Euphonium repertoire

Euphonium repertoire

The euphonium repertoire consists of solo literature and orchestral or, more commonly, band parts written for the euphonium. Since its invention in 1843, the euphonium has always had an important role in ensembles, but solo literature was slow to appear, consisting of only a handful of lighter solos until the 1960s. Since then, however, the breadth and depth of the solo euphonium repertoire has increased dramatically.

Ensemble repertoire

In bands


Upon its invention by Ferdinand Sommer of Weimar, it was clear that the euphonium had, compared to its predecessors the serpent and ophicleide, a wide range and had a consistently rich, pleasing sound throughout that range. It was flexible both in tone quality and intonation and could blend well with a variety of ensembles, earning it immediate popularity with composers and conductors as the principal tenor-voiced solo instrument in brass band settings, especially in .

When American composers also started writing for the concert band as its own artistic medium in the 1930s and '40s, they continued the British tradition of using the euphonium as one of the principal solo voice. Arnold Schoenberg's "Theme and Variations" and Samuel Barber's "Commando March", both from 1943, have extremely prominent, lyrical solos for euphonium; Robert Russell Bennett's "Suite of Old American Dances" (1949) has brief solos and very active technical writing, and "When Jesus Wept," the second movement of William Schuman's "New England Triptych" (1956) is largely a euphonium solo and lyrical duet for euphonium and cornet (arranged by the composer from the orchestral original which features bassoon and oboe). All of these pieces are still in the core repertoire of the concert band today, and these solos comprise the core body of euphonium excerpts.


This is not to say that composers, then and now, valued the euphonium only for its lyrical capabilities. Indeed, examination of a large body of concert band literature reveals that the euphonium functions as a jack of all trades, at times doubling the tuba in octaves, at times adding warmth to the trombone section, at times adding depth to a horn line, and at times adding strength to rapid woodwind lines. In general, idiomatic euphonium parts tend to be very active, resting little and covering a wide range.

In many ways, the role of the euphonium in concert band writing has not changed very much in the last several decades; as a solo instrument, it is still as popular with composers as ever, and it still continues in its versatile, jack-of-all-trades role. The influence of the brass band tradition in euphonium writing in is evident in the many euphonium solos in both brass band and concert band pieces by British composer Philip Sparke; among contemporary American band composers, Robert W. Smith, David Maslanka, David Gillingham and James Curnow especially seem to enjoy using the euphonium as a solo instrument.

In orchestras

Although the deficiencies of the ophicleide gave rise to both the euphonium and the tuba in the mid-nineteenth century, the tuba has long since been accepted as an orchestral instrument, while the euphonium never has been. Though the euphonium was embraced from its earliest days by composers and arrangers in band settings, orchestral composers have generally not taken advantage of its capabilities. Nevertheless, there are several orchestral works, a few of which are in the standard repertoire, in which composers have called for a tenor tuba, a German "Tenorhorn"¹, a Wagner tuba, or a French tuba in C. In all of these cases, the composer's desired effect was that of "tenor-voiced, valved brass" instrument – and in many of these cases the euphonium is substituted for the called-for instrument, either because the instrument is obsolete (French C tuba), is unavailable (tenor tuba), or may be undesirable (Wagner tuba).cite web|url=|title=The Orchestral Euphonium and its Repertoire: A Fashionably Late Arrival|accessdate=2007-06-15]

Chief among these examples are the tone poems "Don Quixote" (1897) and "Ein Heldenleben" (1898) by Richard Strauss, which were originally scored for Wagner tuba, but after their performance on Wagner tuba proved unsatisfactory, were rescored for euphonium with Strauss's approval. In the first movement of his "Seventh Symphony" (1906), Gustav Mahler wrote an extremely prominent solo for "Tenorhorn"¹. Gustav Holst used a tenor tuba in three movements ("Mars", "Jupiter", and "Uranus") of his suite "The Planets" (1914-16), and finally, the famous Ravel orchestration (1922) of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" uses a French C tuba, having six valves and pitched a whole-tone higher than the modern euphonium, as a soloist in the "Bydlo" movement. Today, all of these parts are customarily played on euphonium, and in each of these cases, the instrument called for is used in a highly soloistic role, and is rarely written to function as part of the brass section.

In addition, a number of British composers in the pre-World War II era, including Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax, wrote orchestral pieces with two tuba parts, understanding that the first part would be played on euphonium. Finally, there are several orchestral pieces – though none in the standard repertoire – in which the composer specifically calls for a euphonium. Among them are Dmitri Shostakovich's score to the ballet "The Age of Gold", Leonard Bernstein's "Divertimento for Orchestra", and several symphonies by the British composer Havergal Brian, the American Roy Harris, and the still-living Finnish composer Kalevi Aho. [cite web|url=|title=Orchestral Literature|accessdate=2007-06-15]

¹This is not same as the English "tenor horn," but rather closer to the baritone horn. [cite web|url=|title=Baritonhorn|accessdate=June 15, 2007.]

