Alexandra Pakhmutova ‘Trumpet Concerto’: A National Treasure

Happy Thursday, readers! Hope you are all well. We have made it to Day 8 in the Female Fortnight Challenge and I’m very excited by today’s choice! As you know I am a trumpet player and, like any other musician, I love finding new music. I came across this concerto when a friend played it for her final year recital last year, and I absolutely fell in love with it. So I then bought the music and learnt it myself, and what a demanding, but fruitful concerto this is! So today’s blog is on the absolutely terrific composer Alexandra Pakhmutova and her Trumpet Concerto. 

Alexandra Pakhmutova was born in 1929 in Russia. She began learning the piano at a very young age and she showed much potential. World War II interrupted her studies and in 1942 the Pakhmutova family were evacuated to Kazakstan. When the family moved back to Beketovka, Pakhmutova earned her place at the very prestigious Moscow Conservatory and graduate from there in 1953. After graduating, Pakhmutova stayed on at the conservatoire and completed a postgraduate degree in composition by 1956. Whilst studying in Moscow, Pakhmutova composed a lot of her symphonic works including the Trumpet Concerto and the orchestral work, Russian Suite. 

Pakhmutova has composed for a wealth of different genres such as orchestral, opera, children’s music, concertos and songs. She is very well-known for her songs, as she composed over 400 of them! One of the most famous is perhaps Goodbye Moscow which was used as the farewell piece at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Other songs from her include: Russian Waltz, Tenderness, The Old Maple Tree and The Bird of Happiness. Pakhmutova’s music has been incredibly popular in Russia and she was Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s favourite composer. The words for most of her songs come from her husband, Nikolay Dobronravov, who is a poet. With this fame, Pakhmutova has won a large amount of awards for her services to both music and her country. She has received several Government Awards and State Prizes. She has also won an Order for Merit to the Fatherland…twice! In 1990 she was named Hero of Socialist Labour and then her name was given to Asteroid 1889. Pakhmutova is known as a national symbol in the Soviet Union.

Although Pakhmutova is known for her wealth of songs, I have chosen to look into her Trumpet Concerto because I genuinely think it is one of the best and most diverse concertos for the trumpet. It was composed in 1955 and was first performed by trumpeter Ivan Pavlov. Pakhmutova initially composed the work for trumpet and orchestra, but when she revised it in 1978 she made a second version which was a piano reduction and solo trumpet orchestration. The concerto is composed in a single movement, with different tempo markings within the piece to highlight the different sub-sections. The work begins with a short section marked ‘Andante’ and it is slow, spacious and lyrical. The slow melody is in the relative minor key here, which foreshadows the dark undertones that you can hear throughout the work. The trumpet plays above a rather static accompaniment from the strings, which shows off the lower register of the instrument. This is a very solemn way to begin a concerto, but I think it perfectly builds up the tension about what will come next. Different wind instruments take parts of the main theme before building up to a climax which has a contrasting tempo. The next section is incredibly lively and provides a much-needed contrast from the beginning. Double-tonguing and fast-paced finger work is at the heart of this section. The fluctuation between triplets and dotted rhythms is the most catching for me, it’s a fantastic theme which is passed around between the orchestra and trumpet. To lead into the next section the trumpet plays a dotted rhythm on a low D (transposed).

The next section is slightly slower and the first 16 bars acts as an introduction to what the trumpet will play. This theme is also very lyrical and is developed for longer than the introduction. There is an orchestral interlude and the trumpet ends the section quietly. This leads swiftly into a fast section which is syncopated at times. There is a climax and there is a short silence. A series of single notes (Ab) is heard from the orchestra, and the trumpet enters into a much more dreamlike section. This is my favourite part of the whole work, the melody is just so beautiful. The octave jumps really make you tingle! This theme is very different from any other theme within the work, which makes it even more striking. The trumpet then plays two calls muted, before the next section takes over.

This fast section is very bouncy and based around dotted rhythms. It is scherzo-like, as well as being perhaps one of the most dramatic parts. The double-tonguing here is incredibly tricky so performers are advised to pick a tempo that is not too fast here, or else it may become too difficult. The bright tonality of E major here makes this the lightest section of the work. The first theme returns and when the trumpet comes back after this orchestral interlude, its top range is emphasised. The next theme is syncopated and is a development of the second theme. A developmental section leads into a very dramatic final stretch of the piece. The material has been heard before, but now is played with slight differences such as orchestration and dynamics. A slow expressive section leads into the climax section, with the trumpet returning in a very regal and bold way. I tell you now this section is very fulfilling to play – even if it does require chops of steel! The end picks up speed and an octave sequence ends the concerto strongly.

And that marks the end of Alexandra Pakhmutova’s Trumpet Concerto. This is an absolutely fantastic work which I adore. I hope you have also been able to find some love for this Russian treasure! Tomorrow we are in Day 9 of the Female Fortnight Challenge…I wonder who it could be?!

Happy Reading!

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