Malcolm Arnold: Brass Quintet No.1


Composed in 1961 specifically for the New York Brass Quintet, Malcolm Arnold’s Brass Quintet No.1 was an instant hit. Since its inception the work has remained one of Arnold’s most-performed chamber works amongst high-level brass ensembles. It was one of the trailblazing works that laid down the two trumpets, french horn, trombone and tuba brass quintet genre. The quintet has been described as “idiomatic, yet ultimately challenging.”


The Music

Set into three separate movements, the quintet showcases a range of styles and characters, whilst always keeping a technical pressure on the players.


Movement I – Allegro Vivace

The opening movement starts with a flourish from the two trumpets, who are pitted against each other to create an interlocking effect. They shadow each other and overlap when necessary throughout this movement. The other three instruments are more stable with a united front, unlike the gallivanting trumpets. The call and response figures paired with the complex syncopation creates a really exciting fugal-like texture. This soon turns into a more united front as the trumpets come together for a few bars. This joyful movement concludes with a reprise of the main theme played tutti.


Movement II – Chaconne

The dark edge of the second movement is bolstered by the low phrasing of the tuba and trombone. Arnold’s use of dissonance in this movement is the most apparent, with his use of suspensions creating these opportunities. There is a real level of depth in this movement that is not reached in the others. The trombone solo is regal and perhaps militaristic, which adds another layer to this story. Ending like it began, the solemn second movement concludes quietly. 


Movement III – Con Brio

The vibrant third movement demands the most technical work. From solid solo lines to intricate tutti sections, the fast pace of this rondo is challenging for any ensemble. Arnold highlights all members of the quintet in this movement, with solo lines for everybody. The bright harmony and clean tonguing creates a sunshine effect in this movement. The tuba part in particular has been noted as incredibly challenging, which soon paved the way for others to utilise this fantastic instrument. The quintet comes to a truly thrilling close as the trumpets play a glorious fanfare as the bass-end unites for the last note. 


Final Thoughts

Malcolm Arnold, famed for his brass writing, does not disappoint with his first brass quintet. From the devilishly difficult technical writing to the array of characters he creates, the work is vibrant and full of life. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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