Morrison Artists Series: American Brass Quintet

Thursday, April 18, 2013, 5:00 pm
Now in its 51st season, the American Brass Quintet is an icon in the brass world. Its rich history includes performances in six continents and all 50 of the United States -- more than 50 recordings -- and premieres of more than 100 brass works. In the last decade, mini-residencies have brought its expertise to young musicians and institutions worldwide. Commissions have been considered among the most significant contributions to the modern brass quintet repertoire. Pre-concert talk: April 19, 7pm. Master class: April 19, 2pm, Knuth Hall. Free.
Creative Arts Building, McKenna Theatre
May T. Morrison Chamber Music Center
SF State Box Office
Event extras: 


  • Elizabethan Dances and Ayres (edited by Raymond Mase)
    • Adson (ca. 1587–1640): Masquing Ayre (1621)
    • Weelkes (1576–1623): Strike it Up, Tabor (1608)
    • Anonymous: A Toy
    • Anonymous: Daphne
    • Morley (1557–1602): Fyre and Lightning (1595)
    • Wilbye (1574–1638): Sweet Honey Sucking Bees (1609)
    • Morley: Lady those eyes (1593)
    • Anonymous: Strawberry Leaves
  • Lacerda (1927–2011): Fantasia e Rondó (1977)
  • Sampson (1951–): Chesapeake
  • Intermission
  • Maurer (1789–1878): Five Pieces
  • Monteverdi (1567–1643): Three Madrigals (edited by Raymond Mase)
    Si ch’io vorrei morire (1603)
    Non píu guerra, pietate (1603)
    Ah dolente partita (1603)
  • Tower (1938–): Copperwave

Related events

Press coverage, April 5, 2013

The Morrison Chamber Music Center is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the May Treat Morrison Chamber Music Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Mervyn L. Brenner Foundation.

Program notes

Elizabethan Dances and Ayres, edited by Raymond Mase

During the reign of Elizabeth I, artistic life thrived in England. Elizabeth was an accomplished musician and supported the arts enthusiastically. Her contributions to music were celebrated in 1601 with the publication of The Triumphs of Oriana, a collection of madrigals by 26 of the most illustrious English composers, edited by Thomas Morley—all as a tribute to their Queen. She died in 1603, but her gift to English music was so significant that the term “Elizabethan Music” can be used to refer to nearly a century of activity.

By 1610 instruments were prevalent in the performance of all types of music. Strings, winds and brasses were included not only in the traditionally instrumental settings of dances and fancies, but also in madrigals and music for dramatic productions. The madrigals of Morley, Weelkes and Wilbye often included the footnote “to be sung or played by viols or other winds instruments.” Morley’s Consort Lessons, a treatise on performance practice of the period, includes his own ayres and popular music of the day in instrumental settings. The skilled brass player John Adson composed music for masques, an aristocratic entertainment combining drama and music. His Courtly Masquing Ayres of 1621 were undoubtedly performed with the early brass instruments of the period. The anonymous dances in our set are from a British Museum manuscript published in 1924 and compiled by noted English music scholar Edmund H. Fellowes.

Elizabethan Dances and Ayres, as performed by the American Brass Quintet, can be heard on its recording of Italian and English Renaissance music, Fyre and Lightning.
—Raymond Mase

Osvaldo Lacerda (1927–2011): Fantasia e Rondó (1977)

Brazilian composer Osvaldo Lacerda graduated from the Carlos Gomez Conservatory of Music in 1960. He studied piano, harmony and composition with Camargo Guarnieri. In 1986, Lacerda received a Guggenheim Foundation grant to study composition for a year with Vittorio Giannini and Aaron Copland in the U.S. He was founder and artistic director of three musical societies in São Paulo and has won many national composition prizes.

Lacerda acknowledges the influence of Brazilian musicologist Mario de Andrade. In addition, he shares a basic philosophy with Ralph Vaughan Williams; their music is written in a national idiom intended to be understood universally. Lacerda’s music attempts to capture the essence of Brazil’s musical soul through the incorporation of its folk and popular music into his own.

The composer writes: “Since there are few brass ensembles in Brazil, there are very few original works of Brazilian composers for brass. This made me write the Fantasia e Rondó for brass quintet in 1977. It is scored for two trumpets, horn, tenor trombone and tuba (or bass trombone).”

The Fantasia, as its name implies, has a very free form. There is a small first part, followed by a short fugato, begun by the bass trombone. A humorous central section follows, and the movement closes with a varied re-exposition of the first part. The Rondó has five parts, following the scheme A-B-A-C-A. It consists of a lively and continuous dialogue between all the instruments. In some parts of both movements, one can hear some of the ecclesiastical modes, in the way they appear in Brazilian folk music.
—Michael Powell

David Sampson (1951–): Chesapeake

My father loved to sail. Whenever possible, my family would head to the nearest body of water, rent a boat and catch the wind. When we moved to Virginia from South Carolina in 1964, the Chesapeake Bay was that body of water. Years later, when a group of guys from my church in Brookside, New Jersey, decided to organize a sailing trip, I signed up, immediately excited about returning to my childhood haunts.

