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BRASS BAND BUIZINGEN
DELTA BRASS ZEELAND
LUC VERTOMMEN, conductor
- Fantaisie (dans la forme classique) (1894)
- Fackelzug (1899)
- Variations Symphoniques (1903)
- Scherzo Fantastique (1906)
- Rapsodie en Fantazijstuck (1906)
- Eerste Rapsodie (1908-1909)
Paris became, from 1830 onwards, the artistic and intellectual centre of Europe which attracted composers, players and instrument builders from all over Europe. The Belgian Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) played a major role in the development that took place within the family of brass instruments in the second half of the 19th century.
Paris was, at that time, a melting-pot that also attracted Belgian and Dutch brass players like Guillaume Dieppo (1808-1878), teacher at the Paris Conservatory, P. Hollebeke and Robyns (both trombone players) and Henri Séha. All of them were attracted by the revolutionary developments of Adolphe Sax. Séha studied in Paris in the class of Paul Délisse (1817-1888), played at Paris Opera and worked closely with Jean-Baptiste Arban (1825-1889) and Adolphe Sax. Under the direction of Sax, Séha initiated himself into a scientific study of the acoustics of musical instruments, a subject which had been largely ignored up to that time. His unique knowledge and skills are witnessed in a major work: Organographie générale des instruments à embouchure, simples et chromatiques, en usage dans les orchestres modernes (1925).
Also for some Belgian composers it was essential, at that time, to first make a name for themselves in Paris before it was possible to have some of their important works (symphonic works or opera) to be performed in their own country. Following in Adolphe Sax’s footsteps were François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871) and François-Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908). As one of the most influential musical figures of the 19th century Fétis spread his authority throughout Europe. In 1833 he became the first director of the Brussels Conservatory and surrounded himself with eminent artists and used the French system as an example to structure his Brussels Conservatory
After Fétis died in 1871 he was succeeded as director of the Brussels Conservatory by François-Auguste Gevaert. Under his energetic leadership, the Conservatory grew to be one of the most important centres of musical learning in the world. He initiated fundamental reforms in teaching and organization and expanded the teaching staff to include outstanding musicians such as Paul Gilson.
In 1887, Gevaert, director of the Brussels Conservatory, called Henri Séha back to Brussels to become professor for trombone and to set up a new brass ensemble, the Fanfare Wagnérienne.
It was founded to train the brass students to master the new Wagner tubas and for a performance of Wagner’s Rheingold at the Brussels Conservatory in 1895.
The Fanfare Wagnérienne was the large brass ensemble made up of students at the Brussels Conservatory. It was directed by Henri Séha from 1894 to 1910 and the instrumentation varied depending on the number of students from 12 players (1897) to 23 players (1901).
A set of Wagner tubas, developed by Mahillon were bought by the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1893 for the Fanfare Wagnérienne. All are equipped with four valves which means, in the terminology of Mahillon, Périnet-valves. This is already strange, since Wagner tubas generally are equipped with rotary valves. Furthermore all these instruments are shaped in saxhorn form and are therefore not comparable to the Wagner tubas with a curved branch.
It is likely that Henri Séha is at the base of the Mahillon Wagner tubas in saxhorn shape.
Some of the instruments forming part of this original set are now in the Brussels Musical Instruments Museum.
The Fanfare Wagnérienne usually played twice a year : for the exams in June and during the price-giving ceremony in November. They never performed outside the Conservatory.
Paul Gilson was born in the centre of Brussels on the 15th of June 1865 but just a year after his birth, the family moved to Ruisbroek, a small village near Halle where they stayed until 1882.
Paul Gilson was still a teenager when he had the chance to discover band music in Ruisbroek. In Ruisbroek, he received his early music training: he had some lessons from Auguste Cantillon (theory, piano and harmony) and learned to play the trumpet. He had little interest in the instrumental education; the thing he wanted was to compose. His first works were written for the local church choir and the local fanfare band Sint-Cecilia. Among the first few remarkable original pieces that Paul Gilson composed were the overtures Eleusinies (1881-1882), Le Marchand de Venise - The Merchant of Venice (1884) and Ouverture du Pirate [undated], all overtures for fanfare band, Le Retour au Pays – The Return to the Fatherland a fantasy for wind band and the Quatuor sur des mélodies Alcaciennes (1885) an original work for brass quartet.
The Russians and Wagner : first successes
With the move to Brussels in 1882, he took further harmony studies and later took an intensive six months fugue and counterpoint course from Charles Duyck. Gilson’s musical desire was impossible to stop: he regularly attended the rehearsals of the fanfare band La Muse Musicale and he is a regular visitor to the operatic performances at The Monnaie - National Opera where he became impressed by the music of Wagner and made a first acquaintance with the music from the Russian School.
