Alexander Arutunian ‘Trumpet Concerto in Ab Major’: The Best of Brass

Hello dearest readers, its time to begin the ever-anticipated ‘August Alphabet Challenge’ to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of classicalexburns! The challenge is to write a blog daily with every letter of the alphabet (in order) – but what’s in it for you I hear you cry? Well…26 brand-spanking new blogs on both old and new classical music and the chance to discover new and exciting music (or rekindle your love for some classics). I hope you will follow my alphabet journey throughout August – its sure to be exciting!

To kick off the challenge with a bang, I have chosen to write this blog on one of my favourite trumpet concertos by Armenian composer, Alexander Arutunian (1920-2012). Born in Yerevan, Arutunian was soon recognised as an accomplished pianist and composer, and subsequently he studied at the Conservatory of Yerevan. After deciding that a career as a composer was right for him, Arutunian joined the U.S.S.R’s Union of composers in 1939. This was, however, on the brink of World War II, so from this point onwards Arutunian’s education was put on the back burner. After the war, the composer travelled to Moscow to study composition at its Conservatory, with Ilya Litinsky, Viktor Zuckermann and Nikolai Ivanovich Peyko. Upon completion of his degree in 1948, he was awarded the Stalin Prize (a U.S.S.R state prize) for his cantata Motherland, which he wrote whilst studying. With some works being fairly popular in the Soviet-Armenian sphere, Arutunian was more often than not overshadowed by fellow composer, Aram Khachaturian. However, this did not hinder the composer in any way, which can be seen and heard in his most popular work – Trumpet Concerto in Ab Major. 

The concerto was composed in 1950, and was written for Ukrainian virtuoso trumpeter, Timofei Alexandrovich Dokschitzer (who, fun fact: shares his birthday with me!). He was the first to record this concerto and bring it to fame both in the Soviet Union and in the USA. The concerto was the sixth major composition by Arutunian, and it is perhaps his most well-known work. The concerto is still incredibly popular even to this day, and it is actually used as an audition piece for conservatories across the world. As a trumpet player myself this was one of the concertos that I aspired to learn, so when I had lessons on how to approach this piece, it was incredibly rewarding. The piece lasts for about 16 minutes and it is one single movement, which can be dissected into seven different sections (without a break). For the soloist it is a showpiece which incorporates Eastern European melodies, a demand for stamina and fiery technical ability and an opportunity to be loud and proud in the full tutti sections.

The beginning of the work starts with a strong tremolo from the lower strings, with the soloist entering in the second bar with a quaver-movement motif which is then used as a call and response cell of music within the ensemble. The solo part is marked ‘Breit ferierlich’ which translates to ‘Wide and Solemnly.’ The motif is modified ever so slightly and the soloist is right at the forefront at the beginning, with only the lower strings to accompany for the most part. The use of triplets and semiquaver runs creates an interesting play with the tonic key of Ab major and the initial motif. After this introduction a 10 bar transition section which is played by the orchestra, that leads into the next section which is much more upbeat. This new melody played by the soloist is exciting and technically demanding for the soloist as there is a nice mix of double and single tonguing. The timbres that you hear between soloist and orchestra are very easy on the ear, and they make the transitions into the different sections so seamless. The next section is perhaps one of my favourites as the tempo has slowed, but the melodies are so beautiful and smooth. There is a sound of the opening section here and a few motifs are passed around the ensemble. The soloist sings above the strings and some faster-passage work leads to a wonderful ascending sequence into the upper-range of the instrument. This section is ended by the orchestra, who then lead into a faster part of the work. The soloist interjects at points with a fanfare-like motif. This is then taken and used for the rest of this section. This section uses lots of double-tonguing, which creates tension and excitement to wherever this section will lead to. The tone and sound of the soloist is vital within this section as there are some very poignant fanfare motifs which are instructed to stand out from above the whole orchestra. The soloist finishes this section with a climactic chromatic run in the upper register and then the orchestra take over for 45 until the next section begins to emerge.

We are now at the slowest section of the concerto, with it starting with the strings playing a syncopated pulsating theme. For the first time the soloist is muted (usually a cup mute) and the feel and energy of the piece has somewhat left momentarily and we are left with this melancholy and frankly stunning melodic passage. This section is more fruitful if you think less about it and just listen – so I will leave you to do just that! After this, the orchestra lead us slowly back in to the recap section of the main theme heard in the second section. This is then used as a way to lead us into the coda section which is by far the most virtuosic part of the work. I do want to highlight a passage before the coda which I absolutely love to both and play. After the motif is recapped there is a climactic section which comprises of double-tonguing a fast quaver passage which leads to a massive proclamation at the end. I love this section as it lets the soloist show their sound off to their full capacity. The coda section is very ‘showpiece’ and it has been written by Arutunian. It comprises fast movement, tone and air control in 3 different ranges and requires a strong amount of stamina. It takes all the earlier themes and creates an imaginative, exciting and technically demanding coda which shows off the soloist to the max. The piece ends with triplet movement and then 4 strong beats played by the soloist and the orchestra.

This piece is fizzing with interesting harmonies, timbres, melodies and textures which all come together to create this absolutely brilliant trumpet concerto. It is certainly one of my favourites as it neatly highlights and accentuates the best parts of trumpet playing – range, stamina, technical prowess and tone. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I do!

This blog marks the start of my August Alphabet Challenge, so do check back tomorrow to see what the letter B has in store for us!

Happy reading!

Recommended Recordings:

I am a big fan of this recording by John Park and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

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