Aria con Variazioni
For Bb trumpet/cornet and piano
By G. F. Handel (trans. Bernard Fitzgerald)

Biographical Info

Aria con Variazioni began life as one of Handel’s many works for solo keyboard; specifically his 5th Harpsichord Suite.  Bernard Fitzgerald was a pioneer in transcribing music for brass instruments, primarily trumpet.  Our repertoire has increased tremendously thanks to his work.  This piece is no exception.  It appears on Wisconsin’s Solo Ensemble Class A solo list.

Suggested Equipment

The Aria was adapted by Fitzgerald for Bb trumpet or cornet.  Both of these work great for this selection.  The entire work is in concert F or our G major, with the highest note being our high B.  I’m sure this would also be fine on C trumpet.

There are no mutes called for.

Practice/Performance Tips

First off, this is titled Aria, which means song.  While Handel did not write this for a vocalist the intention is clearly lyrical.  Typical theme and variations tend to have a pretty intro and theme then get “notey” and technical for the variations.  This piece should always maintain a song-like quality and never sound technical.


The first thing you might notice is that there is one big three-measure slur and a bunch of slurs inside that the larger one.  The big “slur” is actually a phrase marking.  Think of the music like a paragraph and the large phrase marking is telling you where the periods are after the sentences.  Try NOT to breathe inside the phrase marking.  The next thing you might notice is that there are a lot of dynamic changes.  These swells and diminuendos are contrary to how a harpsichord would have played this music but those dynamic shifts make this sound much more vocal.  At the very least bring out the contrast in the many echo effects from f – p that occurs throughout the piece.


Var. I

OK, in my first pass through the opening of Var. I, I played how NOT to play; slightly emphasizing the articulated note of the slur.  This is a common occurrence and playing this way makes it difficult to create a flow or longer line.  It’s easy to “fall into” the slur.   Work to “play through” the slur.  For the tennis players out there it’s the difference between slapping at the ball and stroking through the ball.

Flowing through intervallic slurs is not one of the trumpet’s easier tasks.  We have to work at following through the bottom note of the slurred passage to make everything sound smooth and even.  This probably isn’t so hard on a harpsichord!

Var I

Var. II

Work for even articulation.  Don’t over emphasize downbeats or large intervallic leaps.  Try to catch the contrast in dynamics at 7.  The phrase from 7 to the fermata is pretty long.  It’s ideal to do it in one breath but if you need to breathe my clip example shows you an option that I like.

Var II

Var. III

Sing through this movement as much as you play it.  Accentuate the f – p echo effects.  In the 3rd and 4th measure after 9 I employ a very soft d-tongue; actually closer to an ‘L’ articulation.  So for example, the four sixteenths on beat 3 of 3 after 9, I say, “do-ee-lu-ee-oooo”.  The “L” articulation gives me the confidence of articulating on an ascending same-valve slur, while still maintaining a smooth slurred sound.  You can hear that I am articulating somewhat but I don’t think it’s too offensive.


Var. IV

My suggestions for the fourth variation are similar to those for Var. I; don’t emphasize the first note of the slur (like I do in the first part of the clip).  Try to make this as smooth and lilting as you can while still maintaining clarity and definition of the articulation.

Var IV

Var. V

This is a flashy sounding variation and a great way to end the work.  Don’t let the rhythm get away from you though.  Subdivide to the eighth note and keep a steady pulse throughout.  The echo effects are especially tricky at 14 because the passage descends so we normally decrescendo.  But that ruins the surprise of the terraced dynamic change.  Play the dynamics at 14 and 15 in blocks.  Imagine rectangles representing the dynamic enclosing the music of the dynamic.  Those rectangles change size for the different dynamic markings.  For example, it is very tempting to put hairpin dynamics <> on the two echoes immediately after 15 because of the shape of those 2-beat phrases.  (Which, by the way, isn’t necessarily all that bad from a lyrical standpoint.)  But to stay true to the terraced harpsichord-like dynamic treatment follow through those phrases with blocks of sound and you’ll get a more instant change of dynamic.

Var V

One editorial note: Piano score: Var. IV, 1 measure after 11; all the Cs in the trumpet part for that measure should be C#s.

Suggested Recordings

Contest Solos for Young Trumpeters – Phil Smith