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Eric Ewazen.

Eric Ewazen. Sonata for Horn and Piano. San Antonio, TX: Southern Music Company, c1998. [Note on the composer, front cover verso; score, 47 p.; and part. SMC SU338. $20.]

Eric Ewazen. Sonata for Trombone and Piano. San Antonio, TX: Southern Music Company, c1998. [Note on the composer, front cover verso; score, 47 p.; and part. SMC SU339. $20.]

Eric Ewazen. Sonata for Trumpet and Piano. San Antonio, TX: Southern Music Company, c1997. [Note on the composer, front cover verso; score, 44 p.; and part. SMC SU337. $20.]

Born in 1954 in Cleveland, Ohio, composer--pianist Eric Ewazen studied at the Eastman School of Music (B.M. 1976), the Tanglewood Music Festival, and the Juilliard School (D.M.A. 1980) under several composers including Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller, and Joseph Schwantner. Since 1980, he has been a member of the Juilliard School faculty (for more on the composer, including many recorded examples of his music mentioned and discussed in this review, see Ewazen's Web site at, and more recent information and a list of works at the Stanton Management Web site at [and an earlier list at], plus Michael Ethen's September 2004 "Interview with Eric Ewazen," 7 [November 2004], [all accessed 24 November 2004]).

Ewazen is currently one of the most performed living composers of music for brass instruments. His works are well-received, and he is often commissioned by important individual brass players, ensembles, and organizations (such as the New York Brass Quintet and the International Trumpet Guild) to compose pieces for them. The wealth of his music for brass is evident from a list of these compositions, which in addition to the three sonatas here under review (and excluding arrangements of other works) include: other pieces for various brass instruments and piano (Prayer and Praise [2002] and Ballade for a Ceremony: A Marriage Ballade [1999] for trumpet and piano); small ensembles of brass instruments (A Philharmonic Fanfare for trumpet, horn, and trombone [1997]; and Dagon II for bass trombone and tape [1980]); works for brass quintet (Grand Valley Fanfare [2001], Frost Fire [1990], Colchester Fantasy [1987], and Kronos for brass quintet and timpani [1979]); pieces for various brass choirs (High Desert Octet for eight horns [2002], Sonoran Desert Harmonies for eight trumpets [2002], Empire Fanfare for trombone octet [2002], Great Lakes Octet for trombone choir [2002], Legend of the Sleeping Bear for eight horns [2001], A Concert Fanfare for six trumpets [2000], Prelude and Fugue for trumpet choir [2000], Myths and Legends for trombone quartet [2000], Posaunenstadt for twelve trombones [2000], Concertino for bass trombone and trombone choir [1999], Fantasy and Double Fugue for trombone choir [1997], A Western Fanfare [1997], Grand Canyon Octet for eight horns [1996; also for eight trombones], Concertino for bass trombone and trombone choir [1996], Fantasia for seven trumpets [1991], Symphony in Brass [1991], and Kwaiden: A Trombone Quartet [pub. 1977]); various chamber works with brass instruments (Art of the City for clarinet, horn, and string quartet [2000]; Mandala for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, and cello [1999]; Ballade, Pastorale and Dance for horn, flute, and piano [1993; the second movement later arranged to form the Pastorale for trumpet, tenor or bass trombone, and piano, 1996]; Trio for trumpet, violin, and piano [1992]; Quintet for trumpet and strings [1990; reworked in 1998 to become the Concerto for trumpet and string orchestra]; Trio for bassoon, horn, and piano [1983]; and Devil Septet for four tubas, piano, and two percussion [pub. 1976]); and works for brass and orchestra (Danzante for trumpet and wind ensemble [2004], Concerto for euphonium and orchestra [2003], Rhapsody for bass trombone and string orchestra [1997], and Shadowcatcher: A Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra [1996; also for brass and wind ensemble]).

Ewazen's three works for brass instruments reviewed here--his sonatas for horn, trombone, and trumpet, each with piano--were written over a period of five years. He started the Horn Sonata in 1991, finishing it in 1992, and composed the Trombone Sonata a year later, and the Trumpet Sonata in 1995. Available initially in self-published, spiral-bound editions from the composer, the Trumpet Sonata was the first of the group to be commercially published in 1997 by Southern Music Company, with the trombone and horn works following a year later. The solo-piano scores are saddle stitched with separate solo parts for the brass instrument. The print is clear and in a relatively large font making it easy to read by both the pianist and the instrumentalist. The brief notes printed on the inside of the covers mention a tuba sonata slated for 1998. This is no longer an accurate statement. Ewazen did indeed write a tuba sonata (in 1996), published by the composer in 1997 (and recorded by Velvet Brown and Robert Arosio on Music for Velvet, Crystal Records CD693 [2003], CD); but before its commercial publication, he transformed the work into a concerto for tuba (or bass trombone) and orchestra, which Southern Music Company did issue in 1998 in an edition for solo instrument and piano (it is recorded by Stefan Sanders with the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Paul Polivnick, on Bass Hits, Albany Records TROY479 [2001], CD).

The first of the three sonatas, Ewazen's Sonata for Horn and Piano, was commissioned by Scott Brubaker, hornist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Completed on 1 January 1992, Brubaker and Ewazen, as the pianist, premiered the sonata on 8 March of that year in the Weill Recital Hall in New York. Both soloists recorded the work soon after for the compact disc Chamber Music of Eric Ewazen (Well-Tempered Productions WTP 5172) released in 1995.

