The “Golden Ages” of the trumpet might be defined as the Baroque and today. I remain haunted by the beautiful trumpet writing of Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Handel, H.I.F. Biber, and George Philipp Telemann, and their various cantatas, masses, oratorios, suites, and concerti were once the lifeblood of my personal and recorded repertoire. Looking back at this music is like looking through a scrapbook of my musical past and I am flooded with warm thoughts of various churches, festivals, concert stages, and colleagues when I hear this music in my mind’s ear.

The role of the solo trumpet in the works of Richard Strauss (ie: Ein Heldenleben), Gustav Mahler (ie: Symphonies #3 and 5), and Alexander Scriabin (ie: The Poem of Ecstasy) are the embodiment of Romantic passion. I have spent many wonderful hours on concert stages being distracted by them and would give most anything to sit onstage at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Vienna’s Musikvereinssaal or Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw as a young principal trumpeter once again. That said, I fervently believe that many of the most masterful compositions for the trumpet have been written in the past fifty years and continue to be written today.

A short list of these works would certainly include the following:

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Michael’s Reise um die Erde (trumpet and large ensemble), Eingang und Formel, Halt, Mission und Himmelfahrt (all from Michaels Reise), Aries (trumpet and electronic music), In Freundschaft (solo 4-valve Eb trumpet), Oberlippentanz (for piccolo trumpet), and Pieta (for flugelhorn and electronic music). A solo trumpeter, representing the archangel Michael is the central figure in Stockhausen’s seven operas entitled Licht (Light), subtitled “The Seven Days of the Week.”

Harmonien (solo trumpet), Schoenheit (trumpet, flute, bass clarinet), Erwachen (trumpet, soprano saxophone, cello)

Three “recent” additions to the repertoire from Stockhausen’s unfinished KLANG cycle. The ensemble works are both re-workings of material from HARMONIEN, which turns melody groups into suspended sound (“harmonies”) through a process of rapid repetitions of the pitches of each group without rhythm. (This could get very technical, but probably not so appropriate for our purposes.)

These rarely performed masterpieces, especially the operas, might be called the late Beethovens of our repertoire and were all written for his virtuoso son, Markus (and later performed under Stockhausen’s direction, by Markus’ brilliant student Marco Blaauw).

Luciano Berio: Sequenza X (commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and written for Thomas Stevens) and Kol Od (a re-working of the same material for trumpet and orchestra).

I greatly admire the ease, panache, and confidence with which performers such as Gabriele Cassone perform these works. For a video of a performance by Gabri of a fragment from Sequenza X at Chosen Vale (2006), click here.

Peter Maxwell Davies: Sonata for Trumpet (his opus #1, written too early — in 1955 — to be included in this list if it weren’t for the following works), Trumpet Concerto, Strathclyde Concerto (for horn and trumpet), and Litany for a Ruined Chapel Between Sheep and Shore (for solo trumpet).

H.K. Gruber: Aerial, Exposed Throat, and (soon to come) Busking

Aerial, a work truly touched by angels and, perhaps, the most beautiful large-scale trumpet concerto ever composed, was written for Håkan Hardenberger. The solo voice, played on trumpet, ram’s horn, and piccolo trumpet, floats through the composition like a feather borne on a cushion of air. I remember hearing it for the first time at the American premiere in Los Angeles and thinking that one possible future had ended and another one began. Nali’s new concerto entitled Busking (also for Håkan) is in process as I write and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.

Exposed Throat, a 15-minute tour de force for solo trumpet, was written at the same time as Aerial and published in a collection of works for solo trumpet, curated by my buddy John Wallace and I, called Go Blow Your Own, which also included shorter works by Max Davies (Fanfare for Lowrey), Ned Rorem (Cries and Whispers), Kurt Schwertsik (Serenade), Robin Holloway (Melody with Echo) and others. Good stuff, all.

Marc-Anthony Turnage: Dispelling the Fears (a concerto for 2 trumpets, written for John Wallace and Håkan Hardenberger), From the Wreckage (a trumpet concerto, written for Håkan Hardenberger).

Sir Harrison Birtwistle: The Silk House Tattoo (2 trumpets and side drums), Endless Parade (concerto for trumpet vibraphone, and strings, written for Håkan Hardenberger).

Harry wrote The Silk House Tattoo (originally Silk House Antiphonies) for John Wallace and I in 1998 and it was “previewed” at the Lake Placid International Trumpet Seminar, which I then directed. Harry also contributed Placid Mobile (1998) for 36 muted trumpets at the same seminar. The Silk House Tattoo received it’s official premiere in 1999 by John, Sam Walton (side drums) and I at the ITG Conference in Richmond, VA, and had its first hearing in Europe two days later on the London Sinfonietta series at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The former was a disaster due to an astonishingly intolerant audience and the latter memorable for all of the right reasons.

