The following is a simple list of a few of my favorite works for trombone in chamber music. Many are standard. However, I recommend readers check out recordings of the Tull and Bellon, they are great recital works!
Victor Ewald, Quintets 1-4
Victor Ewald was a musician and composer in St. Petersburg Russia in the early twentieth century. He performed with a string quartet and was known to meet with the “mighty handful” group of composers. Ewald was also a well-known concrete and brick engineer, pioneering modern concrete construction methods.
All four of Ewald’s Quintets are excellent material for brass quintets. The fourth quintet was actually the first written and is very similar to his earliest string quartets. I find Quintet Four to be the most approachable for young student groups. Ewald was interested in Romantic style music and incorporated Russian folk song into many of his works, making an interesting work for student groups to rehearse and analyze.
I include the four Ewald brass quintets because they are early works for brass quintet and allow for the teaching of brass quintet history. Additionally, there are many good recordings of the quintets for students to study. There is additional value in students learning about quintet history and the use of all conical, valve instruments in brass quintet.
Giovanni Gabrieli, Canzona Septimi Toni Octavi a 12
This work for twelve trombones would have originally been performed in St. Mark’s cathedral. Although originally written for sackbut consort, voice and Cornett ensemble, the work is valuable for students. Often trombone ensembles have many doubling parts. However, this canzon by Gabrieli has twelve trombone parts, encouraging students to be responsible for their part in the music. The work also employs terraced dynamics, a system of playing very specific dynamics with little musical interpretation for placement and lack of crescendo and diminuendo. Students can also learn about the dance style of early brass music.
Many recordings are available of this work and similar works by Gabrieli, both with modern instruments and period instruments. Students can spend time discerning their preferences for performance practice and learn about the differences. The Canzona Septimi Toni Octavi a 12 additionally offers students the opportunity to learn about the many historical brass instruments available for modern performance. Educating students about sackbut and renaissance trombone may not be useful for getting them work later, but it does create a clear image of the historical ability of the trombone what the work may have sounded like originally. This provides the opportunity to discuss student’s preference for a modern interpretation or historical interpretation.
Jean Francis Victor Bellon, Quintets 1-12
Recently discovered (2007-2011), the twelve quintets of Bellon are some of the earliest composed brass quintets known. They date back to the 1840’s. Bellon was a French composer who studied at the Paris Conservatory. He was an active string quartet musician and brass performer. His appreciation for brass instruments is not completely understood. However, he did start a society for the appreciation and application of brass instruments in the modern orchestra and chamber music. Going as far as to write a work for brass quintet and 12 double basses, Bellon was apparently interested in louder and more unrefined sounds. According to recent research published about Bellon, his works where appreciated by audiences and found fame in and around Paris, but did not move away from that center of art. Hector Berlioz even heard some of his chamber music and appreciated the value given to the brass instruments.
Bellon wrote these quintets for as close to what we consider the modern brass quintet configuration as possible in the day; Piston Cornet, Keyed Flugel Horn (or Cornet in Eb), Horn, Trombone and Ophiclide. Teaching these quintets provides an opportunity to work with students on the history of brass quintet and the history of brass instruments.
I have only recently started reading the twelve quintets and found them all to be really excellent chamber music and easily programmable. I think student groups may have some trouble with the works, but starting with Quintet 11 may be the easiest way to learn the style of Bellon.
Ludwig Van Beethoven, Drei Equali
An original work for trombone quartet by a major composer cannot be overlooked. Many students find this to be a motivation to perform the work. This three-movement work incorporates many of the things students will find in the two symphonies by Beethoven that include trombone. The quartet can also be performed on smaller bore instruments, providing practice in period style performances for students. The top parts are written in alto clef with tenor clef dominating the third trombone part and appearing in the bass trombone part. Bass trombone players also need to get out of the top of the bass clef staff, extending the range for some younger players.
Drei Equali was famously used as a funeral dirge when Beethoven died. The work can be used in many ways for trombone quartets and is very programmable.
Fisher Tull, Concerto for Trombone and Woodwind Quintet
The Concerto for Trombone and Woodwind Quintet is a great example of the very successful use of trombone with woodwind instruments in a chamber music setting. Unlike many other trombone and woodwind chamber music settings, the Fisher Tull uses the trombone as a solo instruments and keeps the horn in the woodwind quintet. This allows for even more color changes throughout the three-movement work.
Although only one recording is available of this work, students can learn a great deal by discovering and working on the piece. It also provides a strong opportunity for student to work with woodwind colleagues, possibly helping to create better collegiality in wind band and orchestra rehearsals.