Wind Band Transcriptions January 28 2014, 0 Comments

In today’s day and age, original works for the wind band are commonplace. Composers are constantly churning out pieces for school bands, professional ensembles, and the military bands at a growing rate. The amazing part of this trend is the fact that it is only about fifty years old. Before 1952, the year the Eastman Wind Ensemble formed, the wind band was rarely heard in a concert hall. Even today, the instrumentation of the wind band is very ambiguous, adding an extra hurdle for composers and arrangers.

Before the advent of original concert band music, most ensembles would perform programs of marches and orchestral transcriptions. Often, these transcriptions would be from popular operas at the time, many of which were written by Richard Wagner. A good example is Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman.

Another great orchestral overture for band is Guiseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, which is still very popular today in both the orchestral and wind band repertoires. It is known for its particularly difficult flute excerpts.

The other big form of compositions during the turn of the century was, of course, the symphony. As mentioned in our previous post, German bandmaster Friedrich Wilhelm Wieprecht arranged all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for his military band instrumentation, although we rarely hear these transcriptions today. Wind bands tend not to program entire symphonies, unless they are original works, so one is more likely to hear specific movements of symphonies being arranged. This frequently occurs with the finales of larger works. Finale from Symphony No. 1 in G minor, by Vasily Kalinnikov, a popular Russian composer during the early twentieth century, is an example of a piece that is rarely played in the orchestral world, but still sees performances by wind bands everywhere.

Today, while original works for wind band are more popular, arrangements and transcriptions are still a big part of most concert programs, and the number of these pieces are constantly growing in number. Most popular orchestral works, from John Adams to Tchaikovsky, have been arranged for wind bands at least once. Like the Kalinnikov, many of these transcriptions have received a new life through the wind band. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture is just one of many possible examples.

Unlike a hundred years ago, the wind band now sits on equal footing with the orchestra in terms of repertoire. Everything from symphonies to your favorite movie soundtracks is available for wind bands to play!

- Brian R. Denu