New Wind Ensemble Arrangement
Whether you love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit one thing about Rossini. The man knew how to write a good melody! You only have to mention Figaros Aria from the Barber of Seville or the William Tell overture and people will either be singing, or galloping, along with them. By the time Rossini was twenty his name was enough to guarantee an audience and this popularity with the public was because of his ability to write music people wanted to hear. The opera Tancredi, written in 1813, is perhaps not as well knows as some of his other works, but it still contains many elements of his particular style and a great melody line throughout.
This new arrangement for wind ensemble is of the overture. It is already a known favourite for windband and orchestras alike, but this new arrangement brings together a slightly more playful arrangement and line up. It will be no surprise to my readers that I have written this arrangement for wind ensemble, rather than string or brass, as my affinity for these instruments is ingrained as a woodwind player myself. But it was an interesting challenge to write the overture for just wind players. The strong opening phrase is just crying out for a lovely couple of trombone or a cello feature, but not today. It’s all about the woodwind.
Originally this piece was going to be written for flute ensemble, I had an itching to work with the lower flutes again and there could always do to be more repertoire for these occasionally neglected instruments. But the playful, running figures in the bass, in particular the arpeggios that feature from bar 18 (0:48) to the end of the extract, wouldn’t have worked for lower flutes. What they have in depth they can lack in dexterity over faster phrases, as well as tonal clarity at the lower end. Already there needed to be a change of key to suit even the bassoon over the nimble phrases, but there would have to have been too much of a pitch shift to keep this piece for flute choir.
But knowing I wanted to write for lower flutes, I still endeavoured to keep a slightly unusual line up to keep this feature. The lower flutes, in particular the alto flute, have such a great tone and warmth, but they can lack the piercing nature and brightness that you come to expect with a standard C flute. This arrangement includes an alto flute, but kept to the lower to mid range to help enhance the warmth to that range of notes. Although this can be a bit quiet the almost soloistic moments create an added touch of drama to the overture. The alto flute truly has such a warmth and sweetness compared to the C flute. You can see a wonderful demonstration of its character here.
This heroic opera needed the drama element to be brought through and that had to mean that the bass work had plenty of support and oomph. The natural instrument for this is the bassoon, but again, even with a slight transposition it would mean the bass line would be a bit week on such a low end for the instrument. So with that in mind I also elected to include a bass clarinet, which is not unfamiliar in the wind ensemble setting, but then to also bring in a cor anglais. This instrument can perhaps sometimes be overlooked in ensembles, as many stick to the traditional oboe and clarinet line up. But the cor anglais can again add an extra mellow timbre colouring and used in the lower range is a naturally supportive instrument when the bass figures rise. One of my favourite pieces for cor anglais can be found here.
What is interesting about the Trancredi opera is that Rossini must have written it in a month. This is assumed as his earlier work l signor Bruschino was premiered the month before. I guess you might argue that it is only two acts long, so therefore would be a quicker to write. But considering it’s about three hours of music, fully orchestrated and completed with libretto from Gaetano Rossi. And not forgetting that the music would need to be rehearsed as well. An impressive feat for any composer at any level of skill level.
Despite the speed at which he wrote this opera there is clear care and attention within the music and you can get a clear sense of the character development within it.
It was important when arranging this work that the sense of balance was maintained to allow the characters to shine. Too much depth to the lower range and the hero would sound a bit too weighty, and the sweeter inner lines could too soon be lost. The balance was also maintained by the constant shifting of players. It was important for me in this arrangement to try and create a slightly more playful nature by giving the melody and different features to different instruments. There are occasions when the bass line is kept to the bassoon and bass clarinet, but rather than giving the bassoon a dominant feature the arpeggiate figure flits from one instrument to another. And similar playful lines can be found in the upper wind players.
No one instrument is kept for a certain series of notes, rather the melody rises and falls and snakes across the ensemble. Changing colour and meaning as it progresses My main reasoning for this was not just for adding depth and colour, but also as a nod towards the original opera. Tancredi has main roles for six vocalists, but numerous for other supporting members of the cast. And with this arrangement I wanted to allow the melody to weave and change as you would find with different members of chorus adding their own vocal nuances within the pieces.
The final consideration I had to make for this arrangement was with regards the key change. It needed to suit the lower end of the instrumentation but it was also important equally that the shift didn’t pierce too high for the piccolos. I wanted bright, not operatic diva glass shattering levels of brightness. I was able to also soften the higher pitched accents for the flute and piccolo this arrangement with the addition of some trills. Even with the dynamics marked as sfp there was a danger that these stabs would become a bit too brutal without something to deflect it. But then the higher key range also had a positive shift for the bright timbre that it brought about. Moments like when written for the clarinet the phrases at 0:54 because almost a weeping or heart breaking cry with the held note that finally falls. Had this have been still in the lower key or with a flute who would naturally hold this note comfortably, then the passion would have been lost.
With its subtly changing articulation and rich dynamic changes this arrangement has all the elements that wind players love. The wind instruments natural ability to drop to such a quiet dynamic yet maintain the crisp clarity required for these faster semiquavers is another reason why this overture is well suited for wind ensemble. All the drama and none of the strings.
You can hear an extract from this overture here.