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Recital Repertoire of the Trombone as Shown by Programs Published by the International Trombone Association

David Guion  -
Center for Independent Learning, College of DuPage
This article is in 11 parts:

Since its inception, the International Trombone Association has published recital programs in its journal and/or newsletter. The end of 1997 marked the end of its twenty-fifth volume. While the recital programs may not be as readable as the news, articles, or reviews, a quarter-century of programs constitutes a very important body of historical documentation. It is by examining programs that we find out what, in fact, our recital repertoire is. The present study is modeled after one by Bob Reifsnyder, who wrote:

Why do we print programs in the ITA Journal? Well, there is a certain amount of vanity involved in seeing one's program in print, perhaps a more than casual interest in what colleagues and their students are up to, and a certain amount of nostalgia involved in leafing through old issues to see a program someone gave before they became famous! The primary reason they are printed, however, is to serve as a guide for one's own programming and teaching.(Reifsnyder, p. 25)

Reifsnyder's article examined programs from the September 1977 issue (Volume 5, number 1 of the newsletter) through some time in 1982. Instead of limiting myself to the most recent programs, however, I have examined every recital program printed in the journal/newsletter from the very earliest through 1997. I have divided this material into five groups of five years each, thus making it possible to trace how the repertoire has developed and changed over the past quarter century.

This study is descriptive in both of its manifestations, not prescriptive. There is no reason why a person should play one piece because everyone else is, or should not play another piece because other trombonists do not play it often. It will be apparent that there are some pieces that were performed frequently in the past, but are now in the process of disappearing from the repertoire. This gradual disappearance might indicate that trombonists as a group are losing interest in certain works, or that some works are out of print and unavailable.

Although the organization is called the International Trombone Association, the overwhelming majority of the recitals were given in the United States and Canada. I suspect that the dozen or so most frequently performed pieces in this survey would appear near the top of the repertoire anywhere else in the world. Otherwise, it would be necessary to examine a similarly large sample of programs from outside North America to discover a truly international repertoire. For whatever it is worth, there are some particularly prolific performers who, not surprisingly, play some of the same pieces a lot. I notice that all five performances of Uber's Danza Espagnol on Table 6 were by the same person.

Table 1: Overview

Table 1 gives an overview of the project, with three separate "snapshots" of the repertoire. The first counts every performance of every piece on every recital. (All 214 performances of the Hindemith Sonata, for example.) The second considers each piece individually. (The Hindemith counts once, along with each of the other pieces.) The third is limited to those that were played at least five times in any five year period or fifteen times over the entire quarter century, the same pieces that appear on Tables 2-7.

Because of the different total number of pieces in each five-year period, simple enumeration by itself does not provide an accurate picture. Therefore, I have provided percentages as well, rounded to the nearest whole number. These percentages need to be approached with some care. They do not reflect changes in membership or the mix of programs that have been published over the years. For example, the earliest volumes include proportionately far fewer undergraduate programs than more recent volumes. The percentages, therefore, are offered simply as a helpful adjunct to the raw numbers, with no claim that they represent a statistical analysis.


The categories need some explanation. The "ensemble" category is almost synonymous with chamber music, but it also includes occasional trombone choir pieces that appear on a few programs. It does not include the jazz pieces. There are a number of pieces that exist as both solos and ensembles. The McCarty Sonata, for example, is for either bass trombone and piano or bass trombone and string quartet. In Tomasi's Etre ou ne pas etre, the bass trombone solo can be accompanied either by piano or three tenor trombones. The programs as printed in the journal or newsletter rarely specify the instrumentation used. Unless the program says otherwise, I have counted each of these pieces as trombone and piano or organ, not as ensembles.

Most pieces designated "electronic" are for otherwise unaccompanied trombone and tape, but several are for trombone, piano, and tape, or for an ensemble and tape. Some pieces use some other electronic sound manipulation besides tape. All of the pieces in the electronic category are also included in the avant garde category. By avant garde, I mean any piece that includes any one or combination of electronics, multiphonics or other "extended techniques," quartertones or other non-standard tuning, or unconventional notation.

The "undetermined" category includes everything that I could not identify. Having internet access to the catalogs of major libraries, as well as a library cataloging utility, I have reduced this category to a bare minimum, but it still makes up a much larger portion of the total repertoire than I had hoped. A lot of unpublished music is being heard on trombone recitals. There are also a number of transcriptions that were not listed in the programs with sufficient precision to identify whether they were solos or ensembles. I did succeed in identifying everything that was performed as many as five times in a twenty-five year period.


In all three "snapshots", the decreasing significance of avant garde music is striking. While Berio's Sequenza V has clearly maintained its place in the repertoire and Rabe's Basta may even be growing in popularity, other avant garde pieces are disappearing. For years composers insisted on writing music that most musicians did not want to play and that most of the public did not want to hear. Especially regarding electronics, we were told that it was the wave of the future and that we had better get used to it. Now, it appears, the vaunted wave of the future has become a thing of the past.

