Repertoire - Music That Rings My Bell

Or - Today's Kitsch Is Tomorrow's Masterpiece

First appeared in a WASBE Newsletter
Update and revised 30th August 2010

Jim Croft, wisest of eldest statesmen, divides repertoire into "music that rings my bell" - and the other sort, which is as good a way of developing ideas on repertoire as any. I suspect that we tend to accept some music as masterpieces, because there's nothing else; for instance, if the Beethoven Horn Sonata were one of 20 or 40 classic masterpieces for horn and piano, who would play that rather ordinary little piece

If we are frank, we might think the unthinkable - how musical are many of the masterpieces of the wind band repertoire? The bright primary colours of the ensemble and the dazzling virtuosity of so many of our players can blind us to the emptiness of the music. The hard-edged neo-classical heritage of the mid-century often conspires to encourage bands to make a noise, and composers to pander to what we do most easily.

Goldman On Schoenberg, Hindemith & Stravinsky

In fact, many of the major wind works of the mid and late century just don't ring my bell at all, though the better the composer, the more chance the work has of being half decent. Richard Franko Goldman wrote in Musical Quarterly in 1958 a review of the Fennell Mercury 1957 MG50143 recording of the Hindemith, Schoenberg and Stravinsky masterpieces, and uttered what even today must seem heresy... All band people are grateful to Schoenberg and Hindemith ... .it is in a sense ungracious... to wish that they had written better ones... the Hindemith, indeed, sounds very much like a poorly done transcription... no amount of special pleading will ever make the Theme and Variations very interesting. Goldman ends his article full of enthusiasm for the Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind; In contrast to the other two, warm and life-lit, a pleasure to hear, with beautiful ideas and beautiful sounds.

If we jettison these two masterpieces as Emperors without any clothing, what do we put in their place? Dr Donald Hunsberger, who gave us a top twenty list in 1981 which I dutifully programmed over the decade, felt 12 years later when revisiting Manchester that no new works suitable for inclusion had surfaced. If that is true, we are commissioning the wrong composers

A chance meeting with composer Robin Holloway at a performance of his superb new Concerto for Clarinet and Symphony Orchestra led me back to his work Entrance; Carousing; Embarcation Boosey & Hawkes) commissioned by an American consortium. Holloway was asked by the commissioning consortium for a Mahlerian work. When he sent it, he was told that it was too long and too difficult! I played it again to my wife, (a viola player it must be admitted), and we agreed that it was full of what we miss in much wind music, lyricism, inventive scoring, wit, drama... .well yes, beauty. It is finely scored, emotional, inventive, Mahlerian in scope, a sprawling catch-all giant of a piece... and I played in the first performances in the City of Birmingham SO of Mahler 5 and 6 with Dorati in the sixties. For three days of rehearsal we thought they were mad, trivial, grotesque, too big, then we were captivated, and now Mahler is played by student orchestras and can fill any hall in the world. So taste changes.

The American works which I tend to programme are those which accentuate the more lyrical side of the wind ensemble; there is plenty of traditionally aggressive music, with the stress on brass and percussion, but I absolutely love the sound world of the early works of Colgrass, Schwantner and Maslanka, three pieces which would grace any symphony orchestra concert.

Composer Work Duration
Michael Colgrass Winds of Nagual 22 minutes
Joseph Schwantner ... and the Mountains Rising Nowhere 11 minutes
David Maslanka A Child's Garden of Dreams 35 minutes

Lost Songs

WASBE has over the years provided a platform for some great additions to the repertoire, but works often lost and forgotten. A wonderful piece from the first WASBE Conference in 1981 wasSymphony 11 - Lost Songs, by Warren Benson. This surely is our equivalent to Das Lied von der Erde with a magical ending of the greatest beauty, whilst in Schladming, Warren again provided a highspot with The Drums of Summer, again a piece imbued with wit, energy, beauty, and without some of the trivial repetition that disfigures so much wind music. And along withWarren amongst WASBE senior composers strides Karel Husa, whose Music for Prague received an epic performance in Schladming, his Apotheosis in Hamamatsu. My favourite work of his isLes Couleurs Fauves, written for and dedicated to the great John Paynter.


What else rings my bell on the symphonic side? I must declare self-interest; I commissioned three works from Richard Rodney Bennett, and I believe that they are major masterpieces. His scoring is delicate, his structures sure and his imagination runs riot with the colours of Fennell's Wind Ensemble concept.

Echoing Julie Andrews, "These are a few of my favorite things":

Composer Work Publisher Duration
Bazelon, Irwin Midnight Music Novello 20
Bennett, Richard Rodney Trumpet Concerto Novello 20
Bennett, Richard Rodney The Four Seasons Novello 19
Bennett, Richard Rodney Morning Music Novello 17
Holloway, Robin Entrance; Carousing; Embarcation Boosey 25
MacMillan, James Sowetan Spring Boosey 12
Maconchy, Elizabeth Music for Wind and Brass Chester 10
Maw, Nicholas American Games Faber 23
Musgrave, Thea Journey through a Japanese Landscape (Marimba Solo) Novello 23
Sallinen, Aulis Palace Rhapsody Novello 17
Tippett, Michael Triumph Schott 15
Wengler, Marcel Versuche uber einen Marsch Maecenas 20
Wilby, Philip Sinfonia Sacra Chester 18

We commissioned Morning Music for the Boston WASBE Conference in 1987, and the 1991 WASBE Conference heard premieres of his Four Seasons, also workshops on the Holloway and Maw. The Bazelon and Musgrave I also commissioned, the Wengler was recommended to me by Hans Werner Henze, the Wilby is an exciting almost avant garde commission from Larry Sutherland, MacMillan was premiered by John Paynter at the Glasgow BASBWE, Tippett'sTriumph was another US consortium commission and the Maconchy is just another very beautiful wonderfully constructed work, sadly neglected This repertoire includes several pieces I would recommend to Simon Rattle or any other conductor to be played by orchestras in lieu of the usual nod towards the wind in Mozart's Gran Partita, Lincolnshire Posy or works by Stravinsky or Messiaen.

