Friday, May 9, 2014

Elliot Carter Brass Quintet

Earlier this semester, our ABEL class listened to and discussed the Elliot Carter Brass Quintet.  Written in 1974 for the American Brass Quintet, the piece presents a challenging yet entertaining musicality, one that demands a high level of technicality for the players.  We were asked to share our answers to a few questions asked in class, you will find them below:

1. What is the overall affect of the piece? How does it make you feel? How does it achieve this affect?

The first word that comes to mind when describing this piece is insanity.  Although the piece is highly organized in composition, it gives off both a 'sporadic' and 'chaotic' sense.  However, the technical demands of the players make it a very impressive piece to listen to.

2. List three remarkable or notable characteristics of the piece.  Include measure/rehearsal numbers and explain your answer.

In terms of notable parts of the work, the horn solo at rehearsal 236 to 249 jumps out.  Also, the timbre of the piece at measure 327 onward is definitely a remarkable moment.  Finally, the change in character from 342 to the end is a representation of Carter's ability to revisit the beginning material but also provide a nice conclusion for the piece.

3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic language used.  What are some of the challenges presented in the performance of this work created by these rhythms.

I would say the majority of the challenges lie in the piece's rhythmic complexity.  There are many moments where the rhythm is nearly impossible to decipher and would require hours of group practice.  Another challenging aspect of the piece are the wide arrays of intervalic material between instruments.


Today we travel across the pond to France.  "Glisssssssssendo," written with 9 s's to represent each of the 9 members, is a very unique group that one of our ABEL classmates presented to us on "Obscure Brass Day."  The group appears to defy the laws of gravity by gliding around on what one can only imagine to be Segways.  Although not exclusively a brass ensemble, Glisssssssssendo represents a group that is developing new ideas in terms of musical performance.  Check out their recording of Philip Glass' Lightning below!