friendship. Beckwith wrote them with poet James Reaney, whom he describes as “a writer who understood music.” In the case of his Quartet, written for the Orford Quartet, “Ideas came rapidly, as if I had a quartet inside me waiting to be written down.”

Throughout his career, Beckwith’s writings have been marked by his outspokenness — what he himself calls his “habitual critical bitchiness.” But here, though he is uncommonly candid about his own shortcomings and outright failures, he is surprisingly tolerant of the shortcomings of others.

Since Beckwith has already written extensively about figures in Canadian music he knew best, it’s understandable that he is reluctant to cover the same territory again here. He recently contributed a delightful portrait of his teacher John Weinzweig to the collection of essays about Weinzweig he edited with fellow Weinzweig student Brian Cherney. And he has explored his relationship with Glenn Gould extensively, especially in his biography of Alberto Guerrero, who taught both of them piano.

Yet the experiences with friends and colleagues he does recall here — such as the time fellow Canadian composer Barbara Pentland demanded that Beckwith be given a free ticket for a concert which featured one of his compositions — tell so much about the characters and issues involved. These are stories that would otherwise never be heard, and I’d love to hear more.

The extensive endnotes, index, and score excerpts all contribute to the considerable pleasure of reading this beautifully-written memoir. The collection of photos includes a terrific ad from 1968 for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It features a photo of a Volkswagon Beetle, and reads, “The bug and John Beckwith.” By the end of this memoir Beckwith is ready to admit that he does, perhaps, exaggerate his obscurity. “Unheard Of”? — hardly. “Unheard” — undoubtedly; though what Canadian composer feels otherwise? “Essential” would be more like it.

The Beauty of Belaieff by Richard Beattie Davis

66_beautyofbelaieffcoverpageThe Beauty of Belaieff
by Richard Beattie Davis
Clef Publishing
384 pages, colour plates; $125.00
available at www.beautyofbelaieff.com

While researching late 19th century Russian music, musicologist Richard Beattie Davis was struck by the elaborate title pages that adorned many of the original scores. He soon recognized how the chromo-lithographed title pages published by Mitofan Petrovich Belaieff stood out for their exquisite artistry. It wasn’t just that they were so beautiful. As Davis points out in this definitive study of Belaieff’s title pages, they were clearly intended to be more than decorative, since they revealed important information about the music itself. At their best, he writes, they can “illuminate one’s comprehension, even intensify one’s appreciation” of the music.

Belaieff was a wealthy timber merchant, music lover and amateur violinist living in St. Petersburg. By the time he started publishing music in 1885, he had already been supporting composers like Glazunov and Scriabin, organizing concerts, and hosting his legendary Musical Fridays — get-togethers where a string quartet, usually with Belaieff playing viola, would try out new compositions by composers like Taneyev, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.

During a period of 16 years Belaieff published some of the most important orchestral, chamber, operatic, vocal and instrumental works of this immensely rich period in Russian music, including 80 full scores of orchestral works alone. Combining the expertise of a scholar with the obsessiveness of a collector, Davis managed to track down most of the original scores Belaieff published. Of the almost 200 title pages that Belaieff is estimated to have produced, over 150 are reproduced here.

Balakirev’s influential collection of folksongs, which introduced the Volga Boat Song, bears a surprisingly simple title page. But the intricate title page for Borodin’s Prince Igor manages to encapsulate the story of the opera. The unusual title page for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol features a dedication to the orchestra which performed at the premiere under the composer’s direction. Underneath, the names of all 67 orchestra members are engraved. Davis notes that for the second performance Tchaikovsky played the castanets (so his name is not on the list).

The detailed essays that Davis pairs with each artwork add up to a veritable history of late-19th-century Russian music. But some details do nonetheless get left unexplained because of the format. He mentions that Belaieff published many operas, including seven by Rimsky-Korsakov alone. And according to Davis, Belaieff considered his edition of Prince Igor to be the jewel among his publications. Yet elsewhere Davis writes — with no further explanation — that Belaieff had an aversion to opera.

An epilogue to this beautifully-produced volume points out how Belaieff’s publishing venture, which had ceased by the time of his death in 1904, once again thrives in Germany today as M.P. Belaieff Musikverlag, publisher of Blacher and Pärt — though they no longer produce such magnificent title pages.

Pamela Margles is a Toronto-based journalist and frequent contributor to The WholeNote. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Silence: Lectures and Writings – 50th Anniversary Edition by John Cage

69_Cage_-_Silence_for_catalog_C-300-X_1Silence: Lectures and Writings – 50th Anniversary Edition
by John Cage
Wesleyan University Press
310 pages; $30.00 US

This special edition of American composer John Cage’s Silence celebrates two milestones in 20th century music — the 50th anniversary of Cage’s first and still most influential book, and the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Throughout the writings and lectures gathered here, Cage is looking for various ways to say that all sounds are material for music. “Silence, like music, is non-existent,” he writes. “There always are sounds. That is to say, if one is alive to hear them.” When Silence was first published, the impact was explosive. Today, many of Cage’s most controversial ideas have become commonplace. But his probing questions about sound, silence and life in general resonate just as intensely, and his answers still open doors. Reading him today we realize that the opportunities for musical experiment he offers have yet to be fullyexplored.

