Symphony for Brass and Percussion

From Wind Repertory Project
Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller

This work bears the designation Opus 16.

General Info

Year: 1950
Duration: c. 17:45
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Music Sales Classical
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental


1. Andante - Allegro - Andante - 4:36
2. Vivace - 4:09
3. Lento Desolato - 3:33
4. Quasi Cadenza - Allegro - 5:22


B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV-V-VI
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III-IV
Percussion, including:

  • Suspended cymbal
  • Triangle


In score:

1st movement

  • Horn in F III, Number 3 +4: Second note should be B-flat, not C

2nd movement

  • B-flat Trumpet IV, Number 6 -1: Add accent

3rd movement

  • B-flat Trumpet I-II, Number 8 +6: Add staccato to the 3rd beat

In parts:

1st movement

  • B-flat Trumpet I, Number 12 +6: First note should be D, not E

3rd movement

  • Trombone III, Number 16 +4: Add f and crescendo symbol to the 4th beat (also in score)

Program Notes

The purpose in writing this piece was primarily to write a symphony. Secondarily it provided me with an opportunity to make use of my experiences of sitting day in, day out, in the midst of brass sections, and to show that members of the brass family are not limited to the stereotypes of expression usually associated with them. Thus, there is more to the horn than its “heroic” or “noble” or “romantic” character, or to the trumpet than its usefulness in fanfares. Indeed, these instruments are capable of the entire gamut of expression. Their full resources and the amazing advances made — especially in America — (during the mid-twentieth century) have been left largely unexploited by most contemporary composers.

The concept of the Symphony is of four contrasting movements, each representing one aspect of brass characteristics. Unity is maintained by a line of increasing inner intensity (not loudness) that reaches its peak in the last movement. The introductory first movement is followed by a scherzo with passages requiring great agility and technical dexterity. The third movement, scored almost entirely for six muted trumpets, brings about a further intensification of expression. The precipitous outburst at the beginning of the last movement introduces a kind of cadenza in which the first trumpet predominates. A timpani roll provides a bridge to the finale proper, which is a kind of perpetuum mobile.

Running through the entire movement are sixteenth-note figures passing from one instrument to another in an unending chain. Out of this chattering pattern emerges the climax of the movement, in which a chord consisting of all twelve notes of the chromatic is broken up in a sort of rhythmic atomization, each pitch being sounded on a different sixteenth of the measure.

- Program Note by composer

Exceptional college or professional brass and percussion players will call upon all facets of their training and experience when performing this piece. Schiller capitalizes upon the wide range and versatility of the brass section, and his manipulation of sound forces is memorable. It is a lengthy work that evades clear tonality. As such, careful consideration should be given to programming. An attentive audience will acknowledge the sophisticated structure and creative scoring of this modern piece.

- Program Note from Great Music for Wind Band

Schuller was playing horn in the Cincinnati Symphony in 1950 when he completed three of what was to become four movements of the Symphony for Brass and Percussion. The three movements were premiered in February of that year by the Group A Brass Ensemble at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, conducted by Ernest Glover, a leading proponent of the brass choir movement in the 40s and 50s. By 1951, Schuller had completed the fourth movement and the complete work received its first New York performance, conducted by Leon Barzin. Later, a performance at the hands of Dimitri Mitropoulos with the New York Philharmonic (in November, 1956) did much to propel the composition into a permanent place in the repertory of brass ensembles. At the same time, this performance was a pivotal event in Schuller's rising career, bringing him to the attention of Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Pierre Monteux among others.

The opening chord of the first movement sounds like all twelve notes of the chromatic scale stacked vertically, the clever voicing heralding an auspicious beginning. A lyrical trumpet solo occurs immediately after the opening chord. Later, the movement develops into a spirited allegro. The second movement is a frenzied scherzo. The penultimate section is a brief lento that employs muted trumpets to great aural advantage.

This is superb idiomatic brass writing, and the work is very challenging technically for the performers. Schuller's complete understanding of the capabilities of brass instruments is incredible. The work comes to a conclusion with a final chord of twelve-pitches splintered.

- Program Note by Norbert Carnovale for Allmusic


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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Works for Winds by This Composer