The Tuba Works of Jan Koetsier
Part I: An Overview of the man and his music
By Ed Owen
On April 28, 2006 the music world suffered the loss of a great champion of brass music—composer and conductor Jan Koetsier. Over the course of his extraordinary career he produced over one hundred pieces of chamber music that use at least one brass instrument. These include works for brass choir, brass quintet, brass quartet, horn and trombone quartets, trios, duets, as well as numerous works for solo brass and keyboard or orchestra. Musicians interested in compositions for tuba are undoubtedly familiar with the Sonatine, Op. 57 für Tuba und Klavier, the Concertino, Op. 77 für Tuba und Streichorchester, and Wolkenschatten, Op. 136 für Tubaquartett. These works are frequently performed on student and professional recitals, have been included in the repertoire for numerous competitions, and have been recorded many times. However, for many, this is where their knowledge of his works for tuba ends. Fortunately, Professor Koetsier was inspired to compose six additional works that feature the tuba in a solo, duet, trio, or quartet role. These include: Unterkagner Ländler, Op. 87/2 für Violine und Tuba, Es ist ein Schnitter, der Heißt tod, Op. 93 Choralfantasie für Tuba und Orgel, Johann Sebastien Bach: “Badinerie,” Op. 105, No. 1 für Solo Tuba und 4 Blechbläser (arranged by Jan Koetsier), Galgenlieder, Op. 129 für Sopran Stimme und Tuba, Falstaffiade, Variationen über ein Thema aus der Oper “Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor” von Otto Nicolai, Op. 134b für Solo Tuba und 4 Hörner, and Don Giovanni’s Höllenfahrt, Scherzo Macabre, Op. 153 für Solo Tuba und 9 Blechbläser . With the exception of the Sonatine, all of the works were written after his retirement from the Musikhochschule in Munich in 1976.
The purpose of this series of articles is to offer a brief description of each work, along with a performance analysis. The express intent of this type of analysis is to create a knowledgeable, well-thought-out and, consequently, effective performance. The primary focus of the analysis will be to identify the challenges that face the performer when preparing these works for performance. These challenges include phrasing, style, articulation, valve technique, intonation, ensemble coordination, range, tessitura, and endurance. This first installment will include biographical information, a description of Koetier’s musical style, and a discussion of works for solo tuba and keyboard. The second article will cover works for solo tuba and orchestra as well as works for multiple tubas. The final article will include works for solo tuba in mixed ensemble.
Jan Koetsier was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on August 14, 1911. His family moved to Berlin in 1913 when his mother, who later sang at the Leipzig Opera, received a scholarship to study singing. (1) Due to the outbreak of World War I, Koetsier frequently visited family in Holland between 1913 and 1918. (2) In 1924, he enrolled at the Stern Conservatory and from 1927 until 1934 he studied piano, composition, and conducting at the Musikhochschule in Berlin. His teachers included Richard Rößler, Walther Gmeindl, and Julius Prüwer. (3) His debut as a conductor was given in 1937 with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in a performance of his Orchestral Suite . From 1941 until 1942 he held various conducting positions in Lübeck, Berlin, and The Hague. He returned to The Netherlands in 1942 when Willem Mengelgerg invited him to become second conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This position enabled him to work with top conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, and Pierre Monteux. In 1950, Koetsier accepted a position as conductor of the newly established Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra where he compiled an extensive catalog of recordings. From 1966 until 1976 he was Professor of Conducting at the Musikhochschule in Munich where he developed a well-respected conducting curriculum. From his retirement in 1976 until his death on April 28, 2006 he devoted himself entirely to composition. In 1993 Koetsier endowed a foundation at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Munich. The purpose of this foundation is to raise the international profile of brass chamber music. To this end the International Jan Koetsier Competition for Brass Chamber Music was begun in 1999.
In addition to the brass chamber music mentioned above, Koetsier’s enormous output includes a ballet, Demeter, an opera, Frans Hals, three Symphonies, an Orchestral Suite, numerous works for solo instruments and orchestra, Der Mann Lot for Baritone, Speaker, Men’s Chorus, and Orchestra, and countless other chamber works.
