James Curnow: Trittico for Brass Band


Commissioned in 1988 by the Swiss Brass Band Association, James Curnow’s Trittico for Brass Band was first performed at the Swiss National Championships of the same year. This Championship-level test piece has been used around the world for various contests including the Grand Shield (1990), North American Championships (1996) and most recently at the SEWBBA Contest in 2018. 

The title of the work ‘Trittico’ or indeed ‘Tripych’, are usually a collection of three works of arts based on a common theme. The commonality between the three variations in Trittico is the American hymn ‘Consolation’. Although played through, there are three distinct variations in this work, which all present the hymn in a very different light. 


The Music

After the grand opening showcases the main intervals of the original hymn tune, the small fragments of melody that precede are used throughout the whole piece. The grandeur of the introduction to Trittico certainly sets the scene and sets up a bold character that is often returned to. 


Variation I

The first variation is in a scherzo style and lays down the main theme, this time in the minor. With syncopated off-beats in the lower band and the hymn being played in the upper band, the core of the piece is never far from the ear. The duple time keeps this variation buzzing along, with Curnow writing some intricate runs for the valved instruments. Curnow explores the use of mutes versus no mutes, as well as showcasing the corner people of the band. 


Variation II

This idea bleeds into the second variation, which Curnow sets up as a platform for soloists to step up to the plate. From the euphonium to the flugelhorn, the melody is still not far from the ear, but this time is presented in a rich and lyrical manner. The mood here, unlike the chaos before, is calm and tranquil. The swells across the band are effective and the loud sections are very moving once the climax is reached.


Variation III

The final variation harks back to the scherzo-style of the first, but this time is much clearer in its approach of the theme. The ostinato rhythm that accompanies throughout is pertinent here and mixed with the intricate passages from the upper band in particular creates an intriguing texture. High in energy, Curnow uses the percussion the most in this variation to keep the band driving forward. As the band fall into a cacophony of sound that is chaotic from the upper band and powerful from the lower band, the climax is reached. 

The energetic coda brings together parts of all three variations together to finish the work off with drive and ambition. 


Final Thoughts

James Curnow’s Trittico for Brass Band is packed full of exciting twists and turns, although the composer never lets the original hymn stray too far away!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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