Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky
for Brass Quintet
by Eddie Lewis
The following text was copied from my blog https://eltigredo.com
Tchaikovsky’s Morning Prayer
The first arrangement I ever wrote for brass quintet was Tchaikovsky’s Morning Prayer. We had studied its harmonies in our theory class and I thought it was beautiful. So I wrote it out for our quintet, the Bravado Brass in El Paso.
This was in the early 80’s.
I quit the quintet, leaving all of my music with the group, including my arrangement of Morning Prayer.
Many years passed. A tuba friend of mine ended up with all the music, and he unfortunately passed away. So that arrangement that had so much sentimental value was practically gone. But then facebook was invented and I eventually asked people on there where all that music had gone.
Within a week I had a scan of my old arrangement….which was awful by the way. Ha ha ha…
I had to fix a lot of mistakes.
But there it was. The only problem was that it was too short. That’s when I had the idea to do this theme and variations. The idea is to give each musician a solo over each variation. I think it worked.
Solo Features for Each Variation
Each variation in this Morning Prayer piece features a different soloist. So there are five variations, one for each soloist. The order as as follows:
- Tuba Solo
- Second Trumpet Solo
- Horn Solo
- First Trumpet Solo
- Trombone Solo
The last movement is a recapitulation of the theme, in a more dramatic setting.
Theme and Variations
This was my first time writing a composition using someone else’s theme. It was a bit odd, as a composition experience. I am also an arranger, and when we do an arrangement, something like this would not get my name as “composer”. No matter how creative you are with an arrangement, you cannot put your name on the piece as its composer.
So yeah, it was kind of weird.
In the classical tradition, someone who writes a theme and variations on a them by someone else (Paganini, Schumann, Haydn, Tallis, etc.), the composer credits always go to the person writing the “arrangement”.
I guess it’s easier to do that when the original piece is in the public domain?
Anyway, I am attributing the original theme to Tchaikovsky. So I don’t feel like a crook or anything. It’s just funny how different those two worlds are. And I have lived in both of them for a long, long time.
This piece was intended to be performed by professional brass players. I feel it would be a challenge for most university groups. Not undoable, but difficult. So if you are in a college quintet and want something technical to sink your teeth into, then this piece might be just the thing for you.
I think range for most of the parts is pretty conservative. The horn part has the most ambitious range, with plenty of sections that stay at the top and just above the staff.
Mostly the difficulty lies in the virtuosic runs. Lots of fast scales and dazzling intervals. I anticipate that the piece can be something of a show stopper if done well.