In recent years, numerous composers are writing music that appeals to a broader public. Some of them, at least, are using electronics creatively. They are not turning out tape pieces that consist only of tuneless beeps and squawks or pieces whose entire effect comes from making the trombone imitate electronically generated sounds.

I am less happy about the apparent decline of early music (which I define as original and transcribed music written before 1750). Several of the original pieces that used to be heard with some frequency are now out of print. That does not explain the lamentable decrease in the number of performances of Schutz’s Fili mi Absalon, one of the few acknowledged masterpieces of our repertoire.

There have been more transcriptions published in the last twenty five years than new editions of original early music. Too many early music transcriptions are very dull music by essentially forgotten composers. The Bach cello suites, on the other hand, are great music that is idiomatically unsuitable for the trombone. We have an adequate supply of our own early music, although most of it is ensemble music and therefore logistically more difficult than solo transcriptions.

Instead of merely counting transcriptions, I have differentiated between whether music was originally vocal or instrumental. Historically, the trombone has performed music originally intended for voices even longer than it has performed original trombone music. The practice of performing music on trombone that was originally intended for another instrument appears to be a twentieth-century development. I was interested in seeing just what transcribed literature trombonists perform. It appears that we perform almost as many originally vocal pieces as originally instrumental pieces, but we are playing the instrumental pieces more frequently.

Reifsnyder's observation that original literature was driving out performances of transcriptions has not held true. If anything, the proportion of transcribed literature has increased slightly. But at least most of what Reifsnyder refers to as the "traditional transcribed repertoire normally associated with the trombone (Bach, Galliard, Marcello, Vivaldi, Telemann, Handel, etc.)" does not appear among the most frequently played pieces.

Tables 2-6: Five Year Divisions
Table 7: Works Performed 15 Times or More

Tables 2-6 show the repertoire in five-year units. Each table shows the repertoire in rank order, including every piece (both solo and ensemble) that was performed at least five times during that period. In designating keys, I have used capital letters for major keys and lower case letters for minor keys. Table 7 shows every piece that was performed at least fifteen times over the entire span of this study. There are therefore a few pieces that appear on Table 7 that are not represented in any of the Tables 2-6.

The totals on these tables are subdivided to show professional (mostly faculty), doctoral, masters, and undergraduate recitals. Recitals not clearly identified were counted as undergraduate recitals; graduate recitals not explicitly identified as doctoral level were counted as masters recitals. Again, the tables should be regarded as descriptive, not prescriptive. There are no frequently played pieces that are so advanced that undergraduates do not attempt to play them. Nor do there appear to be any strictly student works that are essentially "outgrown" and avoided by professionals.

In cases where someone played less than an entire multi-movement work, I generally counted it as a performance of the entire work rather than trying to keep track of how many times someone played only the fourth of Brahms's Four Serious Songs, for example, or fewer than all six of Vaughan Williams's Six Studies in English Folksong. In the case of something like a Bach sarabande, however, this policy proved impossible to follow.

Reifsnyder presented the most frequently performed tenor trombone and bass trombone repertoire in separate tables. For some reason, all performances of DeFaye's Deux Danses appear in the bass trombone table, even though the piece was originally written for tenor trombone and certainly more frequently perfomed on tenor than on bass.

I have not made separate bass trombone tables. I have, however, used the letter B to designate bass trombone solo pieces. There are many pieces, of course, playable on both bass and tenor trombones. Except for the DeFaye, which exists in a special bass trombone arrangement, I have not attempted to determine how many times these pieces have been played on which instrument.

Two pieces, Baudo's Petite Suite and Blazhevich's Concert Sketch no. 5, performed five times each in Reifsnyder's study, do not appear in mine. That is because he used a somewhat different five-year period. These pieces, which were once important parts of the repertoire, were performed fewer than fifteen times in the last twenty-five years, and so do not appear on Table 7, either.

Jazz Works on Recitals

Table 1 shows the growing importance of jazz works on trombone recitals, but only one piece, Monk's Round Midnight, was played often enough to merit listing in the other tables. Several recitals (at all four levels) were devoted entirely to jazz. Others, which I did not attempt to count, included jazz selections, usually in the last half of a mixed program. Sometimes the program identified them; sometimes it simply indicated "jazz selections", often not even telling how many. Part of the reason why only one jazz piece was performed often enough to be included in any of the tables is the sheer mass of available repertoire. But although jazz is now presented on academic recitals much more often than it used to be, it still appears on only a minority of programs submitted to the ITA for publication.

Tables 8a & 8b:
All Pieces in Alphabetical Order

Table 8a and Table 8b lists every piece that appears on Tables 2-7 in alphabetical order. It also includes pieces like the Marcello and Vivaldi that are known by generic names and so often unspecified. The table therefore enumerates under Vivaldi's sonatas, for example, all of the instances of each sonata that was played at all, as well as the unspecified performances. It shows the number of times each piece was played during each five-year period, as well as the overall total. Naturally, if a piece was only published in 1980, it appeared zero times in volumes 1-5, but some pieces that were available in or before 1970 for some reason were not played very much until later.