The Sonata for Horn and Piano is Ewazen's only brass sonata to date that comprises four movements rather than three. The piece begins with an introductory Andante horn solo over an active piano part. After twenty-one measures, the tempo suddenly changes to Allegro molto, where the horn and piano alternate playing the melodies and motives or the more accompanying and obbligato lines. The second movement, Adagio, is the only movement in which the horn is consistently the "solo" player with the piano accompanying the horn's melody. The third movement is a mixed-meter Allegretto where considerable rhythmic energy is derived from recurring patterns of two bars of 5/8 meter (always 3 + 2) followed by one or two measures in 3/4 meter. This pattern is found often throughout the movement, interspersed with larger sections of 3/4 and 5/8 meter. The fourth movement opens with a two-measure Lento introduction before the Allegretto begins. This movement features an extremely busy piano part with less-active participation by the horn. Before the final return to the main theme, a direct quote from the opening Andante of the first movement is heard. The piece then returns to the main theme of the Allegretto, this time allegro molto to the end.

Ewazen's Horn Sonata does not make extensive demands on the horn player, and the piece should be considered moderately difficult. If the hornist chooses to play the optional parts in the upper octave, the instrument is frequently taken up to written c[??][.sup.2] and [d.sup.2]; if, however, the optional parts are played in the lower octave, the range tops out at [b.sup.1]. There is no reason a player could not choose to take some of the optional parts in the high range and others in the lower, however, depending on the performer's playing range and endurance.

Ewazen completed his Sonata for Trombone and Piano in the spring of 1993, and the work was premiered that summer at the Aspen Music Festival by trombonist Michael Powell, principal trombonist of the Orchestra of St. Luke's and a member of the American Brass Quintet, with Ewazen at the piano. The success of this piece brought considerable attention to Ewazen, who was soon commissioned to write a sonata for trumpet and piano (see below). The Trombone Sonata is a work of significant dimensions and duration, following the twentieth-century trend toward longer solo works for brass instruments. Instead of the twelve- to fifteen-minute length of concertos and sonatas that had become normal from Joseph Haydn's Trumpet Concerto through the middle of the 1900s, Ewazen's three-movement Trombone Sonata lasts well over twenty minutes. It also follows a style of brass composition that started roughly in the 1950s, which puts the trombone and piano on an equal footing, resulting in a collaboration of two soloists rather than a solo instrument with accompaniment. The sonata uses traditional musical forms: sonata-allegro structure for the first movement, a pavane for the second, and a rondo for the third. Ewazen uses the full range of the trombone from [D.sub.1] to [c.sup.1], and while the work is demanding, it is not overly difficult.

Powell and Ewazen recorded the Trombone Sonata on the compact disc Music for the Soloists of the American Brass Quintet and Friends (Well-Tempered Productions WTP 5189 [1999]). The popularity of this work with trombonists is apparent from the many other recordings issued since its premiere, including Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, with pianist Jonathan Feldman as part of the New York Legends series (Cala CACD0508 [1996], CD); Steve Witser, assistant principal trombone of the Cleveland Orchestra, with pianist Kathryn Brown (Among Friends, Albany Records TROY 373 [2000]); and John Rojak, bass trombone, with Robert Koenig, piano (The Romantic Bass Trombone, MMC Recordings MMC 2098 [2001], CD). In 2000, Ewazen refashioned the work for William Zehfuss and the Charleston Symphony to become the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (also in a wind ensemble arrangement by Virginia Allen).

Ewazen's Sonata for Trumpet and Piano was commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild and premiered by Chris Gekker and Ewazen at the 1995 conference of the International Trumpet Guild at Indiana University in Bloomington. Like the Trombone Sonata, it is a three-movement work of over twenty minutes duration. The outer two movements use somewhat angular melodic lines while the middle movement centers on a very lovely ballad-like theme that is rather Scottish in character. Though Ewazen uses a range of over two octaves (G to b[??][.sup.1]) for the trumpet, the tessitura is comfortable for the performer, and the technical demands of the piece are only moderate. The first recording of the Trumpet Sonata, with Gekker and Ewazen, appears on Music for the Soloists of the American Brass Quintet and Friends, with a more recent recording by James Thompson (trumpet) and Rebecca Wilt (piano) on the compact disc The International Trumpet Guild Presents an American Portrait (ITG CD 112 [2003]).

All three sonatas reflect the composer's idiomatic, approachable style of writing for brass instruments. The music is tonal and the melodic lines, whether lyric or angular, are easily accessible to both performers and audience alike. The faster movements, especially the outer movements, are filled with a rhythmic energy that involves repeated patterns, often using syncopation. Mixed meter appears frequently, fully integrated into the fabric of the tune and rhythm and never sounding contrived. The slow movements are very melodic, usually with themes alternating between the brass instrument and piano, with each having a turn at both the main melody and the obbligato lines that play off the melody. These pieces lie in the "difficult, but not ridiculous" category, avoiding avant-garde techniques such as quarter tones, double stops, and half-valve smears. Ewazen uses the full ranges of the instruments intelligently. Brass players will find numerous short rests of two to six measures throughout the movements, rather than having to play constantly for many measures followed by extended rests, as is more common in earlier brass repertoire. Whether Erwazen's compositional style for brass instruments evolved as an aid to the players' endurance or unconsciously as the music developed within him is unknown. The result, however, is a method of writing that treats the brass soloist and pianist as equals.

During the past ten years, Ewazen has become a very popular, highly respected, and voluminous composer of music for brass instruments. His three sonatas for horn, trombone, and trumpet are excellent examples of his success.


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Author:Dunnick, Kim
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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