Beethoven's 5th 2nd Mov

Year of composition
Moderate (Grades 4-6)
8 minutes
Concert band / wind band
Instrumental parts
Not available

This project was the result of speculating what might have happened in the mid-1800’s as established musicians were confronted with saxhorn bands. I think it is clear from the history that the relationship between the two was not always harmonious. And, as is the case with any emerging technology, those who are investing in the older technology feel a combination of sentiments ranging from feeling threatened that their skills are going to be rendered useless to a genuine concern that the old way is somehow superior and is going to be lost.

In that light, I imagined a conversation that could have taken place between an orchestral musician and a member of a saxhorn band sometime in the first half of the 19th century. It went like this:

[Orchestral musician] “I just don’t think that saxhorn bands represent serious music. They don’t have the capacity to play the music of the orchestra. Now, I will acknowledge that the writers for the saxhorn bands have done a good job of transcribing piano music. But, there is a fundamental difference between the relatively simple quicksteps played on a piano and the complex scoring of an orchestral selection.”

[Saxhorn musician] “I understand what you are saying, but I disagree. The saxhorn band lacks two things the orchestra has – 1) the extreme high and low ranges and 2) the different tone colors.

The first is not really a problem because a) most of the time, the extremely high and low passages are simply doubling the same line that are being played at a more moderate pitch. And, the remaining times, the part can be played at a more moderate range and still have the same impact.

Secondly, the different tone colors are as much of a disadvantage as they are an advantage. And, while it is true that the different instruments of the saxhorn band sound similar, they do not sound the same. I also want to note that the orchestra often has to double parts to get the power they need. When this is done the tone color aspect of the music disappears. And, while the band can play softly, it is also true that a single baritone can overwhelm a whole bevy of cellos!

And, to prove my point, I am going to re-score a piece of orchestral music for saxhorn band so you can hear the capabilities of the ensemble. I am going to select a composition by Beethoven that will show both quiet and powerful inflections of the band. Some adjustments and compromises will have to be made, but I suspect that you will find the overall result entirely acceptable.”

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