Euphonium Repertoire: A Pedagogical Study and Practice Guide for Sonatina by Warner Hutchison
by Brian Meixner
Warner Hutchison composed his Sonatina in 1956 specifically for the baritone horn, making it one of the earliest solo pieces written for the instrument. This work originally included only two movements; the third was added in 1957. The first performance of this piece (two movements only) was by the composer at Houghton College in New York in 1956. It was not until 1966 when Sonatina was finally published. Hutchison produced an arrangement for euphonium and band in 1972. The composer writes this anecdote about his first published work:
“This is my first published work. I procrastinated in returning the corrected engraved proofs to Carl Fischer until summer, 1965. It almost never got published: I almost lost the proofs as I was hurrying to a post office in North Denver to mail them during a terrific thunderstorm, summer. The engraved sheets were swept out of my hands, and I chased them down the street.”
Sonatina has proven to be a popular work, appearing on nearly all current published lists for high school solo and ensemble literature. It is well written for the euphonium, containing a suitable range (E to b-flat1) and technical writing that is manageable by high school and undergraduate euphonium students. The piano accompaniment is quite challenging but provides harmonies and counterpoint that are interesting and advanced for a solo of this difficulty. The three movements combined are approximately eight minutes in length and alternate fast-slow-fast. This piece offers the opportunity for a younger less experienced euphonium player to perform a well-crafted solo by an accomplished composer.
I. Moderately Fast
The first movement is busy and fast-paced, lasting roughly one minute. The euphonium and piano are in almost constant conversation, with running sixteenth notes present in every measure. The composer uses short segments of imitation between the instruments throughout the movement, bringing a sense of unity to what at times can be described as unrelated banter. The lines in the solo part are rhythmically active but not nearly as difficult as the accompaniment. A skilled pianist is necessary to perform this thickly scored and intricate music.
The meter at the beginning of the movement is 4/8, but the ensemble would be best served by feeling it in 2/4 due to the pulse and probable familiarity with that meter. The music begins with open fifths in the piano (A to E) under a fermata. This establishes ‘A’ as the tonal center for the initial theme presented in the euphonium. The dynamic at the beginning is forte,signifying a strong presence of sound, but the articulated notes are marked with staccatos and should be played in a light and buoyant manner. The second four measures of this first theme contain tenuto markings over the eighth notes and quarters tied to a sixteenth. These pitches should be played full length, creating a broad contrast in articulation within the first eight measures of the piece.
It is common for students to play incorrect rhythms in the second line. The tendency is for the player to hold the tied note too long, resulting in the compression of the following three sixteenth notes. In addition to regular practice with a metronome, this section should be practiced without the ties. Articulating the first sixteenth note of each grouping will enable the player to more clearly feel the pulse and more accurately place each sixteenth note in the measure. This exercise should be used for the passage at rehearsal A and beginning five measures after rehearsal C. Once the rhythmic placement is strong, the ties can be replaced.
Four measures of complex motion in the piano lead to a new theme presented in the euphonium at rehearsal A, this time with a tonal center of ‘B’. A one-measure decrescendo in the piano drops the dynamic to piano at rehearsal A. This is the only written dynamic less than forte in the entire movement, so the ensemble needs to seize the opportunity for dynamic contrast and play considerably soft. The written articulations are identical to the opening. The player must not alter the light and crisply articulated style due to the softer dynamic.
One of the many examples of imitation between the two instruments can be found at rehearsal A. The first four sixteenth notes in the euphonium are imitated exactly at pitch in the piano on the very next beat. The pianist may choose to emphasize these pitches in order to showcase this technique. These moments of direct imitation are fleeting, as the piano ventures in a new melodic direction by the next measure. Examples of rhythmic imitation can be found throughout the work, many times as sequences in the solo part, as found through the first four measures of rehearsal A.
The second theme leads to a cadence in the fifth measure after rehearsal A. A repeated rhythmic pattern in the euphonium and harmonic motion in the accompaniment bring the tonal center back to ‘A’ at rehearsal B, finally reaching a cadence in the piano with the same open fifths under a fermata that began the piece. Accents are written, the dynamic jumps back to forte, and the composer writes, “With increasing intensity” at rehearsal B. This is a sudden change in the music and the player should create a sense of urgency in the sound, without changing the tempo.
