The Hero

Trumpet and Concert Band


Until I wrote my thesis, The Hero was my most ambitious work. Spanning 4 movements and twenty minutes, this piece took me about six months to write (including down time between movements). It started out as a concerto for trumpet and band, but expanded in size and scope until I felt obligated to remove the term "concerto", since it no longer matches that form. Although the trumpet is featured, the band is just as, if not more, important to the work as a whole, and the piece is NOT written just for the trumpet to show off his chops. In fact, Prof. Dave McKee, who reviewed the work termed it "the grade IV solo with the grade VI accompaniment."

I wrote the movements out of order, I, IV, II, III. For this reason, I think I and IV are most closely tied together and III is the most unifying of all four. The harmonic structure throughout is an interesting compromise between my normal harmonies and the harmonies my composition professor preferred. It makes ample use of the tritone relationship.

I also started writing this piece for an excellent high school trumpeter who eventually ended up at Yale. The first movement is written to exacting specifications include key, certain fingerings, and techinicality. From there, however, I formed a vision of how the piece should work and the remaining three movements are not written with any particular trumpeter in mind.

Movement I

Movement I was written in about three weeks in November of 1997. It has the most difficult trumpet part and the simplest accompaniment; probably playable by a good high school band. It is in standard concerto form with the first two themes stated in C minor and Eb major. After the trumpet sustains a high concert Bb either getting softer or louder depending on the strength of the player, the piece moves to a center around C with ample use of the Gb center as well. It is in this section that most of the pyrotechnics occur, with the trumpet jumping around on difficult rhythmic intervals. This development section reaches a peak when the trumpet hits a high C and the band tumbles away into Db major briefly before returning to C minor for the recap. After the trumpet statement of the first theme, the second is played by the band with the trumpet adding its own comments.

The cadenza I wrote based on fragments I played in a practice room and transcribed. It leads to a C pedal and standard coda, and the piece ends in C minor.

One chordal structure you will find frequently throughout the piece is a tritone stacked atop a perfect fourth, such as C - F - B.

The title came to me after writing the first movement, although I don't actually have a specific hero in mind.

This piece has also been arranged for Trumpet and Piano, although a MIDI file is not available. This trumpet/piano version was performed at a Convocation in 1998 at Virginia Tech.

Movement II

This movement is the most harmonically diverse of the four; and was the third movement to be written. Starting in the distant key of E minor, the piece opens with a high unsettling clarinet over a low quarter note vamp on vibraphone. This eventually builds to the trumpet melody, which is in the same key and in the mid register of the trumpet. After a sequence of open fourths and fifths, the movement moves to Ab major briefly before falling into an augmented C chord.

From here, the movement picks up speed and enters into an almost tribal feel. The horns play a melody from the development of I over a continuous vibraphone/percussion rhythm. This builds in intensity and chord thickness to a slower section in E major which is the high point of the movement, although I've been told it doesn't quite stand out as such. Through a very "notey" section, the movement falls through several uncomfortable modulations and lands on a Db major chord briefly before the unsettling clarinet returns, this time in duet. Contrary to belief, this clarinet section is not written to provide closure; instead it is used to build unease and tension.

After this point, the tension slowly drops off until the piece is once again in E minor. The trumpet melody is repeated before the movement ends in a drab, hopeless E minor.

This piece is actually written for a subsection of the full band used in I, III, and IV. Saxophones, oboe, trumpets, trombones, and tubas are omitted. I went over it with Dr. Jim Sochinski, who gave me many helpful pointers on orchestration.

Movement III

This was the final movement of The Hero to be written. As such, it does a good job of removing loose ends and connecting the first movements to the fourth. This movement was intended as an optional movement, and also as the trumpet's "rest time". The emphasis is on the band throughout, with some minor injections by the trumpet.

After a buildup of counterpoint throughout the band, the woodwinds play the "sweet and sugary" theme from Movement I with different intervals in G minor. The pacing becomes more and more frantic until a standalone horn call brings in the clarinet motive from Movement I. The piece then enters a C minor chorale beamed at odds with the overlying time signature, while the low brass sustain a repeated G pedal underneath.

This leads to the Movement I horn theme played by horns and high piccolos alone, with chimes in the background. The theme is repeated several times, each time with another layer added around the original. Finally, after the tempo increases, the trumpets play the theme with interjections from the saxophones. These interjections make up the final theme from Movement IV. Upon completion, the low brass enter with the development theme from Movement I played over continous triplet eighth notes, reminiscent of Mars from The Planets. The ending comes rather suddenly, and there is no "let-down" time after the finale. The first bars of Movement IV are actually the coda to this movement, although III does not lead directly into IV.

Movement IV

Although this is the final movement of The Hero, it was actually the second one written. I did as an experiment -- I knew where the piece started and ended, and then had stable boundaries in which to work in the inner movements. With my Violin/Oboe Sonata in September 1997 (which was written chronologically), I noted that the second movement seemed to ramble, and didn't effectively lead to the third movement.

The piece opens with a rousing fanfare. This loud opening actually ended up becoming the "coda" to the third movement which had not yet been written. After the trumpet comes to rest, an "ethnic" feel takes over, in an unusual mode of F major/minor. The theme played by the trumpets and supported by woodwinds has an almost rhythmic dance feel to it.

Following a drop into D minor, the trombones play a new theme, hinted at in Movement III. This theme was intended to be an "antagonistic" theme to the Hero theme, and is the last theme to be fully stated in the entire work. It ends in a suprise modulation to D major with the occasional flatted third. The trumpet brings back the original Movement I theme, this time in 7/4.

This theme is followed by a brief reintroduction of the Horn theme before returning to the mode of F from the beginning. This time, the F mode leans more towards minor than major. The trumpet plays the dance theme again. This time it modulates away and ends in Ab major with the ritornello theme form Movement I. This leads to an informal fugue section started by solo trumpet and gradually bringing in all the brass. This buildup is intentionally reminiscent of the buildup in Movement I's development. However, this time the trumpet does not reach a high C, instead only a high Bb is attained and the key tumbles away into C minor, the original key. This was intended to represent the "defeat" of the Hero in some way.

After a cut, the trumpet plays the dance theme again, slowly and in C minor. This point to the end of the movement is considered the "coda" section, despite its length. The flutes take over the melody at a more spritely tempo before another pause. Here, the trumpet attempts to take the melody over again, but fails, moving the band towards the final melody, the "antagonistic" melody played by the trombones.

Once the final melody has been sounded, the triplet eighth note tones sounded by marimba in Movement I appear again here, with a pedal C in the tubas and horns. The piece finally ends peacefully, on a C major chord instead of C minor.

This piece has also been arranged for Trumpet and Two Pianos, although a MIDI file is not available. I didn't think I was quite good enough to write it for a single piano, as I liked all the notes too much to edit effectively.

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