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A true gentleman should never reveal a lady’s age especially when that lady is a Viking Princess so I will not divulge how old my sister Helen Louise is today but it is one of those memorable ’round’ numbers. On such a special occasion I thought a card or bunch of flowers would be a bit naff so instead I spent the last couple of weeks putting together my ‘May Princess Concerto‘ as a suitably royal present for my baby sister.
Regular visitors to the site will be well aware of my passion for Baroque Music and I have selected one of my favourite pieces from J.S. Bach as the basis for this special birthday celebration piece. Not only is this one of my favourite concertos but it is also one of the first pieces of baroque music that I studied. Over 40 years ago the curriculum for the English music ‘O’ level included Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto as the set piece for that year’s exams. This superb piece of music also featured a trumpet and being the lead trumpeter in the local orchestra I had a special affinity towards it.
The lead trumpeter job was given to the person who could reach the highest notes. However I was surprised to discover that I could not reach the notes required for the Brandenburg Concerto. My trumpet, like most modern trumpets, had valves but the instruments used at the time when the concerto was written were valveless.
A valveless trumpet or ‘Clarino’ required considerably more ‘lip skills’ than a modern orchestral trumpet in order to produce a nice melody. The harmonic scale of notes available to the baroque player was limited by the lack of valves so changes to the key required either using a different instrument or change a piece of the tubing. This Bach concerto featured a very high pitched trumpet melody which to my ears was something that made the concerto very special.
Jumping ahead to May 2015 and my preparations for Helen’s concerto I ran into another problem. If you try and play the trumpet part from Bach’s original hand written score (from 1721) you quickly discover it sounds a bit odd. There has actually been some debate about which instrument Bach intended to play this part – the general consensus is that it sounds best on a ‘high F’ natural trumpet. This is how you achieve the pleasant high pitched sound.
In order to play the part so that it sounds at the correct pitch it was necessary to transpose this section of the original score.
The best classical recordings try to capture this correct high pitch sound using special ‘baroque’ type trumpets but capable virtuoso Clarino players are now very rare. Even in Bach’s time very few trumpeters would have been able to play this concerto on a high F natural trumpet. It is believed he wrote the part for the highly gifted Köthen Court trumpeter, Johann Ludwig Schreiber. You can see the original trumpet part (untransposed) in the copy of the last page of the original score (see the top line in the picture below).
Having gone to quite some length to rearrange the score I then tried to experiment with different instrument parts to create the new version. This also required some further crafting of the score to reflect the range and characteristics of the contemporary instruments I wanted to use. However to a large extent the integrity of the original music has been maintained – it has simply been interpreted using different instruments. Here is the recording of the new version (with some snazzy V&LIUMM graphics to provide a little extra eye candy):
There is some fascinating history associated with J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and I will try and provide a more detailed description when I produce a special blog article for this piece on the TRANSFORMATES 變 own website (the link to the site is here).
If you haven’t looked at the video yet here are a few still shots from the artwork to try and wet your appetite:
I hope you enjoyed the music. Enjoy the rest of May.