Another common rhythmical error occurs in the measures preceding rehearsal B. Similar to what was described earlier, the tendency is to compress the three sixteenth notes following the sixteenth rest. In this example, the player can insert a sixteenth note at the same pitch level where the sixteenth rest is located. Again, practicing this section while articulating a note on the downbeat will help in more accurately feeling the pulse.
The last note in that motive, ‘E’, is often difficult to play with a centered tone quality. This problem is amplified due to the large leap of an octave into that register. The player should take full advantage of the tenuto marking and play it as a full-length eighth note. Practicing that ‘E’ as a quarter note or half note in the context of the music would be beneficial in finding the center of the pitch.
Another issue that potentially causes a problem with the tempo can be found at rehearsal B. It is tempting for a wind player to take a breath each time a rest is seen in the music. When the rests are extremely short, a breath can cause the player to lose time and phase with the pianist. A large breath should be taken before the pickup sixteenth notes leading into rehearsal B. This one breath should give the player sufficient air capacity to play those five measures as one uninterrupted phrase.
Rehearsal C marks the return of the first theme and should match the style of the opening. The composer combines the two themes presented earlier into one longer phrase that carries into rehearsal D. A repeat of the material from rehearsal B is accentuated by a crescendo and accelerando leading to a caesura before the last measure. The accents and dynamic of forte,in addition to the accelerando, should create a frenzied feel before the music halts at the caesura. The movement concludes with a short two-measure coda, played extremely fast and forcefully.
Movement two is quite slow throughout and consists of beautiful melodies in the euphonium written above sustained quartile and quintal harmonies in the piano. This is the longest of the three movements, taking approximately four minutes to perform. The form is ternary, containing a lengthy B section that is slightly more agitated and includes a more rhythmically active accompaniment. The soloist is called upon to play with a resonant and singing tone quality throughout. This movement provides a nice contrast to the faster and more spirited outer movements.
Movement two begins with a sustained pedal ‘A’ in the left hand of the piano, doubled at the octave. This ‘A’ resounds throughout the entire opening section of the ternary form, under slowly changing quartal and quintal harmonies mixed with inverted tertian harmonies in the right hand. This serves as the undercurrent for the lyrical modal melody in the euphonium, marked mezzo forteand “legato.” The player should approach this music in a linear fashion with smooth connections between each note. Although the instructions are to play legato, the soloist should avoid articulating too lightly on the repeated g1 pitches three measures before rehearsal A. If these repeated pitches are articulated too softly, they run the risk of sounding like one dotted half note instead of the notated rhythm. The player needs to listen closely to the sound of articulation in each acoustic environment and make adjustments accordingly. Repeated pitches can also be found in the sixth measure after rehearsal C as well as in the seventh measure after rehearsal D.
The melodic writing for the euphonium is rather exposed, usually over an inactive accompaniment. Any inconsistencies in tone quality and intonation will be more obvious in this setting. Intonation problems are more frequent in this movement, due to the disjunct melodies undulating in and out of different harmonics. The sixth harmonic (f1, e1, e-flat1) tends to be sharp while the harmonic directly below (d1, d-flat1, c1, b) is commonly played flat. If these tendencies are not accounted for, serious intonation problems will result. The first four notes for the soloist (e1, d1, e1, c1) alternate between these sharp and flat harmonics. The subsequent pitch, f, is from the sharp third harmonic and will sound particularly out of tune following the flat c1. Use of a tuner and a solid knowledge of the harmonic series intonation tendencies are needed to adequately prepare this movement. When compensating for the intonation, the player must listen closely to maintain a consistent tone quality in all registers.
The B section begins at rehearsal A with piano alone and becomes more involved both rhythmically and harmonically. Initially, this portion of the movement behaves more like a development with a quicker harmonic rhythm and a more active left hand in the piano. The commotion in the accompaniment calms at the next entrance of the euphonium. The legato style and lyrical approach remains, but the dynamic drops to piano, the softest level yet in the movement. The accompaniment contains abrupt crescendos and “secco” staccatos, but the soloist must persist with the same soft, flowing approach.