In 1885 he entered, for the first time, the Prix de Rome competition but he could not finish the final examination because of an illness. His cantata Au bois des Elfes caught the attention of the president of the jury and the director of the Brussels Conservatory, François-Auguste Gevaert. He offered Gilson a place in his composition class at the Conservatory. In 1889 Gilson entered, for a second time, the Prix de Rome competition and he won the first prize for his cantata Sinaï.
Countess of Mercy-Argenteau introduced Gilson to César Cui and this was the beginning of a long friendship an extensive correspondence at the end of which Cui became Gilson’s mentor and advisor. Gilson also met Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Skriabine and their publisher, Belaieff in Brussels.
With the scholarship linked to the Prix de Rome Gilson made a first study trip, in the summer of 1892, to Germany, were he attended performances of the Wagner operas in Bayreuth. One year later, from November 1893 until January 1894, he used his scholarship to live in Paris. In July 1895, he undertook a third and final study trip to Italy.
On March 20, 1892 he experienced a first major success with his symphonic sketches, La Mer, which was created during the Concerts Populaires. In the same year, the score was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig and performances followed in Germany, Britain, Poland and France.
In 1899 Gilson became the harmony teacher at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels and two years later, was appointed professor of harmony at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp.
The Fantaisie (dans la forme classique) is in one continuous movement and has clear contrasts of style and tempo and makes some remarkable use of thematical development. As in the style of the romantic fantasy it adopts the classical ABAB form and begins in a reflective mood with a broad first legato theme in G played by the cornets. The material is developed with some contrapuntual work on motifs from the first theme. This quickly evolves into a cheerful rhythmic dance that acts as a second theme in F. The material used in the dance is transformed several times in a similar contrapuntual way based on motifs from the two main themes. It all leads into virtuosic phrases for the full band before returning to the more tranquil music of the start (this time set as a baritone solo). After the dance is heard for the second time (this time also modulated to F) the music closes in grand style with a unison version of motifs from the dance theme interspersed by motifs from both main themes culminating in a Largo ending.
The Fackeltanz (or in French Marche aux flambeaux) was meant to be music for a torchlight procession, a survival from the medieval tournaments. These processions took place at some German courts on state occasions, such as the marriage of members of the royal family.
Fackelzug opens with a broad ‘pomposo’ theme for the entire band in B flat with the feeling of the medieval procession given by the unison setting and the characteristic steady hammering rhythm. After this introduction the theme is threatened throughout the band highlighting the different sections often in three part settings. The steady rhythm becomes more and more syncopated and varied. After a recapitulation of the tutti version of the first theme underpinned by some busy contrapunctual writing for the low brass the hammering rhythm in low brass and finally timpani concludes the first part. The contrasting second theme in E flat appears in the middle of the band: in this soft trio part the horns start this four part cantabile only interrupted by the steady hammering rhythm from the first theme in timpani and basses. In the following development section Gilson uses motifs from both the rhythmical and heavy first theme to contrast with the soft sounds of the second theme. Expressive themes in cornets contrast with a quasi-Wagnerian third theme, played marcato in the tutti trombones. After the recapitulation of the second theme the low brass play a unison minor version of the first theme accompanied by a new rhythmical motif in cornets and horns. The Wagnerian trombone theme is interrupted several times by a stringendo rhythm for the entire band. All comes to rest with some soft chords in the low brass underpinned again by some very syncopated rhythms, this time in the horns. Gradually the first theme rebuilds itself into the final repeat of the theme by the entire band in the same manner as this Fackelzug began. A diminuendo leads to a Piu largamente coda section in which again (this time in cornets and horns) there are most interesting rhythms. A tutti version of the first theme in elaboration is followed by glock effects throughout the band and the elaboration of the hammering rhythm concludes this Fackelzug in an imposant way comparable to the final variation from the Variations symphoniques.
Variations symphoniques is Gilson’s masterpiece in the form of absolute music. In this substantial work of almost 25 minutes he combines most original and inventive ideas with an extremely rich and personal set of tone colours. The original version of these variations, which Gilson created for the Fanfare Wagnérienne, shows a number of apparent differences with the later versions for mixed fanfare band, wind band and symphony orchestra. More than the other pieces by Gilson for the Fanfare Wagnérienne the Variations have been subjected to, in the various versions and editions,the alteration of the orchestration or even the omittion of entire variations because of the length. The piece has repeatedly suffered in shape and detail, and has always been abbreviated. From a musical point of view the original brass version is definitely the richest.
