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6 Of the best trombone pieces

BY Peter Moore

16th Aug 2022 Music

6 Of the best trombone pieces

Ahead of his Proms Solo debut, trombonist Peter Moore—previously the youngest to win BBC Young Musician of the Year—picks his favourite trombone pieces

Stjepan Sulek, "Sonata Vox Gabrieli”

Is it Rachmaninov? Maybe Tchaikovsky? No—it’s Sulek! Containing demanding, flowing, cascading lines on the piano, this is every bit a duet for trombone and keys.

The trombone calls down from heaven, acting as the voice of the archangel Gabriel.

"The trombone calls down from heaven, acting as the voice of the archangel Gabriel"

Sulek wrote eight symphonies and multiple piano works, but this is arguably the trombone piece for which he is best known.

Sulek really understood how to get the best out of the trombone; I only wish he could have written more for our noble instrument.

Ferdinand David, "Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra"

Ferdinand David was a virtuoso violinist, and in 1835 he joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra as concertmaster. The conductor at the time was none another than Felix Mendelssohn.

The story goes that Mendelssohn was asked to write a substantial trombone work but delegated it at the last minute to his good friend and colleague, David.

I have often wondered where the trombone might be as a solo instrument now, had Mendelssohn written the piece.

The piece is very approachable to all. It has a joyful and triumphant energy but there is also a more sensitive, vulnerable side to it, particularly in the middle movement.

It has gone on to become possibly the most requested trombone “audition piece” in the world today.

This has pros and cons. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard this piece in lessons and masterclasses and often find myself repeating the same advice: “Please phrase this as though you are a world-class violinist, not a good trombonist!”

Gordon Langford, "Rhapsody for Trombone and Brass Band"

When you hear it, you just can’t stop smiling! Composed in 1975 for the UK jazz legend Don Lusher, this is a universally loved work.

It requires great versatility in the player and the brass band accompaniment and I can’t think of anything I’ve played where I’ve had so much fun. It bustles with excitement and then cools down with nostalgia.

Whenever a brass band calls me up, this is still my first choice.

Nino Rota, "Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra"

Nino Rota was best known for his film-music and composed soundtracks for films like The Godfather, but he also wrote a very popular trombone concerto.

I can’t talk about trombone repertoire without acknowledging its huge role in film scores—John Williams and Hans Zimmer are just two composers who feature us heavily in their music.

"I can’t talk about trombone repertoire without acknowledging its huge role in film scores"

Rota’s concerto brims with energy throughout this charming work. The outer movements are upbeat and snappy, the middle movement expansive and emotional.

Ira Gershwin / arr. Wycliffe Gordon, "Embraceable You"

Whilst this much-adored song is not primarily a trombone work, I had to include this in the list. Wycliffe Gordon is one of the most powerful trombonists on the planet today but here he shows a calm, reflective side.

This song is made even more powerful by Wycliffe’s use of two different types of mute, which are used to alter the sound of the instrument.

The mute combination results in a muffled, smokey whisper which later grows into a more confident cry—it really does sound as though he is singing through his instrument.

Rachmaninov, "Cello Sonata in G minor, III. Andante"

I fell in love with this piece when I heard it on the album Concert of the Century, performed live from Carnegie Hall by two all-time greats, Rostropovich and Horowitz.

I felt compelled to explore this work on the trombone and recorded it for my debut album, Life Force, together with pianist James Baillieu.

"The trombone is one of the closest instruments to the human voice"

It has long been acknowledged that the trombone is one of the closest instruments to the human voice.

Although it has often been stereotyped as loud, drunk and comedic, I believe it is at its best when performing soulful, passionate and lyrical melodies. I hope you’ll agree with me.

Peter Moore makes his solo debut at the BBC Proms on Tuesday 16th August. He also features as a soloist at The Barbican, with the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Simon Rattle, on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th September

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