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The Definitive Top Five Trumpet Concertos

Trumpeter Alison Balsom
Trumpeter Alison Balsom

"The most important and impactful piece written for the trumpet in the 200 or so years since Hummel’s Concerto emerged from the Austro-Hungarian empire." So said trumpeter Alison Balsom recently as she tackled a new concerto by legendary colleague Winton Marsalis.

This set us thinking. What are the greatest trumpet concertos ever written? Here is our definite list...

Joseph Haydn: Trumpet Concerto

Any list of great trumpet concertos has to begin with Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in Eb (1796), a work that is both musically brilliant and technically revolutionary.

During the Classical period (from roughly 1750), trumpets were relegated to a mostly supporting role in the orchestra, since they were played in their lowest register where a limited choice of notes rendered them incapable of producing melodies.

Haydn’s trumpet concerto was written for Anton Weidinger’s newly invented ‘keyed’ trumpet, which had holes bored into the instrument, rather like a flute or clarinet. This allowed the instrument to play a greater number of notes across the whole register.
An example of a keyed trumpet. [Photographed by Dominic Ibbotson. Licensed CC-BY 3.0.]

Haydn's concerto takes advantage of this from its first solo entry, where the instrument plays a melody consisting of a complete scale in the lowest octave, a feat that would have wowed audiences at its premiere. More than this wizardry, however, Haydn's concerto is a work of great musical brilliance, with a gorgeous liltingly lyrical central movement and two dazzling outer movements, the last of which is a great example of toe-tapping Haydn monothematicism (i.e. the insistent use of one theme!).

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Trumpet Concerto

Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto (1803) is the other towering work from the Classical period. It was also written for Anton Weidinger’s new instrument and premiered by him. It follows the fast-slow-fast pattern of a standard classical concerto. The opening movement is a great showpiece for early advanced players, giving the impression of great difficulty, but being surprisingly playable and with plenty of space for rests. The slow movement is wonderfully atmospheric, though more challenging in terms of stamina. The final movement is a exhilarating showpiece, requiring plenty of finger and tongue coordination:

Georg Philipp Telemann: Trumpet Concerto in D major

Telemann’s Trumpet Concerto in D Major (written some time between 1710-20) is his only piece in this genre and one of the greatest of the Baroque period.

The work is technically difficult due to its use of very high registers. In the Baroque period trumpets (often refer to as ‘natural trumpets’) had neither keys or valves, the player essentially playing a pipe with a mouthpiece. The only way to produce a melody on this instrument was to play in the very high ‘clarino’ register.

A example of a natural trumpet, with neither valves nor keys. [Source: Wikipedia]

The concerto does not follow the later classical three movement pattern, instead consisting of four movements, in a slow-fast-slow-fast plan. The lyrical opening movement is particularly lovely:

Oskar Böhme: Trumpet Concerto

A less celebrated composer, Oskar Böhme (1870-1938) is nevertheless well remembered for his superb Trumpet Concerto, written in 1899.

By the mid 19th century, with the invention of valves, trumpets became fully chromatic, making them as flexible as any other instrument. It is surprising, therefore, that the Romantic period has a relative dearth of solo works for the instrument. Oskar Böhme’s concerto, written fully in the romantic style, was therefore a notable and important addition to the repertoire.

It is written in the classical thee movement fast-slow-fast pattern, with a dark and dramatic F minor opening movement, a noble slow movement (marked ‘Andante religioso) and a playful scherzo in rondo form.

Alexander Arutunian: Trumpet Concerto

Armenian composer Alexander Arutunuian’s cracking addition to the repertoire was written in 1950. Its combination of attractive folksy melodies and showstopping flashiness made it an instant hit with trumpet players. It is unusual in form, being conceived as a long span with seven main sections, the whole work taking some sixteen minutes to perform.