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Fugue and Two Chorales of J. S. Bach (brass quintet)

Same piece for sax quintet, string orchestra, or SSATB choir.

J. S. Bach did some truly amazing things in his lifetime, not the least of which was writing a significant number of motets for use throughout the church year. These motets were typically for four-part choir, sometimes four-part-plus-four-part double choir, and sometimes five-part choir. These were generally accompanied by a small string orchestra or by organ, but since all the accompaniment typically did was double the vocal parts, these pieces are equally effective, some would say more effective, when sung unaccompanied.

What has happened here is to take a couple of small sections of Bach's best-known five-part motet, Jesu Meine Freude, BWV 227, and arrange them for brass quintet.

Bach's work was for a choir with two soprano sections, alto, tenor and bass. The brass quintet, on the other hand has essentially a soprano, alto, alto/tenor, tenor, and bass. Arranging this piece for brass quintet consisting of two trumpets, two trombones, and a tuba required considerable thought about how to transpose the work to make it playable and reduce the amount of part surgery required to keep it sounding true to the original.

Like all good engineering projects, this required a bit of compromise. The tuba part is high, the second trombone part is low, first trombone is a bit high, second trumpet very low, and first trumpet lower than a first trumpet would expect to play. Choosing to transpose the original piece from E minor down to A minor, however, did allow for a more-or-less pure transcription of the indivdual parts with only minor adjustments. Just about any other transposition would have required eliminating almost all of the part-crossing that makes the orignal so appealing both to hear and to perform.

The scored configuration of two trumpets, two trombones, and tuba, could be slightly altered. A bass trombone could play the tuba part, and there is a french horn part included that can substitute for the first trombone. This arrangement then covers the three most common brass quintet configurations, and probably most brass choirs and larger brass ensembles as well.

This piece is not for the faint of heart, and if your browser is equipped to play the midi sample, you will hear why. The fugue has numerous passages in all parts of six-to-eight-count sixteenth-note runs at about 70 beats per minute. As you might expect, Bach has these runs reversing direction and breaking into inverval jumps all over the place. These will be challenging enough for valve players, let alone for slides. They are playable by advanced players on all of the instruments named, but considerable rehearsal and practice time will be required to clean up the piece and develop the ensemble needed to stay together.

The chorales are much easier to play, but they would probably not work especially well as a standalone concert piece without the fugue.

MP3 sound sample: Entire Piece (synthesizer/midi).



FUGUE AND TWO CHORALES OF J. S. BACH, arranged for brass quintet by Tom Kirkland, comes in a pdf file of 2009K, with a ten-page score, five three-page brass parts, a three-page french horn alternate part, and a license page, twenty-nine pages in all. Performance time should be about 4:20.


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Last update: 16 August 2017