Cage is an irrepressible storyteller, and he embellishes these writings with stories. In fact, one of the most well-known pieces here, Indeterminacy, is nothing but a series of stories. Many of his stories are exceptionally funny, some are delightfully absurd, a number are poignant, and a few are simply baffling. But they all hit home. In Edgard Varèse he describes a visit to his Aunt Marge. “She was doing her laundry. She turned to me and said, ‘You know? I love this machine more than I do your Uncle Walter.’” Then later, in Indeterminacy, he reveals that there is something more going on here when he writes, “Uncle Walter insisted, when he married her, that Aunt Marge, who was a contralto, should give up her career.”

In Composition as Process Cage takes inquisitiveness to new extremes by asking an extended sequence of questions such as, “Why do I have to go on asking questions? Is it the same reason I have to go on writing music?”. Like everything else here, these questions add up to something powerful.

For me, the actual beginningof this book is at the very end, when, in Music Lovers’ Field Companion, he describes his joy in performing 4’33” (which he refers to here as “my silent piece”) all alone in a field where he has been gathering mushrooms. “The second movement,” he writes, “was extremely dramatic, beginning with the sounds of a buck and a doe leaping up to within ten feet of my rocky podium.”

This edition has been reprinted with care, using the original typeface and layout. The only difference from the original, apart from the cover design, is the addition of a perceptive and appropriately provocative introduction by composer, critic and Cage expert Kyle Gann, who writes, “He thought his way out of the twentieth century’s artistic neuroses and discovered a more vibrant, less uptight world that we didn’t realize was there. Silence is the traveler’s guide to that world.”

Concert Note: Soundstreams presents “So Percussion: Cage @ 100” on Friday March 2, 8pm at Koerner Hall, with a pre-concert chat at 7pm. The programme includes 4’33”.

A conference on John Cage, “The Future of Cage: Credo,” will be held at the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama at the University of Toronto from October 25 until October 28, 2012. Further information is available at www.humanities.utoronto.ca/event details.

Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man by Helena Jobim

69_Illuminated-Man_00333166Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man
by Helena Jobim
translated by Dàrio Borim Jr.
Hal Leonard Books
314 pages, photos; $27.99 US

Like John Cage, Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim was as much an inventor as a composer. But what Jobim invented was a new style, rather than new sounds. By infusing traditional Brazilian samba with jazz rhythms, he came up with what became known as bossa nova.

Jobim’s sophisticated melodies, complex rhythms, and unusual harmonies proved irresistible, and his popularity soon reached far outside of Brazil, with songs like Girl from Ipanema, Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) and Desifinado becoming huge international hits.

Poet and novelist Helena Jobim has written a tender portrait of her older brother, who died 18 years ago. She is able to offer insights into the anguish and self-destructive insecurities that drove him. With her special access to his spiritual life she is equally able to reveal the deep sensitivities of a man who thrived on a tight-knit family atmosphere, and who, even after the break-up of his first marriage and subsequent marriage to a woman younger than his daughter, managed to maintain professional as well as emotional ties with his adult children.

Helena Jobim sets the stage for Jobim’s disarmingly elegant and cool music of the 1950s and 60s by introducing the circle of gifted poets, musicians and intellectuals who contributed to his songs, like João Gilberto, whose 1958 recording of Vinícius de Moraes’ and Jobim’s Chega de Saudade marked the first time bossa nova was put on disc. It was Gilberto’s wife at the time, Astrud Gilberto, who created a sensation with her singing on the legendary 1964 recording of the English versions of The Girl From Ipanema and Corcovado, with Stan Getz joining Gilberto and Jobim.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this biography is the way Helena Jobim shows the direct influence of Jobim’s physical surroundings on his music, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where he spent most of his life. She describes his overwhelming need to be able to see Corcovado mountain from his window wherever he lived in Rio, and she evokes the atmosphere of the neighbourhood of Ipanema, where the family lived when Helena and Carlos were growing up.

Though Helena Jobim doesn’t overplay her own role in Jobim’s life story, she does have an essential part in it. So I was confused by the way she sometimes refers to herself as “I,” and at other times as “Helena.” Her focus is clearly on her brother, which leaves little room for a broader perspective on the development of bossa nova, the volatile political and intellectual currents it reflected, and its eventual decline. Yet Helena Jobim’s writing, here sensitively translated by Dàrio Borim Jr., resonates with the power and sweep of a great romantic family saga centred around an altogether extraordinary musician.

 

Concert Note: The Art of Time Ensemble, with singers Guinga, Monica Whicher and Luanda Jones, presents “Brasil,” a programme of Brazilian music featuring songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, on March 3, 8pm at Koerner Hall.


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