Tables 8a and 8b complement Table 1 in showing trends in the repertoire over the last quarter century. Where Table 1 shows broad categories, Tables 8a and 8b traces the performance history of individual pieces. The diminishing role of the tape piece shows up dramatically in the diminishing number of performances of Brown's Impromptu, Druckman's Animus I, and Ross's Prelude, Fugue, and Big Apple, the only ones that were performed often enough to be listed in Table 7.


Where Reifsnyder marveled at the popularity of Ross's Prelude, Fugue, and Big Apple and lamented the fading popularity of Stojowski's Fantasie, I marvel at the surging popularity of older and more conservative music. This appears not only in Tables 8a and 8b, but also in examining the very top of the repertoire in Tables 2-7. While the Hindemith Sonata for trombone is the most often performed piece overall, it has not taken first place in the three most recent five-year periods.

Over the past ten years, the most often performed piece has been the Sulek Sonata vox Gabrieli, a more recent but much more romantically-styled piece. It has only been since the appearance of the Hindemith Sonata and Martin Ballade in the early 1940s that the trombone has had a "modernist" repertoire. With pieces like Berio's Sequenza V, the trombone acquired a large avant garde repertoire as well.

Certainly the Hindemith is not being performed any less frequently than it used to be. A look at other pieces representing a similar "modernism" shows that, on the whole, they are not losing favor, either. In fact, the Martin Ballade appears much more often on later programs than it did on earlier ones. And yet, the real growth in numbers of performances seems to belong to the older repertoire.

The Stojowski is again performed frequently, as are Gaubert's Morceau Symphonique, Jongen's Aria and Polonaise, Grøndahl's Concerto, which passed the Hindemith for second place in Table 6, and most dramatically, Weber's Romance, which appeared only once in the first five years, but ranks among the top twenty pieces overall. (The Weber, by the way, was almost surely originally written for bassoon. It has become, therefore, the most frequently performed transcription.)

Table 8a and Table 8b also show a dramatic increase in the frequency of Guilmant's Morceau Symphonique. Surely this piece was actually performed more than once during the first five years. There may not have been enough programs printed in the first five years of the journal to make a really good sample. This is a piece most often performed by undergraduates, and there were only 64 undergraduate recitals submitted to the journal during that time. It is helpful, therefore, to compare Table 2 with a study by Merrill Brown. (Brown, p. 22) Brown compiled his statistics by requesting programs from members of the National Association of Schools of Music for the academic year 1971-72. His study includes only student performances and only solo literature. The fifteen most frequently performed pieces in his study are, in order:

  1. Hindemith/Sonata (41 performances)
  2. Guilmant/Morceau symphonique (34)
  3. Barat/Andante et allegro (26)
  4. Jacob/Concerto (22)
  5. Sanders/Sonata (21)
  6. McKay/Sonata (20)
  7. Rimsky-Korsakov/Concerto (19)
  8. Davison/Sonata (18)
  9. Serocki/Sonatine (17)
  10. Galliard/Sonata no. 1 in a (16)
  11. Blazhevich/Concert sketch no. 5 (14)
  12. Bozza/Ballade (14)
  13. Bernstein/Elegy for Mippy II (13)
  14. McCarty/Sonata (13)
  15. Telemann/Sonata in f (13)

It is not clear how many programs Brown's study represents, but it includes 994 student performances of 292 different pieces over a one-year period, as opposed to Table 2's 1024 student and professional performances of 536 pieces over a five-year period. The fact that two early-music transcriptions appeared on Brown's list and not on my Table 2 can be attributed, like the low representation of the Guilmant, to the fact that not enough undergraduate recitals were submitted to the journal and newsletter in the early years.

What Does the Future Hold?

There are a number of pieces that appear for the first time in the issues covered by Table 6. It looks like Ewazen's Sonata has already become quite popular.

There are at least two pieces to watch that are not reflected on any of the tables. Zwillich's Concerto for Tenor Trombone has appeared on five programs, once in volumes 16-20 and four times in volumes 21-25. The orchestral parts are reduced for two pianos, not just the usual one. The additional performer adds ensemble and scheduling difficulties above and beyond the normal concerto. It would take a very good piece to be worth the effort. The initial verdict will come in the next five years.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Rouse Concerto has only recently become available. It made its first appearance in the very last issue of volume 25. (Massinon, pp. 26-31) It will be interesting to see how well it will be accepted, along with recent concertos by such world-famous composers as Chavéz and Françaix.

About the Author...
David M. Guion is author of The Trombone: Its History and Music, 1697-1811 (New York and London, 1988) and numerous articles on a variety of musical subjects in various journals, including American Music, Brass Bulletin, College Music Symposium, Historic Brass Society Journal, ITA Journal, Online Trombone Journal, and Performance Practice Review. His performance background includes five years as principal trombonist with the Prairie Brass Band of Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is currently the music cataloger on the library faculty at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.