Victor Ewald: Brass Quintet No.3


Victor Ewald is fondly remembered for his brass quintets, which were composed between 1888-1912. The third, although number 3 of 4, was the last to be composed in 1912. They were, for a number of years, considered to be the first pieces of their type (what we now accept as the modern brass quintet set up), however this was later disproved. 


The Music

Set into four movements, the third brass quintet is full of life, intricate writing and virtuosic playing. 


Movement I

The opening movement is driven by repetitive notes at the start of the piece, with the voices working together to create a warm effect. As the instruments begin to intertwine, the melody is seamlessly passed around the ensemble. Ewald makes sure that the climaxes are bold and strong, with the voices uniting for important passages. Although primarily set in Db major, the quick harmonic shifts keep your ears on the edge as you wait for where Ewald goes next. The opening theme is heard once again near the end of the movement, with this theme closing the movement.


Movement II

The second movement opens with a unison theme from the trumpet and horn. An extended theme borne from this opening is then played with the whole ensemble in unison. The trumpet leads the melody for the first part of this movement, with the others providing accompaniment support and harmonic changes. The open melody is pleasant to the ear, with Ewald’s clever voicing flourishing throughout. 


Movement III

A three-note motif opens this movement, with pairs of voices announcing the arrival of the movement. Slow in tempo, the trumpet takes a lyrical solo over solemn lower brass accompaniments. Ewald’s crunchy harmony is welcome, and the movement is a welcome change to the previous movements. 


Movement IV

The finale movement is full of life. The energetic opening carries through the whole movement, with all five voices pulling their weight. More unison playing is heard in between intricate solo lines that fly over the top of the texture. The minor tonality for one of the melodies is an interesting move, seeing as most of the whole quintet is in the major. This soon washes away and the glorious home key can be heard again. Ewald’s virtuosic writing comes into play during this movement as the voices are put to the test. The quintet concludes triumphantly with the ensemble back in unison. 


Happy Reading!

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