These variations are not based on the continuous repetition of the main theme: they are composed as picturesque ‘character pictures’ that arise from the initial idea. The Variations symphoniques thus are a series of moods and transformations of the theme exposed in the beginning by the solo cornet. These transformations are sometimes based on the rhythmical augmentation of the theme or the addition of new motifs: every single variation is a well finished gem on its own. The entire set of variations moves on the tonal circle of g/c, c minor, Eb major, Ab major, b minor, E major, e minor, A major and G major. The variations are disposed in a contrasting order with increasing technical difficulties
The variations are built on an original theme with a very simple character, almost naïve and played without any accompaniment by the solo cornet in G major.
The first variation is still very simple and litterally consist of a repeat of the main theme in the solo cornets, harmonised this time and played pianissimo and accompanied by a very simple design in the soft instruments: horns, baritones and euphoniums.
The second variation, Marziale, takes us to C major: this variation is a kind of mix between a military march diversified between loud and light and a processional march in a moderate tempo. The first note of the theme is always pleasantly accentuated which gives this variation its refined and humoristic character. The third variation is a slow and elegiac movement: the theme is developed in two or three different manners, all in the funeral scale of c minor. The horns and baritones sing the transformed theme as a cantilena full of melancholy. The theme is taken by the cornets who end the theme in long notes. Horns and trombones end this variation in severe arpeggios.
The conclusion is one of great sadness, the dull low notes in cornets and the severe arpeggios in horns and trombones give the booming distant sounds of the funeral clocks.
The fourth variation is an allegro Tedesco in the key of E major and in ternary rhythm. Fast but heavily it takes us to a more animated variation, the cheerfull character contrasts firmly with the previous variation. This variation is a heavy german waltz, frequently accentuated on the third beat.
It are the basses which form the severe canvas and provide the melody in the fifth variation in Ab major. A variation with somber twistings and almost menacing, with its oppressed leaps into more brighter keys and profound falls into obscure chromatism. This variations is extremely arduous and has no equivalent in the literature for band or brass ensemble.
Allegretto ritenuto. This variation is chromatically, polyphonic and its character is a good example of one aspect of Gilson’s inspiration.
Scherzo Russe – Prestissimo. This variation is a Cossack danse with a very particular and a bit slavonic cheerfulness. The composer, when writing this variation had certainly been inspired by the scenes of a popular celebration in Ukraïne, with its foolish dances and rapsodique singing and unusual rhythmical jerks. The theme appears alternating in three aspects (three sub-variations): a joyous fanfare : fast, hammered and in equal rhythms.
An intermezzo with a waving, lurching melody, in the style of Borodin.
Finally a slow and syncopated dance as a kind of humoresque, evocating the slackening marching from Moussorgsky’s Gopak.
The seventh variation is built in the somewhat veiled key of E major.
This variation is a nocturne with a romantique and dreamy personality that contrasts gloriously with the dynamism of the preceding variation.
In the eight and last variation in a minor, the theme reappears in the form of a lyrical and capricious cantilena that now and then resolves in undecided keys and takes us bit by bit to the key of D major. Has the composer tried in this variation to evocate the lyrical effusion of some great composers of the 19th century ? The start of this variation is in the style of the clarinet solo from Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon and in the style of Charles Gounod’s, Ne permettez-vous pas ma belle demoiselle, Marguerite’s air from the fifth act of his Faust. This all sets the proper atmosphere for the repeat of the initial theme, this time decorated with a romantique ‘grupetto’ and takes us to some lyrical outpouring typical for the ‘grand opéra’. This eight variation is a pastiche made with good taste and musical knowledge.
A greatly inspired finale concludes in a dignified manner this striking composition by Paul Gilson
This finale is built like the eight previous variations around the principal theme with some secondary motifs. It is a piece with grand manner, energetic and with some frentic passages : rising and descending swirling scale figures. This cascade of sound explodes in a quick polyphony, although always clear. The finale starts with a kind of march –again- but this time in unison with a brutal character, intermittent, syncopated with frequent changes and shifting in the accents. It is the first two notes of the main theme, later on the first three notes, and the fourth and the fifth notes that structure the two cells on which in this principal order, this peroration is built. The finale is interrupted for a moment for the exposition by the solo cornet of a new second theme, this very soft melody contrasts firmly by his singing character, gracious and cheerful with the sonorous bundle that precedes them.