Chesapeake is a mosaic of the subsequent three sailing trips from Annapolis to St. Michaels, Maryland, sprinkled with a healthy dose of nostalgia. It is strongly programmatic, with movement one depicting waking up in Annapolis, preparing the boat, motoring out into the Bay and setting sail. Movement two, Full and By, uses a nautical term which in essence means that the sailing was as good as possible with a strong wind and high visibility. Movement three, Bloody Point, imagines a long-forgotten conflict that occurred on a passing shoreline now occupied by a lighthouse. Movement four, Crab Claw, is an eating establishment in St. Michaels, where after a long day of sun and wind, we went to recover with soft shell crabs and a bit too much to drink.

Chesapeake was written in 2010 for the American Brass Quintet and is dedicated to my father, Herman Sampson, whose passions were generously shared.
—David Sampson

David Sampson has emerged as one of the truly unique voices of his generation. He was composer-in-residence with the Colonial Symphony Orchestra from 1998 to 2007.

His major works include The War Prayer for soloists, chorus and orchestra commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and premiered by Princeton Pro Musica; Hommage JFK commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra; Triptych for trumpet and orchestra commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild and premiered by Raymond Mase at the Aspen Music Festival and with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; and Strata commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and American Brass Quintet.

Ludwig Maurer (1789–1878): Five Pieces

Splitting his career between his native Germany and St. Petersburg, Ludwig Maurer was well-known as both a violinist and composer. His technique must have been extraordinary, as his pre-Paganini compositions demand spiccato, multiple stopping and complex bowing. His Symphony, Op. 67, and Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 55, for four violins were both performed often in his lifetime.

Maurer devoted his later years to directing opera in St. Petersburg. In 1871, as a member of the opera committee at the famed Marynsky Theater, he joined in a veto of Boris Godunov, bitterly disappointing Mussorgsky. They objected not to the bold, modern sounds that Rimsky-Korsakov would later feel compelled to “correct,” but to the lack of a prominent female role and to certain “ungodly” demands inflicted upon the double basses! Maurer’s sons became prominent Russian musicians, and his oldest, Vsevolod, eventually assumed directorship of the Italian Opera in St. Petersburg.

The five pieces presented here are taken from a set of 12, originally scored for two B-flat trumpets, two E-flat horns and trombone. As the earliest brass chamber works of significance heard in St. Petersburg, their brevity and simple structure recall older ceremonial traditions in brass ensemble performance, as in the Leipzig tower music of Johann Pezel (1639–1694), but the required delicacy and nuance encourage a more intimate setting.
—Chris Gekker

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643): Three Madrigals

Edited by Raymond Mase

In the late 16th century, the madrigal was the most progressive form of musical composition, and the Italians were the leading madrigalists. Claudio Monteverdi, best known for his pioneering efforts on behalf of early opera, composed madrigals of remarkable harmonic invention and expressive range. Si ch’io vorrei morire (Yes, I would like to die) and Ah, dolente partita (Oh, painful separation) are beautiful examples of the musical sophistication and daring that characterize the late Italian madrigal.

These madrigals, from his fourth book of madrigals, were published in 1603, while Monteverdi served as music director to the Duke Vincenzo Gonzago of Mantua. He left this post in 1612, and from 1613 until his death in 1643, he served as maestro di capella (choirmaster) at San Marco in Venice—continuing a long tradition of prominent musicians associated with the cathedral that included Adrien Willaert, the Gabrielis and later Antonio Vivaldi. Monteverdi dominated the Italian musical scene during these crucial, early stages of the Baroque. His surviving works include three operas, nine volumes of madrigals, three Masses, the Marian Vespers and many other Vesper psalms and motets.

Strictly speaking, the madrigal is a work of vocal chamber music. We know that instrumental doubling and substitution was common in the late 1500s, and the inclusion of Italian madrigals in 17th century consort-music collections supports the idea of purely instrumental performances of the madrigals of the period. With clarity, homogeneity of sound and a vocal flexibility not often associated with brass playing, the American Brass Quintet hopes to realize these madrigals as what they truly are—some of the most beautiful and expressive music ever written.

The American Brass Quintet recorded The Three Madrigals of Monteverdi on Fyre and Lightning (Summit Records).
—Raymond Mase

Joan Tower (1938–): Copperwave (2006)

The title of the piece is Copperwave. What it means is that copper (in brass) creates a weighty (and heavy) motion and feeling that travels in waves (and circles) throughout the piece. In addition, my father was a mining engineer and dealt with copper in some of his jobs in Latin America, where the family lived for nine years—hence the “conga” rhythm.

Copperwave was commissioned for the American Brass Quintet by The Juilliard School for its Centennial Celebration. This commission was supported by the Trust of Francis Goelet.

The American Brass Quintet recorded Copperwave on State of the Art: The ABQ at 50 (Summit Records).
—Joan Tower

Known and admired for her bold and energetic music, Joan Tower is one of America’s most successful and best-known composers of concert music. Her first orchestral work, Sequoia, has remained in the repertoire, with performances by the orchestras of Saint Louis, New York, San Francisco, Minnesota, Tokyo NHK and Toronto, as well as the National Symphony and London’s Philharmonia. Tower’s tremendously popular Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have been played by more than 400 different ensembles. Since 1972 Tower has taught at Bard College, where she is Asher Edelman Professor of Music. She is composer-in-residence with Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a title she also held for eight years at the Yale/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The first woman ever to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Composition (1990), Tower was inducted in 1998 into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2004 into the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.