Hans Werner Henze: Requiem (which includes three movements written in the style of a trumpet concerto for the tireless Mr. Hardenberger).

These nine instrumental pieces “speak of the anxiety and distress of mankind in our time, of sickness and death, of love and of loneliness.” Henze is concerned with questions of existential significance in his Requiem, nine religious concertos for solo piano, concertante trumpet and large chamber orchestra. The three movements featuring trumpet – Rex tremendae, Lacrimosa, and Sanctus – are also published by Schott in an edition for trumpet and piano as Three Sacred Concertos.

Rodion Shchedrin: Trumpet Concerto (written for the Pittsburgh Symphony and George Vosburgh).

Olga Neuwirth: Miramondo Multiplo, and Laki

The most recent Miramondo Multiplo (November, 2007) is a setting for solo trumpet and small ensemble of the original. Laki came to my attention via a fine performance by Matthew Conley at the 2008 edition of the Chosen Vale International Trumpet Seminar. Wonderful, isn’t it, when our students introduce music to us?

Ivan Fedele: High

A very demanding work for solo trumpet written for Gabriele Cassone and dedicated in memory of Miles Davis.

Ryan Purchase: Apparatus Inconcinnus

A wonderful “awkward machine” of trumpet/cornet theater, with text by the eccentric Russian humorist Danill Kharms. Written for Amy Horvey by this gifted young Canadian composer.

James MacMillan: Epiclesis

This 25 minute tour-de-force is one of the greatest trumpet concerti ever written and was created for my friend John Wallace. James is, along with PMD, one of Scotland’s genius composers. James teaches at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a partner with CalArts, which Mr. Wallace left the RAM to direct as Principal. John’s decision might be viewed as a setback for virtuoso trumpeting, but a giant leap ahead for arts education.

Michael Blake Watkins: Trumpet Concerto and Death of an Eagle

The former was written for John Wallace and the latter written for and recorded by Håkan Hardenberger (him again).

Peter Eötvös: Jetstream (written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Markus Stockhausen) and Snatches of a Conversation

This fine work has attracted the attention of our best solo trumpeters, receiving performances by Markus Stockhausen, Marco Blaauw, Tristram Williams (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and Håkan Hardenberger (with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – recorded by Deutche Grammophon). It must be noted that Eötvös is a much sought-after conductor as well, appearing regularly with L’ Ensemble Intercontemporain and many other equally skilled bands.

Toru Takemitsu: Paths (written for Håkan Hardenberger in memory of Witold Lutosławski).

This is music that matters. When well-played, this is art that shines.

On a related note, I tried unsuccessfully to commission Lutosławski to write a trumpet concerto in 1990 while I was a member of the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Mr. Lutoslawski cited advanced age in declining, and also an earlier promise that he had made to Paul Sacher that if a piece did start to formulate in his mind he would write it for Håkan Hardenberger. By now you must understand Mr. Hardenberger’s passion for advancing our art. Hats off to him and to the late Mr. Sacher!

Jukka Linkola: Concerto for Trumpet and Trumpet Concerto No. 2 (two exciting jazz-influenced works written for Jouko Harjanne).

Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Trumpet Concerto “Nobody knows de trouble I see”

Giacinto Scelsi: Quattro Pezzi

A self-described “Mediterranean” composer, Scelsi scoured North Africa, the Middle East, Spain, and his native Italy for musical inspiration. These cries from the minaret are strongly inspired by Islamic improvisation and performing them during my interview at CalArts led to an offer of employment. We shouldn’t ignore these moments.

Mark Applebaum: Authenticity

A work for solo trumpet, extracted from a cycle of six autonomous yet interdependent works entitled Sun=Parts (2000-2002). Attached to each piece are peculiar character markings derived from the labels of various consumer goods — in this case, “bouncing and behaving”.

Jaan Rääts: Concerto for trumpet, piano, and strings

Roger Reynolds: The serpent-snapping eye

A wonderfully evocative work for trumpet, piano, percussion, and 4 channel tape.

Yan Maresz: Metallics (for solo trumpet and Max/MSP or electronic music)

Liza Lim: Wild Winged One

A work for solo trumpet drawn from her new opera The Navigator.

Cecelia Arditto: Música invisible (Libro cuarto: trompeta & flugelhorn, I, II, III)

A fabulous piece that explores the soft, more feminine side of the trumpet and flugelhorn, inspired by “The Perspective of Disappearance”, a chapter of the notebooks of the great artist and polymath Leonardo da Vinci. It was composed for Amy Horvey by this interesting young Argentine composer now living in Amsterdam.

