This concert, recorded at St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, represented the final event in a three-day Historic Brass Society Tour. The event was sponsored jointly by New York Council on the Arts and Edinburgh University in collaboration with St Cecilia’s Hall.
The programme, performed on historic nineteenth century brass instruments, included first performances of two recently discovered compositions by the composer Auguste Mimart, a contemporary of Liszt and Berlioz. The first of these, his Septet No. 2 in C Minor, features a gentle opening with the mellow tones of the flugel horn before progressing through a variety of moods – jaunty, stirring – and ending on a contemplative note, with the lower pitched instruments setting the tone.
There followed a set of four pieces by the French composer Jean-Francois Bellon (1795-1869). The set opened with a jaunty rendition of the first movement of his Quintet No. 1; this was followed by the slow movement of Quintet No. 4, featuring the cornet and soprano flugel horn, displaying some healthy competition; following this we were treated to the second movement of Quintet No. 8 in B flat with the surprising key signature of five-four, featuring the mellow tones of the horn (the melody later picked up by the soprano flugel horn); the set closed with movement 3 of Quintet No. 10 in E flat.
During the set of Bellon pieces we were given some information about one or two of the instruments: firstly, the cornet which was probably made in Paris between 1872 and 1876 and was discovered in a junk shop; the soprano flugel horn was slightly less elderly, having been made in 1921; and the horn, which could be adapted by removing the keys to play it as a natural horn, was made between 1885 and 1888. What I found amazing was the beautiful sound which could still be produced from these historic instruments – the tone of the cornet in particular was a joy.
We were then treated to yet another first performance, this time of Mimart’s Quintet No. 5 in F.
At this point, John Wallace shared that the title “Pond Life” was an affectionate term given by brass players to the string section of the orchestra (I have no doubt that other such descriptions exist for the brass section!) This reference was by way of introduction to the final piece in the programme, “Die Alte Gute Zeit”, written by Beethoven and commissioned by Scot George Thomson, an enthusiastic amateur musician and folksong collector – as a violinist he would indeed have been part of the Pond Life. The piece comprises arrangements of songs from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, beginning with “God Save the Queen” and concluding with “Auld Lang Syne”. Beethoven duly delivered, although having looked at extracts from letters between the two, I am not sure that Beethoven was entirely happy with the enterprise – but that’s a story for another day.
Despite being entirely unfamiliar with the pieces on this programme, I feel I have been taken on a journey which has piqued my interest in what is for me the unknown territory of historic brass music and instruments. Thanks to all those involved for the incredible work which has clearly been undertaken to produce this programme.
21st June 2021