A period of development follows, built on fragments from the two main motifs; sometimes in remarkable melodic burst, sometimes in hazarduous polyritmical invitations, finally burst into a fortissimo repeat of the second theme, in a great outburst in the low brass and agile counterpoint persevered in the cornets. Finally this second theme, repeated in tutti is followed by an extremely brilliant peroration where we can find the inaugural motif in augmentation.
Counterpoint with fast figures in cornets and euphonium lead to a stretto with some increasing sonorities and a firework of the short and ardent peroration of the first theme.
Gilson builds his Scherzo Fantastique as if it was the third movement of a greater symphony. The ‘allegretto’ introduction is build on a two bar theme presented by the cornets and answered by horns and baritones. This ‘energico’ theme contains the most important melodic material around which the entire works is build (the energetic intervals of a rising fifth followed by a descending fourth). The ‘energico’ theme alternates throughout the entire work with strong lyrical passages.
After the presentation of the theme in the trombones the theme appears again in the basses, first in its original form later in its augmented form and completely build on the the powerfull intervals of the fourth and the fifth. After a short animato section the bass theme leads to an ‘allegro assai’ movement conceived as a powerfull and rhythmic, symphonic waltz. The style of this symphonic waltz reminds of Gilsons two other symphonic waltzes for band.
The rhythmical drive of the waltz is only interrupted by several short quotes from the allegretto introduction (mostly only the strong intervals) in basses and trombones, which all leads to two lyrical intermezzos. The first intermezzo is a three-part setting for horns and trombones.
The second intermezzo is a dialogue between cornet and trombone (marked in the manuscript as ‘sans nuance – mezza voce’). After the recapitulation of the theme from the introduction the coda combines the idea of the symphonic waltz with this energico theme. In the waltz movement the theme appears in complex rhythm first in basses and latter in middle and upper instruments. The intervals of the rising fourth and the descending fifth concludes this powerfull and virtuoso scherzo.
The Rhapsody is built on two contrasting and alternating themes that Gilson later also would use again in his Second Rhapsody (1906) for wind band. The first theme is an elegant and lyrical (almost operatic) theme and contrasts firmly with the bold and virtuoso (and mainly rhythmical) second theme. Both themes alternate in always slightly modified and varied forms. The first theme is mostly treated in melodic variation, the second in rhythmic variation. The opening of the Fantazijstuck (Fantasy piece) is modelled on the beginning of Ludwig van Beethoven’s finale (Der Schwer Gefasste Entschluss) to his String Quartet opus 135 in F. Gilson based his fantazijstuck on the strong intervals that Beethoven preceded his finale with a three-note motif based on the words ‘Es muss sein!’. The fantasy is build is seven small episodes with a Polish dance serving as a kind of reoccurring refrain. The first part is a maestoso introduction were the rhythmic pattern is interrupted several times by the Beethoven-motif that appears in octaves in cornets and trombones, euphoniums and basses. A broad theme in the cornets displays Gilsons knowledge of orchestration. The moderato ‘alle polacca’ which serves in the overall structure of this movement as a refrain is a virtuoso Polish dance with virtuoso semi-quavers in the cornets. The first trio is a solemn hymn tune for the middle of the band that reminds us of Gilsons La Prière from Le Retour au Pays. The repeat of the ‘polacca’ refrain leads to a noteworthy piu mosso. This movement is a turbulent and fast moving toccata for the entire band, most of them playing muted. This technically virtuoso part that reminds of a the fast-moving French romantic organ toccatas can match with the most difficult of Gilson’s Symphonic Variations. In this tour-de force for the band Gilson make great use of all possible dynamic and rhythmical contrasts and shows himself as a master in orchestration. The reprise of the ‘polacca’ leads to a fortissimo repeat of the hymn tune, this time for the entire band with fast moving semi-quavers in cornets and baritones/euphoniums.
Gilson composed his Rhapsody in 1908-1909 for the Fanfare Wagnérienne and made a version for military band in 1909 which he dedicated to the Cercle Meyerbeer, a famous Brussels fanfare band on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. The Rhapsody is build on six contrasting themes (alternating between dramatic and playful) in four different tempos. This complex structure made that the Rhapsody was seen by some observers as a ‘strange work. The use of six contrasting themes reflects the mature personality of the composer, who wrote this rhapsody at the age of forty-four. At this stage in his career his ideas seem to have somewhat crystallized in this Rhapsody. The work is more cerebral and less romantic than its predecessors, but it contains many ingenious ideas and combinations of thematic ingenuity. It is masterfully orchestrated and is, as the Valse Symphonique Nr. 1 for wind band and the Symphonic Variations, technically very difficult.
Written by Luc Vertommen