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Mozart and trombones

Hi there: Is there a consensus regarding the use or non-use of trombones to double Mozart's A-T-B choral parts? What I have found so far seems pretty contradictory, and I get the sense that performers often enough just do whatever they want. (This obviously does not involve things where he explicitly includes them, like the Requiem.)
My thanks in advance for your views and experiences! Bill
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on June 2, 2014 8:39pm
Unless you have a fairly large choir, I would advise not using them. That being said, if you do use them, remember that instruments of Mozart's time would have had smaller bores, and less sound, than today's modern instruments. If you're fortunate enough to have an alto trombone available, great. Otherwise, consider rewriting the part for French horn or flügel horn (in F and Bb, respectively). For the tenor trombone, ask your player to use a small-bore instrument, if possible. Many players use these for jazz bands, especially first or second part, so you may find someone who owns both a small- and a larger-bore instrument. For the bass part, don't let the player use a bass trombone. All the parts I've seen can be played on a standard trombone, even without an F attachment, though the F attachment makes certain notes much easier. A full-fledged bass trombone, which has a larger bore, tends to have a dynamic range of "on" and "off," which is overbearing when they play. I hope this helps.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 3, 2014 7:01am
I've also been a band director, and trombonist for years, including jazz, and Russell is 100% correct.  I know you always see orchestras set up with their brass facing forward, sometimes even on risers, but I would suggest you have your brass face perpendicular to your choir so their bells aim 'offstage.'  Have them play seated, never standing.  If they stand facing the audience (especially trumpets) they will definitely overpower your choir.  The higher the pitch, the harder it is to play soft, especially with younger players, so don't hesitate to ask them to play 8va lower or rescore parts into a lower range.  (OK, band guys, I know you can play high and soft, but I did say 'younger players.')
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 3, 2014 7:23am
In addition you may investigate with the player different mouthpieces, or in some cases bells, that can shape the tone and volume of the horn.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 3, 2014 10:18am
Could any of you brass players advise me on a distantly related topic?  My background is in woodwinds.  When school resumes, I will have a small group of 10-12 year olds with no previous experience, learning to play standard alphorns--about 13' long, fundamental note F.  Is there a particular mouthpiece we should use to promote accurate, "blip" free production of the first 4 notes of the overtone series?  "Beginner-friendly" sound production is our priority, not specific tone quality, or facility in producing high notes.  Our goal is to play simple "calls" of a few notes, such as the alphorn was originally used for in the Alps.   Also, can you recommend a brass teaching method that might be relevant?  In brass instruction, are there standard exercises or practice melodies played on the first 4-5 tones of the overtone series, without using valves? 
Thanks,  Bart
on June 3, 2014 5:43pm
Modern trombones would be too overpowering, I would recommend using alto trombones and sackbutts if possible.  The smaller the bore the better.  If it were me, I would use an alto trombone on the alto part, a small bore trombone on the tenor and a large bore tenor on the bass.  Good luck.  Trombones are beautiful singing instruments.
on June 3, 2014 7:19pm
Dear Bill, et al.:
In short, it is your job as director to steer your performers in the correct direction. If you do not show a preference and/or an understanding, they will do whatever they want. If it matters to you, gently remind them that if they choose not to follow your preferences, there are other Trombonists out there that will.
In Mozart's time, these orchestras probably had three separate-sized horns -- an Eb Alto Trombone, a Bb Tenor Trombone and an F Bass Trombone. This three-some also shows up in Beethoven's music, and Mendelssohn's, to name but a few. The classical-era Trombone sound was much smaller -- "pinched" quality? -- than the sound of the modern Trombone. If your Trombonists play on student-model Bb Tenor Trombones with small mouthpieces (i.e., V.Bach 12C or 11C), that probably will suffice for all three parts. (Hopefully the only time in their playing lives that they will have been told to use LESS air!) 
Also beware that the first (Alto) Trombone part will be in the upper range of the instrument, requiring more advanced players, and the third (Bass) Trombone will be in the lower range.
A couple of other points:
(1) Depending upon the score and parts (older editions?), your players might also have to read Alto Clef and Tenor Clef -- "C" clef -- on the first and second Trombone parts;
(2) Even though it would seem to be an obvious solution, I would not use a Bb-with-F-Attachment Bass Trb. This instrument is a 20th Century development, attempting to combine the Bb and F Trombones onto a single instrument, and offers too good and too big a sound if you are trying to replicate a classical-era orchestra.
I once arrived at a Mozart Requiem rehearsal, and quickly realized, as was mentioned in a previous thread, that today's professional-quality brass instruments play way too big for the parts in classical-era music. Kind of like the difference between an 18th Century, classical-era forte-piano and a 20th/21st Century Steinway Pianoforte. (Good thing I brought both Trombones!) I spent a lot of the time ratcheting back my sound... lest I overblow everyone else!!
Ron Isaacson
Germantown MD
P.S. If you look it up in your favorite music history source, the F Bass Trombone is the one with the stick on the slide... because the human arm is not long enough to reach 7th position on an F Bass Trombone!! +RI
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