Solo repertoire

In contrast to the long-standing practice of extensive euphonium use in wind bands and orchestras, until approximately forty years ago there was literally no body of solo literature written specifically for the euphonium, and euphoniumists were forced to borrow the literature of other instruments. Fortunately, given the instrument's multifaceted capabilities discussed above, solos for many different instruments are easily adaptable to performance on the euphonium.


The most common sources of transcriptions for euphonium are the cornet, vocal, cello, bassoon and trombone repertoires. In each case, one can see the common threads of ease of reading and performance: cello and bassoon both customarily read in bass clef, making them easily adaptable; vocal solos are naturally suited to the singing quality of the euphonium; and in playing cornet solos the euphoniumist may use the same fingerings that a cornettist would.


Probably the earliest solos played on euphonium were cornet transcriptions, especially variations on popular airs, such as those found at the back of Jean-Baptiste Arban's "Complete Method for Cornet". A little later, in the early twentieth century, the American cornettist Herbert L. Clarke wrote a body of virtuosic solos, including "Carnival of Venice", "Bride of the Waves", and "From the Shores of the Mighty Pacific", that were and still are often performed on euphonium. In such cases, no adaptation or arrangement is necessary; a euphoniumist reads the original notation in B-flat treble clef, transposing down a major ninth, and performs the piece exactly as written, merely sounding an octave below the cornet.


The large body of operatic arias, especially those for tenor or baritone, also provides an ideal source of literature for euphoniumists. Puccini's "Vissi d'Arte" and "Nessun Dorma" are often performed on euphonium, and Germanic art songs, such as Schumann's "Dichterliebe" or Brahms's "Vier Ernste Gesänge", are also popular transcriptions, as is Rachmaninoff’s "Vocalise Op. 34 no. 14". In performing vocal transcriptions, some adaptation may be necessary, either because the tessitura is uncomfortably high or because the original key may present fingering or intonation problems.

Despite the prevalence of vocal transcriptions for euphonium, there remains much vocal work that is rarely, if ever, performed on euphonium, including Spanish, French, and German opera arias. The possibility of performing choral music in a euphonium ensemble is also intriguing, but not often seen.

thumb|left|200px|The_first_movement_of_the_first_Bach cello suite in G major; the six Bach cello suites are often performed on euphonium.

Cello and bassoon

Another source of transcribed literature lies in the cello repertoire. Johann Sebastian Bach's six cello suites are a cornerstone of the euphonium’s advanced repertoire and have been for some time; Leonard Falcone recorded two of the bourrees several decades ago in the first volume of his "Leonard Falcone and his Baritone" series. [cite web|url=|title=Search for Euphonium Recordings|accessdate=2007-06-15] Two other cello pieces that are commonly played on euphonium are Benedetto Marcello's "Sonata in F Major", from the Baroque era, and Julius Klengel's "Concertino in C Major" from the Romantic era. Of course, some adaptation is necessary when performing cello pieces, especially in the case of multiple stops and arpeggiated chords, as well as when considering the ease of technique in certain keys for cello as opposed to euphonium. A few bassoon pieces are regularly performed on euphonium as well, including Mozart's "Concerto in B-flat Major K. 191" and Georg Philipp Telemann's "Sonata in F Minor".


Recently, there have been attempts at playing more exotic pieces that are much more difficult to adapt for euphonium, as seen in Japanese euphoniumist Shoichiro Hokazono’s recording of Astor Piazzola's "Six Tango Etudes", originally written for flute, and which, even transposed down a major ninth, pose severe range and technical difficulties for euphonium.

Original Literature

French Conservatoire

One area of literature in which transcriptions and original literature coincide is what could be called the "French Conservatoire" style of writing,¹ dating roughly from the first half of the twentieth century and best exemplified by the composer Joseph Eduard Barat (1882-1963). Some of the pieces in this school were written specifically for trombone, such as Barat's "Andante and Allegro" (1935) and Alexandre Guilmant's "Morceau Symphonique" (c. 1937), some for trombone or euphonium, such as Paul Veronge de la Nux's "Concert Piece" (1900), some for euphonium or tuba, such as Barat's "Introduction and Dance", and at least one specifically for euphonium, Barat's "Morceau de Concours" (1957).

¹So called because many of the pieces in this style were either written for professors at the French Conservatoire National de Musique, or were written as contest or instructional pieces to be used for students at the Conservatoire.

