Hermann Pallhuber: Titan’s Progress


Commissioned by Brass Band Oberosterreich for the 2007 European Brass Band Championships at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Hermann Pallhuber’s Titan’s Progress is ‘On A Theme Of Mahler’. The piece has since been used as the test piece for the 2009 British Open and the 2019 Championship Section National Finals held at the Royal Albert Hall.

In Pallhuber’s programme note, he describes his inspirations behind the work:


“Titan was a novel by the German author Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, who later called himself Jean Paul. It is considered the author’s main work and he referred to it as his ‘cardinal and capital novel’. It is almost 900 pages in length and tells the story of the transition of its hero, Albano de Cesara, from a passionate youth to a mature man. Jean Paul was one of Gustav Mahler’s favourite authors and the latter gave the original five-movement version of his First Symphony the subtitle ‘The Titan’ – in deference to Jean Paul’s novel.”


Pallhuber uses Mahler’s First Symphony as a point of reference throughout his own work, using fragments of themes. He goes on to say that:


“Titan’s Progress, which is my first work for the British style brass band, also contains references to the music of Gustav Mahler. Motifs from his First Symphony are employed throughout (like trumpet signals, the interval of a falling fourth, and chromatically falling triplets), especially the principal theme of the finale. 

I have adapted this heroic martial motif as the basis for the main theme of my own Titan’s Progress – the chorale melody which is heard three times in all and represents the progress of Albano’s ‘titanic’ experience, My music is programmatic and uses the content of the novel and its hero Albano’s evolution for its underlying structure. The stylistic variety of the work (including the Chorale, an impudent Landler, a dancing Farandole, and a climactic Fugue) is Mahler-esque in its influences.”


The Music

Opening with an explosion of sound led by a fanfare by the upper band, Pallhuber employs bars of silence to balance out the incredibly loud opening theme. A mournful cornet solo follows, which sees a chamber group come together to play the chorale. The warm sounds are penetrated by gunshot-like interruptions from the cornets and snare drum. AS the music begins to build up again a jaunty Allegro section begins. 

Fragments of the main theme fly around the band. Pallhuber utilises the tuned percussion here to accentuate the main themes. Reminiscent of the opening, the cornets play fragments of the opening fanfare. This section is boisterous in character and also begins to feature some of the iconic parts of Mahler’s original symphony. 

The Sostenuto section sees the famous ‘fourth’ interval and a creative take on the trumpet fanfare sing through. This section, more than most, is like a snapshot of Mahler. The slow cornet solo, plus the fanfares and bass motif culminate in carbon copy of parts of Mahler’s symphony. 

The next section, marked Con fuoco is full of energy and drive, after the slower section before it. Led by a trombone motif, Pallhuber begins to build the rich texture back up into quite a chaotic section. Swirling cornets and ominous basses collide creating a terrifying atmosphere, almost adhering to the idea of a nightmare. A rallentando pulls the music right back into an epic explosion of three chords. 

A solo cornet and euphonium emerge from the muted texture with a jaunty duet in unison. Pallhuber also experiments with time signatures here, fluctuating between 8,5 and 7. Here the principal players are put to the test with complex rhythmic sections, which are intertwined with fragmented muted accompaniments.  

Another calm section unfolds, with a solo cornet initiating the theme. The chorale plays out in a similar fashion to the first, with a chamber group beginning to enter and support the solo cornet. The rich textures paired with the soprano cornet’s counter-melody creates a really dynamic section of the piece. 

More cornet fanfares are heard and Pallhuber’s homage to Mahler becomes apparent again. The use of very short cadenzas for principal seats also sets the scene within this section. The music pushes on with an angular melody being passed between the euphoniums and cornets. As the music begins to build up tempo, the complexity of Pallhuber’s motor rhythms become apparent. These add to the sheer excitement and sparkle as this piece enters the final phase of the piece. 

The epic ending sees band unite on big and bold chords after a dramatic timpani and percussion rumble. The band then quickly goes quiet with the middle of the band flying through semiquaver patterns before the explosive fanfare is heard in its entirety for the first time. This leads to a short pause before the final, absolutely epic, note. 


Final Thoughts

Full of colourful orchestration and complex writing, Hermann Pallhuber has been able to create a really exciting work for the best bands to perform. The inspiration from Mahler is clear and as the music moves along it has the listener hanging on to every changing section, wondering where on earth the music will go next. A truly exciting work to both play and listen to!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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