Masterpieces At Grade 4-5

But what about the good High School Band, the small college band, the Community Band? Must they stick with the 7 - 14 minute rabble-rousing hard-hitting audience-pleaser, or can they find repertoire to extend the emotional responses of audience and performers. This is where I think WASBE has a major part to play. Here is a regrettably short list of large-scale works I have come across which seem to me to be at Grade 3,4 and easy 5 level and have the emotional impact of those above that are mainly Grade 6

Composer Work Publisher Duration
Connor, Bill Tails aus dem Vood Viennoise Maecenas 18 minutes
Ito, Yasuhide Gloriosa Ongaku 18 minutes
Pütz, Marco Meltdown Mundana 16 minutes
Woolfenden, Guy Gallimaufry Ariel 13.50
Woolfenden Guy Illyrian Dances Ariel 10.00

I remember conducting Gallimaufry at Kneller Hall, about quarter of a century ago; on my way to the station, I asked my driver what he thought of the piece. "Too long", he replied. Back in the eighties, ten minutes was the longest span of concentration for any band or its audience. I still think that Guy's two works, two of our earliest commissions, are minor masterpieces for the school, community or college band, full of good tunes and opportunities for tackling phrasing, balance and dynamics.

The Connor is quite easy, Grade 3-4, and is the closest students of that calibre can get to playing a sustained work almost Mahlerian in impact. Ito I knew from his excellent Saxophone Concerto and his folk-song potpourri, Festal Scenes, but Gloriosa is a major contribution to the repertoire. Marco Pütz is a saxophone player in Luxembourg, and his music for large band is well worth exploring, and is now happily available from Bronsheim or Mundana

Cbdna, Nba, Basbwe, Jba, Aba And Cba - What Is Happening

Now this ramble led me to wonder whether, as we approached our eleventh conference in 2003, and leave our teen years, could everyone in WASBE pitch in with information from round the world on what rings or rang their bell in past conferences. In America, a number of composers are writing for young bands with sensitivity, in no particular order Nelson, Maslanka, Gibson, Camphouse, Ticheli, Mahr, Broege, Boyesen and Holsinger. Add perhaps- who else from Japan, Europe, USA, South America, Canada and Australasia? Most of these American composers have the weight of their publishers and a commercial publicity machine behind them, the energy of the Mid-West Clinic and the College and High School band circuit. I wish that WASBE, and the other national associations, could co-ordinate information about the composers of other nationalities.

I suspect that many of those pioneering works by Leslie Bassett or Ross Lee Finney were just too far ahead of the audiences, players and perhaps conductors, and some of the performances I have on tape were very heavy-handed. Are we ready for them now, and the best of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, the National Wind Ensemble Conferences, the commissions Frank Battisti made atIthaca or the Boudreau commissions. We forget, if we ever knew about them, the works by Jean Morel, surely some of Gunther Schuller's works should be in the Shattinger record list. Meanwhile, I shall go on exploring the gentler sounds of the repertoire as I slide into old age.


The above was intended to be a Graingerish ramble over newish repertoire. Following the appearance of this article in the WASBE Newsletter, several conductors wrote in with their own ideas on bell-ringing. Some castigated me for throwing doubts on the worth of the Schoenberg Variations and Hindemith Symphony, others with ideas of additional good large-scale pieces:

Composer Work
Ewazen, Eric Symphony in Brass
Finney, Ross Lee Skating on the Sheyenne
McPhee, Colin Concerto for Wind Orchestra
Plog, Anthony Conerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble
Schmitt, Florent Dionysiaques
Schuller, Gunther Symphony for Brass and Percussion
Toch, Ernst Spiel

Cbdna Postscript 1999

Still others wrote with enthusiastic news of the 1999 CBDNA Conference in Texas. The Conference sounded as usual to be a feast of new music and great performances, and several works were mentioned by correspondents. Donald Grantham was clearly the top composer for this year and was described by one correspondent as "hitting to grand slams". (What can he mean? We need a WASBE glossary of contemporary musical terms.) The following were championed for further performances.

Composer Work
Beck, David The Wild Rumpus

Daugherty, Michael Niagara Falls
Grantham. Donald J'ai été au Bal
Grantham, Donald Southern Harmony
Turrin, Joseph Chronicles (solo trumpet)


What are human emotions? Not only lyricism, sadness, tragedy, but laughter Dmitri Shostakovich

My own quest for a "core" repertoire has led me to search out or commission large scale works which have a clear emotional impact, and recently to develop a personal series of recordings of international repertoire which I consider to be significant yet relatively unknown.

International Wind Band/Ensemble Repertoire Recording Project

I know of no one who has as much dedication and passion for the development and expansion of an international wind band/ensemble repertoire than Timothy Reynish. During the past 2 decades he has been responsible for commissioning numerous new works from composers throughout the world as well as discovering and bringing recognition to forgotten works through his performances, CD recordings, articles and clinics. Since the advent of WASBE opportunities for making contacts with composers from throughout the world has lead to the development of wind band/ensemble literature which is much more diversified and broader in styles and scope than ever before.

To this end Tim has recently produced and issued the first two of a planned series of CDs featuring works by international composers. The first two CDs include works by composers fromBelgium, Finland, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, UK and USA. I feel confident in saying that many wind band/ensemble conductors will not be familiar with the works on these recordings. Frank Battisti

See full CD details and reviews for the International Repertoire Series

Recordings By The RNCM Wind Orchestra