Aaron Copland listens to Leonard Bernstein conduct his music.
Last week I unfairly accused the brass and winds of forcing Covid-19-laden breath through their instruments. I venerated the strings section for their safer approach to music. None of that is accurate. I was having some fun at the expense of the winds and brass.
Mozart Wind Serenade in C minor
Omega Ensemble, City Recital Hall, Sydney, Nov. 16, 2015
To make up for my accusations, let’s look at some music for winds and brass. For whatever reason, this music isn’t as well-known as the string music we looked at in the previous article.
The greatest piece of wind music is Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 Gran Partita. You might be thinking that I’m wrong with this because it has a string instrument, the double bass.
In practice, the piece is often performed with a double bass but Mozart composed the Gran Partita to include a contrabassoon. Finding a contrabassoonist is more difficult compared to finding a double bassist, hence the substitution.
Octet for winds in E-flat, Op. 103 (1792) - Beethoven
Round Top Festival Institute
Mozart wrote his next two serenades for winds. He liked No. 12 so much that he transcribed it for string quintet four years later.
In addition to the serenades, Mozart wrote four divertimentos for winds. As is the case in almost every genre, Mozart delivered more high-quality wind music than any other composer.
Beethoven, for instance, wrote an octet for winds. However, he wrote it while he was still a young man in Bonn and it is nowhere close in quality to his septet which is written for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass.
Octet D. 72 en F major par Franz Schubert
By Otto Venti and amateur adults in Montréal
Franz Schubert was inspired by Beethoven’s Septet when he wrote his Octet for clarinet, a bassoon, a horn, two violins, a viola, a cello, and double bass. It’s the same instrumentation as Beethoven’s except Schubert adds a second violin.
Earlier in his career, Schubert wrote an octet for winds. It is not close in popularity to the other Octet. We need only look to YouTube for verification. The top video of the Octet for Winds has 6,556 views. The more famous Octet has 1.1 million views.
Francis Poulenc - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Michel Portal (clarinet), Jacques Février (piano), 1976
Most courts in Europe employed a wind octet with two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and two clarinets. So why isn’t there more music for winds? These wind ensembles usually played arrangements of popular music from operas and symphonies. The tradition of wind arrangements continues to this day.
There are a few pieces for winds from the 20th Century that get some attention. Stravinsky’s Symphony of Winds is one, even though the audience laughed at the music during the London premiere. Stravinsky composed it to honor the death of Claude Debussy.
Leonard Bernstein conducts Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man"
New York Philharmonic, 1985.
Francis Poulenc wrote some good wind music. Many of those pieces such as his Wind Sextet also include piano. I adore his Clarinet Sonata which includes piano.
If piano is included, then the repertoire for wind music is much broader. I’ve opted to focus primarily on music written for only winds.
The most famous piece of wind music, not written by John Philip Sousa, is Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The piece was commissioned, along with several fanfares by other composers, during World War II. Copland’s is the only one to stay in the concert repertoire.