The “other” Stevens Trumpet Sonata

Title

Sonata for Trumpet and Piano (2008)

By John Stevens

Biographical Info

John Stevens was born in Buffalo, New York (USA) in 1951. He holds degrees in Music Performance (tuba) from the Eastman School of Music (1973) and Yale University (1975). For many years John Stevens was a free-lance performer in New York City. From 1981 to 1985 he was on the faculty of the University of Miami (FL) School of Music. In 1985 he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. John Stevens has long been active as a composer and arranger, particularly for brass. Many of his compositions, especially those for tuba and tuba ensemble, have become standard repertoire for performers all over the world.

“This three-movement piece is intended to showcase the many virtuosic aspects of the instruments in a work of substantial proportions. The lyrical capabilities of the trumpet are paramount. As such, I strongly encourage trumpeters to perform the second movement on flugelhorn (I had that instrument in mind) which also provides color and texture contrast between the more flamboyant outer movements.”
John Stevens, Madison, WI USA

Premiere: March, 2008 by John Aley, trumpet, and Martha Fischer, piano, in recital at the 15th annual National Trumpet Competition at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA (USA).

Suggested Equipment

The piece is in three movements and the two outer movements are written for C trumpet. The slow middle movement is written for Flugel Horn preferably, or Bb trumpet. This is an interesting instrument request. I have seen many works for Bb trumpet and Flugel, but this is the first work for C trumpet and Flugel that I have come across. The piece was written for John’s UW-Madison colleague John Aley, and there was a phase that John Aley was playing primarily C trumpet and very little Bb. I suspect that this piece was being written during that time.

Practice/Performance Tips

The whole piece plays in about 20 minutes. This is quite a commitment and can be difficult to program on a solo recital. However, the 2nd movement is quite effective on its own and is only 7 minutes. The recorded excerpts below are from a recital I gave at UW-Platteville in 2012.

Movement 1

This movement calls for straight mute for a section.  It also has a couple of nice cadenza moments.  After a dark and ominous opening, it is very energetic with independent part writing for the trumpet and piano.  John utilizes material based on the diminished scale which maintains the seriousness of the opening and makes opportunity for the music to have symmetrical patterns.  (as opposed to diatonic patterns)  This poses an interesting challenge in that while the music isn’t completely tonal in the formal sense, these patterns create a cohesion in the music where the listener can still tell if you play a “wrong” note.

John Stevens and I have been friends for years and work together in the group Isthmus Brass.  When I first started working on his Sonata, I remember giving him a bit of a hard time about how the first movement uses the same intervalic structure as the jazz standard “Invitation”, by Bronislaw Kaper.  It blew my mind when he told me that “supposedly” he had never heard of the tune “Invitation”.  John has a great sense of humor and is a bit of a prankster so I’m not entirely sure if he was indeed putting me on…

Movement 2

This movement is such a pleasure to play.  Really.  It feels wonderful to get wrapped up in this beautiful melody and just float.  I found it interesting and gutsy from a compositional standpoint, how many concert A’s you play throughout the movement!  This is the long movement of the Sonata.  It’s about 7 minutes where the outer two are 5-6 minutes each.  Pace yourself!

Movement 3

While the first movement lived in the world of diminished, this movement favors the whole-tone scale.  It also sets up symetrical patterns like the first movement.  One of the big technical challenges with the first movement were large interval leaps within the melodies.  This movement poses more rhythmic challenges, both metrically and within the lines and an extended cadenza.

This is a great piece and well worth the time and effort it takes to work it up!

Suggested Recordings

John Aley “Autumn”

Jason Bergman “On the Horizon”

2 thoughts on “The “other” Stevens Trumpet Sonata

    1. David Cooper Post author

      Hi Chris,
      Very good point. I’m embarrassed for not doing so. The pianist on my recital recording was Vincent Fuh. He is based out of Madison. He does a lot of accompanying for UW and freelances with classical, Latin and jazz groups around the region.

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