Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Monday, April 01, 2013

A to Z: Arutunian

Welcome to this year's Blogging A-to-Z Challenge! My topic this year, as I indicated yesterday, is Classical Music. My approach will be generally of a piece with my approach to all such things: personal reflections and whatnot.

So, let's get started!

As a trumpet player back in the day, I remember with quite a bit of clarity my frustration that a pretty sizeable chunk of the solo repertoire for the instrument sprang from the Baroque era. This frustrated me because, as a general rule, I've never been much of a Baroque music fan. I had a trumpet teacher in high school, Mr. Craig Fattey (huh – I wonder if he's still around? Note to self: look him up), who was of like mind, and he summed it up one night thusly: "There's a sane-ness to Baroque music that doesn't lend itself all that well to listening, for me." I think that's about right. I'm drawn to music that's got some insanity in it, and if that's your thing, you're not going to find it much in the Baroque.

(Bach is, of course, an exception, because he was such a towering genius that his lack of insanity is totally irrelevant. But that'll be for another day.)

So if you're a trumpet student, you find yourself playing a lot of Baroque stuff. And two major concertos of the Classical era, one by Haydn and the other by J.N. Hummel. Both are fine works, but it always bugged me that after those two, music for solo trumpet just doesn't exist until you get into the 20th century. For the Romantics, the trumpet was pretty much exclusively an orchestral instrument. For the most part I was fine with that, because I always wanted to be an orchestral player anyway, but I still longed for a nice trumpet concerto by a Schumann or a Berlioz or a Dvorak. Alas!

But in the 20th century, the trumpet became more popular as a solo instrument, and the Arutunian Concerto is of that era. And what a wonderful, amazing work it is! Alexander Arutunian (who died just over a year ago, March 28, 2012) was an Armenian composer who was apparently nationalist in his music (which means, he used a lot of Armenian folk melodies or characteristics of Armenian folk music in his work). The Trumpet Concerto is just teeming with wonderful melodies and interesting rhythms, and the orchestration is superb, with the soloist and the orchestra achieving a beautiful partnership. It's a technically difficult work, but it's difficult in the musical way, as opposed to being a virtuoso showpiece. This is one of my favorite classical works of all time.

The performance below sounds great, even if the camera work – plunk it on a tripod in one spot and never move it – is strictly utilitarian. The soloist is Tine Thing Helseth, with whom I was unfamiliar until I listened to this. Her sound is fantastic – she has a big, bold sound that meshes perfectly with the orchestra, and in her hands, the Arutunian by turns dances, trots, and sings its heart out. This piece is a great deal of fun for the soloist, with its unusual rhythms and places where you just get to belt out a high note and hold it while the rest of the orchestra does its thing. Listen for the recurring rhythmic motif that binds the entire piece together.

Tomorrow: One of the most famous works in the entire history of music.


Tayna L said...

See, I'm a fan of baroque, even if I can't spell it half the time. Husband calls it 'chamber music' due to the pretty its just in the background nature of it.

Andy Brown said...

Hi there. Your first blog of the challenge is very educational and I like learning things, so thanks. I listened to the music you posted while doing some blogging and really enjoyed it. I learned the trumpet at school for one week and was not up to it! I swapped to percussion! Looking forward to your next blog.

SamuraiFrog said...

That's very nice. I had it playing while I was reading a Tintin graphic novel and it was a very fun accompaniment.