The markings by the composer at rehearsal C provide the soloist with the opportunity to use rubato. “Hold back” is written in the first measure and “moving” is labeled in the fifth measure, followed by another “hold back” three measures later. These phrases are played unaccompanied, giving the soloist the freedom to exaggerate the variance in tempo. The closing measures of the B section are played by the piano alone and revert back to the rhythmic and harmonic activity present during the section’s opening.
Rehearsal D is introduced by the pedal note A in the piano that began the movement, signifying the return of the A section. The solo and accompaniment are a carbon copy from the beginning, with a two-measure cadential extension. The repeated A in the euphonium that ends the movement can be treated as a fermata before the piano sounds one last quartal harmony above the pedal. Marked “dying away,” this final pitch should be void of vibrato by the third or fourth beat and diminuendo to niente.
The last movement is a brisk march in ternary form and has a performance time of approximately three minutes. The music begins with fortemarked in the solo part and is to be played, as labeled, in a march style. Accents are placed over the first four notes, setting the tone for a lively conclusion to the piece. Much like movement one, the accompaniment is quite active from the onset with busy sixteenth-note passages in the right hand and a walking bass in the left. It is important for the soloist and pianist to match style, especially with the eighth notes in the left hand in the piano. The score is labeled “medium staccato throughout in the bass” from the beginning of the movement. The weight and fronts of eighth note articulations in the euphonium should line up with those in the bass line of the piano.
The second and third measures before rehearsal B include the downward leap of a fifth to G and a sixth to F, each followed by a jump upward of a tenth on the very next sixteenth note. These rapid skips require a great deal of flexibility from the player and should be practiced regularly in order to be performed with ease. Similar to the exercise described in movement one, practicing the G and F as sustained tones will aid in finding the tonal center of each note. When played in rhythm, the player should practice this segment by transposing the G and F down by successive half steps. If these two pitches can be played accurately in rhythm and at performance tempo transposed down as much as a third, the written notes will feel substantially more comfortable.
Rehearsal C begins the B section of the movement and is played with more lyricism and expression. The initial dynamic for the euphonium in this section is mezzo forte, the softest dynamic up to this point of the movement. Within the eight measures prior to rehearsal D, the composer marks a multitude of articulations. Slurs, accents, staccatos and tenutos are scattered throughout the eight measures. Within the context of an expressive approach to the music, the player must clearly display these differences in articulation. The phrase beginning in the third measure of rehearsal D is labeled “legato” and piano. These five measures comprise the only section of the movement that has a dynamic marked less than mezzo forte for the soloist. This phrase should be played extremely soft, as the dynamic goes instantly back to mezzo fortethe second measure after rehearsal E. This short phrase is also the only portion of the movement with a stark contrast of articulation between the euphonium and the piano. The contrast needs to be exaggerated by the smoothest of slurs in the solo part in conjunction with the walking bass line in the left hand of the piano, marked “sempre staccato.”
The seven measures after rehearsal E contain even more numerous register leaps than the section prior to rehearsal B. The player is prone to miss more notes here than at any other point in the piece. This section should be practiced very slowly on the mouthpiece alone, then slowly and slurred on the instrument before gradually increasing tempo and played with the notated articulations. These seven measures culminate with a crescendo to fortissimoand ending on the highest note in the piece, b-flat1. The A section returns after a diatonic descending eighth-note pattern in the piano leads to a repeat of the beginning. The opening section is played once more in its entirety and the piece concludes with an ascending perfect fourth pattern to a-flat1, followed by a forceful punctuation in both parts. The last three fortissimorepeated c1 eighth notes equal the loudest dynamic in the piece and are marked with marcato accents, the heaviest articulation in the entire work.
Sonatina by Warner Hutchison was one of the first solo pieces written for the student-level euphonium player and has proven to be one of the best. The three-movement set provides the player with appropriately difficult challenges in the areas of technique, range, time, articulation style, and lyricism. This solo should be a standard part of the curriculum for any developing euphonium student.