Brass Quintet

At the very end of first semester — in fact half of it was over winter break — I wrote a brass quintet. It is titled The Pealing Bells because it is meant to evoke a sense of the semi-random ringing of a set of bells. The work is for three trumpets, trombone, and bass trombone, and is completely aleatoric.

Aleatoric music is music which is determined by chance. In other words, rather than telling the performers exactly what and when to play notes, I gave them a general guide and am leaving the exact performance up to them. I give them their articulations and a set group of pitches from which they can choose, but for timing I give them only a range of seconds for which to hold their notes. These notes are to be played as bell tones, imitating the tolling of bells. Each individual part holds its tones for different durations, meaning that except perhaps by coincidence no parts will ever be starting or ending at the same time.

The whole piece is arranged in an arch structure reminiscent of the symmetrical shape of bells. It begins with the individual tolling of the first trumpet, which is slowly joined by the rest of the players one by one. The players are also given ever-expanding sets of pitches from which to choose their notes until the point where all twelve chromatic pitches are available, though only three from each of the bottom four players. At this point, the first trumpet has its own part to play which is slightly more structured using a harmon mute. The part uses the technique of feather beaming, a notation which denotes accelerando and ritardando without affecting the overall pulse for the other players. After this middle section, the first trumpet removes the harmon mute, and then the rest of the piece is an exact reversal of the piece, with each part having a dwindling number of pitches in their set until finally the first trumpet is left tolling a single pitch alone, just as in the beginning.

The piece is going to be performed on my composition recital on April 21. I’m very excited to hear what it actually sounds like, since my computer is completely unable to playback a piece such as this.