Early 20th century virtuoso

The earliest surviving solo composition written specifically for euphonium or one of its saxhorn cousins is the "Concerto per Flicorno Basso" (1872) by Amilcare Ponchielli. Quite demanding technically, the piece mixes the styles of the Italian opera overture and of the quintessential nineteenth-century theme and variations. Following this, for several decades the only literature written specifically for euphonium was in the same virtuosic technical style as the cornet solos described above. Falling under this category would be Joseph Deluca's "Beautiful Colorado" (1924), Simone Mantia's "Fantasia Originale" (1909), and Eduardo Boccalari's "Fantasia di Concerto" (1906).

The new style

While British composers may have led the way in writing for euphonium in an ensemble setting, it was Americans who wrote the first of the "new school" of serious, artistic solo works written specifically for euphonium. The first two examples are Warner Hutchison's "Sonatina" (1966) and Donald White's "Lyric Suite" (1970), after which British composers followed suit with Joseph Horovitz's "Concerto" (1972, the first euphonium concerto) and Gordon Jacob's "Fantasia" (1973). Two early very difficult works are Samuel Adler’s "Four Dialogues" (for euphonium and marimba, 1974) and Jan Bach’s "Concert Variations" (1978), both premiered by Dr. Brian Bowman. Two of the first unaccompanied solos for euphonium are the "Mazurka" (1966) by Nicholas Falcone, brother of early euphonium virtuoso Leonard Falcone, and the "Sonata" (1978) by Fred Clinard, Jr. All of these works remain basic repertoire for the euphonium.


Since then, there has been a virtual explosion of solo repertoire for the euphonium; in a mere four decades, the solo literature has expanded from virtually zero to thousands of pieces as more and more composers have become aware of the instrument's soloistic capabilities.

The euphonium literature from the past three decades has constantly "pushed the envelope" in terms of tessitura, endurance, technical demands, and extended techniques. To give only a few examples, James Curnow's "Symphonic Variants" (1984), now one of the classics of the literature, set new standards of range for the time, encompassing both D0 and F5. Roland Szentpali's "Pearls" (2000), written in a jazz/rock idiom, also uses a very high tessitura and contains extreme technical demands, while John Stevens' unaccompanied piece "Soliloquies" (2001) includes many wide leaps in range, both slurred and articulated.

Another segment of the avant-garde solo literature consists of those works for euphonium and recorded accompaniment, going all the way back to 1970, with John Boda's "Sonatina for Baritone Horn and Tape". Since then, Neal Corwell, a euphonium performer as well as composer, has contributed many additional solos with synthesized, recorded accompaniment, beginning with "Odyssey" (1990). On the other hand, British composer Philip Sparke has written numerous euphonium solos (e.g. "Pantomime", "Song for Ina", "Harlequin") of a much lighter nature, though no less technically demanding.

The use of euphonium as a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment still remains limited. The earliest known composition of this type is Alan Hovhaness' "Concerto No. 3 ("Diran, the Religious Singer")" from 1948. Subsequent pieces include Rule Beasley's "Concerto" (1967), Hovhaness' "Symphony No. 29" (1976), and the David Gaines "Concerto" (1987). Since then, an increasing number of professionally written concerti for euphonium and orchestra have appeared, including those by Jan Bach (1990), Jukka Linkola (1996), Vladimir Cosma (1997), Juraj Filas (2003), Uljas Pulkkis (2004), John Stevens (2004), and Rolf Rudin (2007).

Non-traditional settings

Thanks to a handful of enterprising individuals, in recent years the euphonium has begun to make inroads in jazz, pop and other non-concert performance settings. One of these individuals was Rich Matteson (1929-1993), who viewed himself primarily as a jazz musician who simply happened to play the euphonium. Together with two other euphoniums and three tubas and a rhythm section, he formed the Tubajazz Consort, which appeared in jazz clubs and at conferences worldwide to great acclaim. [cite web|url=|title=Rich Matteson|accessdate=2007-06-15] Today, jazz euphoniumists such as Marc Dickman carry on Matteson’s legacy, and jazz euphonium competitions are held around the world.

In addition, euphoniumists like Lance LaDuke and Matthew Murchison have recently explored and recorded the euphonium in non-traditional performance situations. LaDuke, in his CD "Take a Walk", uses euphonium in a variety of quasi-country, comedic song settings as well as in his recording of Sam Pilafian's "Relentless Grooves: Armenia", which uses a pre-recorded accompaniment and treats the solo euphonium almost as an Armenian folk instrument. Murchison has released a recording of traditional euphonium repertoire but has also formed, along with his wife and others, the world music group Mainspring, in which, Murchison’s website says, "A typical concert may consist of traditional jigs and reels from Scotland and Ireland, beautiful Mexican serenades, sambas, a suite of Spanish folk music, an Armenian lament, entertaining original music, and always plenty of light-hearted fun!" [cite web|url=|title=About :: Mainspring__Matthew Murchison :: Euphoniumist|accessdate=2007-06-15]


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