Wolfgang Rihm: Marsyas (a rhapsody for trumpet, percussion, and strings)

Mauricio Kagel: Morceau de Concours (for solo trumpet, and also a version for 2 trumpets) and Fanfanfaren (4 trumpets)

Andre Jolivet: Heptade

I hesitate with this listing as I don’t consider Jolivet’s other works for solo trumpet and ensembles extreme pieces. This wonderful piece, for trumpet and percussion, is however. For a glimpse of the work performed on his senior recital (B.Mus.) at McGill, watch my student Matt Brown: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Franco Donatoni: Short

A terrifically difficult work for solo trumpet (plunger) written for the American composer/performer David Short, a long-time resident of Rome.

György Ligeti (arr. E. Howarth): Mysteries of the Macabre (for trumpet and orchestra or trumpet and piano, from his opera Le Grand Macabre)

Trumpeter, conductor, and composer Elgar Howarth is one of the unsung heroes of contemporary trumpet music. Max Davies’s Trumpet Sonata, op. 1 was written for Garry and he was one of the founders of the London Sinfonietta.

Robert Erickson: Kryl

A unique work for solo trumpet and filled with microtones and other extended techniques, particularly singing precisely in hocket. It was written for Ed Harkins, a man of great wit and a rare grip on extended techniques, who collaborated handsomely with the composer.

David Rosenboom: Zones of Coherence (for solo trumpet and interactive electronics), Music for Unstable Circuits (for solo trumpet and interactive electronics).

Both works were written for David’s son Daniel, who completed his MFA with me at CalArts. Zones of Coherence is particularly interesting as the 4 movements are scored for Bb and C trumpet, piccolo trumpet in Bb, and cornet in Bb. It’s a modular piece: the performer is allowed to mix and match materials from the left and right pages of the score, and thus every performance, although through-composed, becomes unique. For a video of performances of both pieces at Chosen Vale (2006), click below:

Zones of Coherence: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4; Music for Unstable Circuits.

Morton Subotnick: After the Butterfly (for trumpet, ghost electronics, and 7 players, written for Mario Guarneri)

I include this rarely performed work because it is a) beautiful and b) was written by my old roomie. I shared Mort’s condo during his first 5 years at CalArts until his retirement from the faculty in 2005.

Matthias Pintscher: Shining Forth (solo trumpet), celestial object I (trumpet and ensemble)

Through numerous means of sound production (air sounds, tongue-rams, half-tone colorations, etc.) these two works by the world-renowned German composer explore the trumpet’s expressive capabilities from delicate, almost sub-sonic textures to relentless, powerful tension.

Adriana Hölszky: WeltenEnden

This demanding work for one or four brass players requires all who participate to act as multi-instrumentalists, showing equal fluency on euphonium, flugelhorn (or trombone), trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and alphorn. The wide range of sounds requires deep exploration of each instrument, but offers an incredibly wide palette of expressive tools.

Hans-Joachim Hespos: Biomba

Hespos’ music takes the instrument to its timbral limits. This large-scale work for solo trumpet requires an incredible amount of timbral flexibility and fluidity, It also employs very extreme range, including several notated double-high C’s.

Nicolas A. Huber: doux et scintillant

Written for Reinhold Friedrich, this interesting work employs extreme microtonality (1/8 tones), numerous extended techniques, expanded range, and even a bit of theater.

Aaaron Cassidy: What then renders these forces visible is a strange smile

Written for Tristram Williams, Aaron Cassidy’s original work for solo trumpet separates the physical components of playing the instrument (embouchure, the three valves, and the slide) and makes them work independently, opening up a vast palette of new sound possibilities.


Franz Joseph Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in Eb Hob. VII e.1

What? The Haydn Concerto? Our most holy of holies? How can this graceful dinosaur, already up to its knees in tar and about to be paved over by an endless string of performances find its way onto my list of extreme repertoire? Well, I happen to enjoy beauty. I also choose to ignore the inexhaustible student performances that have become an obscene rite of passage, and opt to guide you away from this masterful concerto and towards the cadenzas anyway. I used to improvise my own cadenzas, inspired by the unique talent of the fortepianist Malcolm Bilson, until finding myself on the stage of a midwestern orchestra, merrily crafting a cadenza while accidentally utilizing motifs from another classical concerto in Eb, by none other than the rather mundane Johann Nepomuk Hummel. That was enough of that.

Fantastic cadenzas for this concerto have been left to us by Karlheinz Stockhausen and perhaps you should toss period performance practice to the wind for a brief, unaccompanied, moment and investigate them?

Improvisers such as Wadada Leo Smith, Markus Stockhausen, Peter Evans, Dan Rosenboom, Kris Tiner, Jeff Kaiser, Trent Austin, and Jason Price turn my ear, as do the generations of jazz trumpeters from Louis Armstrong through Dave Douglas. They are able to create wonderfully creative music in real time and continue the great tradition of performer/composers started by Mozart. Cheers to all.

Please note that I intend to expand this list of compositions over time, perhaps in the form of an annotated bibliography. If modern trumpet music interests you, please visit this page often for updates and e-mail me with other works that you feel merit consideration.

Written August 22, 2009

Last updated October 22, 2010