February 26, 2012

Lower Partials

Last night I performed Handel's Te Deum with the Elmhurst Symphony and Apollo Chorus on a concert held at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel.

The church itself was beautiful. Not quite as colorful as Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine, or as gaudy as churches I'd seen in Europe, but ornate and lovely in a classic and understated sort of way. Rather than every square inch of available surface area being covered in murals, carvings, or mosaics, there was still a lot of bare gray stone to make the portions that were decorated stand out exquisitely.

I especially liked the finely gilt ceiling.

I had never heard of the Te Deum before this gig. Actually, Handel wrote two Te Deums. The one we played, subtitled the Dettingen, was commissioned by King George II to commemorate the British defeat of the French at the battle of Dettingen in 1743. Just like you'd expect from a triumphal victory celebration, the music is absolutely loaded with big bold trumpet fanfares, and I was surprised that this music hadn't yet come up in any of my previous trumpet studies.

As 3rd trumpet I spend the piece blaring away on big fat low notes in D Major...often doubling the timpani while the two higher trumpeters sing away on more melodic material. There's a practical reason the music is written this way, and (contrary to what you might think) it's not because Handel thought his 3rd trumpet player was not as talented as the other two. Back in Handel's day valves had not yet been invented and trumpeters were confined to play only notes in the natural harmonic series...
This meant that to get anything even approaching a melody you have to get up into a register where the partials were really close together...i.e...play really high! Handel's 3rd trumpet part is comprised of only 5 lowish notes in D Major, but it provides the harmonic and rhythmic foundation for the more florid doodlings taking place above. While 5 notes over and over might sound boring, it's actually pretty exhilarating...especially when the other two have long notes and I get to boom away with the timpani on awesome little rhythmic fanfares!

I took this shot while the orchestra and chorus were rehearsing the other piece on the program: Mozart's Requiem. Man, this church is HUGE! And amazingly the place was completely packed for the performance.

One unexpected, but pleasant, surprise was that the 2nd trumpet player on the gig was Brian Reichenbach, a guy I'd met during my summer at the Aspen Music Festival WAY BACK in 1999...that's nearly 13 years ago...sheesh!


  1. Wow, great photos! I'm sure the concert was thrilling! Thanks for the explanation of the music. It makes me respect the evolution of the instrument. I know that these things are lost on most all listeners and concert goers.

  2. That church is gorgeous! Love the pictures Kelly.