Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Special Post on Victor Ewald

A Reflection on Andre M. Smith's:  The History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald

On Monday, February 13, 2017 in my Advanced Brass Literature course with Professor John Manning, my class listened to Victor Ewald's Brass Quintet #3.  We were also asked to read an article concerning the four Ewald Quintets by Andre M. Smith a noted bass trombonist/musicologist from the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Here are some questions Professor Manning has asked us to answer below, but I figured I would share my experiences with Ewald first.  I played Brass Quintet #3 in the late 90's and early 2000's with two different local quintets.  More recently, last decade, I played the Quintet's #1 and #2 with the Sterling Brass and MA Brass from Northwest Illinois.  We did the occasional concert, but we specialized in weddings and church services.  One of these days I may have the opportunity to play the 4th.
  • What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintet before reading this article? 
    • My primary knowledge of the 3rd quintet was from the Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians.  When MA Brass played the 2nd Quintet about four years ago for the Clinton Symphony Chamber Concert of Clinton, IA the writer of program notes had dug a few more pieces of information out of the woodshed, but it was more biographical rather than musical
  • What did this article teach you about proper research?
    • This article taught me two things about research.  First, be patient.  Don't publish anything until you have all of the facts straight.  Second, be persistent in your searches.  You never know what you will find hidden in the library somewhere.  I must say, Andre M. Smith was incredibly patient with this line of research.  
  • What questions did this article raise?
    • My questions for this article are rather personal in regards to the research.  
      • Mr. Smith, how close were you to giving up finding any information on the quintets?
      • How many miles did you travel over the three decades or so to acquire all of this research?
      • Why did this line of research keep you so engaged for such a long time?
    • I primarily want to understand the personal motivation, the drive, and the desire.  We always talk about process and writing with musicological research.  I just want to understand the individual motivation.  The human desire to know.  How can you apprentice a young scholar if you only know your personal motives for research.  Knowing another's motivation can inspire the scholar in a different way.  Research can be so, impersonal.  
  • What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?
    • This was a very interesting musicological question.  I never examined this as a performer or as a teacher from the historical angle.  I have personally always preferred pistons to paddles.  While reading the article I imagined myself as an instrument maker with 18th or 19th century forging tools.  The rotary valve appears to require less forging, but more assembly, so theoretically it would cost less money for a player at that time than would a piston valve.  Having played on horns with paddles and pistons, I never noticed a sound difference from that alone.  The solder joints, bore size, finish, density, and bell size have all provided greater differences in sound quality through the number of overtones I can hear.  I wonder what the rationale was for thinking rotary paddles are the preference for a homogenous brass sound? Was it the availability of the time?  Ease of manufacturing?  Resist to change?  All of them?  I just know a brass quintet sounds good either with paddles or with pistons.  It is a personal preference. 
  • Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone"
    • I do not agree with Forsyth at all.  I would say there are variations of legato on trombone pending the performer, equipment, and technique.  Christian Lindberg and Joseph Alessi both have technique that defy Forsyth.
  • What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13.
    • I found the comments about performers laboring over articulations of early music while performing that music on modern instruments very amusing.  I actually laughed out loud while reading that.  When this article was written, the attempt to recreate historic performances was still happening around various campuses and festivals, but the use of modern instruments in these recreations struck me as being a little hypocritical.  Early music did not use the well-tempered tuning, yet performers were playing in well-temper tuning.  Metal strings were used instead of gut strings, but the music was being performed.  Historically informed performance does not need to be a recreation or a re-enactment.  It only needs to be respectful and true to the musical intent of the composer of the time.  I support Smith's assertion that we should play this music on modern instruments.  Why leave the music silent?
  • In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froides Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet?
    • Froides Werke was a horn virtuoso and he had a handwritten copy of Victor Ewald's second and third quintets for brass.  He traded these copies to members of the Empire Brass Quintet for a medley of Gershwin tunes in the 1970's.  How Werke came to acquire the Ewald copies is not reported in the article.  The Empire Brass' discovery changed the musicological research bubble.  Instead of waiting to determine their authenticity it forced the Smith to report what he had learned so far about the quintets within the program notes of the American Brass Quintet performances of Ewald in 1974 and 1975.  The American Brass Quintet was the first group to perform the Ewald quintets 1,2, and 3 at Carnegie Hall, if I read my copy correctly of the programs.
  • What has been your experience both playing and listening to the Ewald quintets? 
    • I have played 75% of Ewald's quintets.  I assumed until just this week that the 4th was not an original.  I always thought it was a transcription.  Now I have to go back and play it.  My first experience with Ewald Quintet #3 was in the late 90's with a group called Quintessence.  It was an amateur group that rehearsed in musician's union building in Davenport, IA.  We must of rehearsed this and the Empire Brass arrangement of Buckaroo Holiday for years, before playing them.  It was a frustrating time for me as a tuba player and music teacher working with four amateurs of decent skill, but not a lot of experience sculpting an ensemble.  I played it again for a chamber concert around 2008 with some fellow symphony musicians.  We rehearsed three times and performed the piece, again it was lackluster.  We played it well technically, we were not unified expressively, and our concept of a quintet sound was haphazard at best.  A few years later some friends and I developed the Sterling and M A Brass.  The Sterling Brass played Ewald's Quintet #1 many times.  I love this quintet.  It was the first time I heard a unified version of Ewald's music in person, not on a recording.  We considered going to festival to play at Western Illinois University around 2010 or 11.  I still love this quintet.  In 2014 the M A Brass played Quintet #2.  The second quintet is not as strong as the first or third musically.  However, this was the strongest quintet that I had ever played with from a musical standpoint.  The five of us all held music education degrees, and two of us had Master's degrees in music education, and we delivered some excellent performances of the second quintet.  The M A Brass had the best concept of quintet sound, musical goals, and desire to  succeed professionally.  I encourage all brass players to play some Ewald.  it is great music and accessible to the public for performance.  20 years or so, I have been around this music.  I'm still finding joy with it.

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