The Burden of Destiny
For Bb or C trumpet and piano
By James Stephenson

Biographical Info

Burden of Destiny was written for Chris Martin, the principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony.  James Stephenson relocated to Chicago about the same time as Chris’ appointment and wanted to write a relatively serious piece that would represent the new Chicago ties both of them now have.  Much inspiration was drawn from Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Chicago”, in particular the line: “Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs.”  The composer seeks to convey the idea of being burdened by something unknown, such as destiny, or the imposing importance of holding the chair of perhaps one of the highest musical posts in the world.  The piece immediately takes on a serious nature, starting almost hauntingly slowly and simply, not yet daring to take on the impending difficulty which is sure to come at any time.  The challenges do in fact arrive, and it is during these moments that the composer strove to portray some of Chicago’s known qualities, the working man’s city, “strong and cunning”, a “tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities.”

This was premiered at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Harrisburg, PA, 2009, by Chris Martin and Rebecca Wilt.

Suggested Equipment

The Burden of Destiny is published with a Bb and C trumpet part.  I prefer to use C trumpet.  I justify this preference by the number of “orchestral” moments that would normally be performed on a C.  This is also a demanding work as far as endurance and the final section is particularly demanding on a Bb trumpet.  Plus, from a personal standpoint, I know that this piece was written with an orchestral trumpet player in mind and I was witness to the premier which was played on C trumpet.

There are no mutes called for.

Practice/Performance Tips

This work tells a story and it’s a great story.  Get to know the different sections like chapters and embrace the drama.  Audiences respond very well to this piece.  Enjoy!

The clips I’m including are from a recital I gave in 2009.  I had to divide the clip into three sections for upload purposes.

Opening: pay attention to the piano chorale melody because you will have it later.  Approach your first entrances accompanimentally then emerge into prominence m.13 then fade away again in m.17.  Rehearsal D begins this rather quirky, bustling city-scene music.  Your attention should be on rhythm here and trying to create an energetic intensity.  I changed the articulation in m.46 to slur every two notes rather than the written 6- and 8-note slurs.  It kept me in rhythm better and I think added to the rhythmic intensity a little.  The city-scene music comes back again at F but in the piano and we are the accompaniment until G when we get to play the opening chorale melody.  Play this as stately and longingly as possible.  It’s glorious stuff, make every quarter last as long as you can.

Burden 1

Middle Scherzando: the piano sets up this section with a lively tarantella.  Again, when you enter at 123 try not to take over.  You’re not important till 131 at which point cut loose with as much excitement as you can while maintaining accuracy.  M is a great opportunity for lyricism.  The trumpet is flowing while the piano contrasts with rhythmically sporadic figures.  Stand your ground through this section and sing.  The roles reverse at N.  The piano has the soaring lyrical line in forte while you are all over the place playing staccato and generally piano with occasional dynamic fits and swells.  Be careful to stay light and nimble and generally under the piano till 176.  The trumpet gets the tarantella theme at O.  The triplet passage at P was the one section of this work that I preferred playing my Bb.  While this section was easier for me on Bb it wasn’t enough of an issue to consider changing horns or playing the whole piece on Bb.  R was tricky for me to get together with the piano.  Listen to the staccato downbeats in the right hand to guide you through this section.

Burden 2

Final Section S to the End: The trumpet gets to play the opening chorale motive again.  I think the ‘g’ in m.256-57 is the most fun single note to play in all trumpet literature!  It is such an expressive moment in this work.  Enjoy it!  T becomes powerful and orchestral.  Play with command and don’t let your sixteenths be influenced by the piano’s triplets.  V was also a tricky ensemble section until I started thinking it in four rather than the composer’s cut time.  I didn’t change the tempo just the pulse in my mind.  In m.293 the opening call comes back but this time with anxiousness and power.  If I had to name one arrival point or climax for the whole work, I would probably say 301 is it.  (Something about it reminds me of a certain solo in Mahler #5… James is a bit of a “punster”, I wonder if there is an inside joke with Chris going on here…) Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  Y is tough; individually from an endurance standpoint and ensemble with the piano.  You and the piano play every single eight-note from Y to Z but never at the same time!  Work that section over and over, slowly (and for “___” sake, down an octave!) until the two of you are comfortable with the others’ part.  It’s one of those places in music that is not hard by itself.  Don’t take it for granted.

Burden 3

One editorial note: My C trumpet part was different than the piano score from 334-337.  It has the trumpet sustaining a high Bb where the piano version had rests.  I went with the piano score.  Not because that version had rests which were becoming a premium at the end of this 13-minute epic portrait of one of the greatest –and strongest- trumpet players of our time or that after 28 high Bbs in a row they were beginning to feel like anvil blows to my temples.  No, I went with the piano version because I think deep down that’s what Jim Stephenson wanted.  (At least I hope so!)

Suggested Recordings

As of this post I know of no commercial recordings of this piece.  I am confident though that this will become one of our repertoire’s staples, like the Honneger Intrada or Enesco Legend.

You can buy the Burden of Destiny here.