The Music of Jan Koetsier
Some general characteristics of Koetsier’s music include the use of classical forms, lyrical and innovative melodies, conservative but colorful harmonies, vibrant rhythms, including frequent use of hemiola and syncopation, and, most notably, an imaginative combination of sophistication and humor. According to the Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Koetsier was initially influenced by Hindemith but increasingly emulated the neo-classical works of Stravinsky. (4) In his article, “Jan Koetsier: Composer for the Glory of the Brasses,” Jean-Pierre Mathez provides an exceptional description of Koetsier’s music:
“…he is a master of melody and…his writing makes perfect use of the multiple expressive possibilities of our instruments. No speculative theory, no academic effects. His music is written for musicians and listeners who appreciate the traditional culture that is connected to the emotions, pleasures, humor, and to harmonic subtleties. It is the music of a man who loves life and who honors the ancestral musical heritage with the accents of our time.” (5)
This sentiment is further demonstrated in a letter from Koetsier in which he states, “My works are written to be played and listened to wordlessly. (6)” Regarding Koetsier’s stature as a composer for brass instruments, Mathez states, “Jan Koetsier is a man who combines a powerful creative ability with a disarming modesty about it. This gentle giant is inarguably one of the composers of the twentieth century whose many works for brass have elevated in a decisive way the artistic level of the repertoire and of the musicians.” (7)
Koetsier began composing for brass instruments in 1946 when he was asked by the trombonist of the brass quartet from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw to write for them. He responded with three pieces: Petite Suite, Op. 33, Quartettino, Op. 33, No. 2, and Chorale and Fugue, Op. 33, No. 3 . Of this experience, Koetsier relates, “This first contact with brasses was very stimulating and satisfying. Little by little, other brass players came to me to ask me to write for them, and I began to develop a real taste for it.” (8) This contact with various brass players continued to produce new works as Koetsier worked with other orchestras such as the Bayerischer Rundfunk of Munich, the Bamberger Symphoniker, as well as the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. In 1952, he composed the Bamberger Promenade for two trumpets and three trombones for the principal trombonist of the Bamberg Symphony, Otto Rosin, father of Armin Rosin. In 1965, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra asked him to compose a work that he could orchestrate any way he pleased. Due to recent arrival of two well-known brass soloists, he was inspired to write a double concerto for trumpet, trombone and orchestra. Hence, his interest in composing for brass instruments is a direct result of requests from musicians to write new pieces for them, as well as formal commissions. Indeed, his Brass Symphony, Op. 80 was composed for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble after a connection was established with the leader of the group, Philip Jones:
“At a concert in Munich, Philip met Jan Koetsier for the first time. Though the Dutch composer was one of the sources of inspiration for the formation of the ensemble and his quartet had been in the repertoire since 1959, the two men had never met. Koetsier was so taken with the performance that he immediately volunteered to write a brass symphony. It premiered in Regensburg on 21 February 1980.” (9)
When asked about the source of inspiration for his enormous output Koetsier replied,
“I go by a procedure that gets things going: I begin by imagining a classical form…once I’ve chosen or found the form, a theme or melody gets my inspiration going. To sum up, let’s say that I look for a form, then a theme. Then I polish, transform, sublimate, and construct the musical picture. On the other hand, I have a kind of internal control with respect to what I write for instruments. My criterion is to be able to sing each voice in my head. If I can’t do that, I rework my phrases, readjust my intervals or unsatisfactory passages. This is maybe the reason why performers of my works often think I play their instrument.”
Indeed, his writing for brass instruments is highly idiomatic and demonstrates his intimate knowledge of their capabilities and limitations.
Works for Tuba and Keyboard
The Sonatine, Op. 57 für Tuba und Klavier is, without a doubt, Koetsier’s most popular tuba work. It is regularly performed on undergraduate and graduate student recitals and has been recorded by no less than seven different artists. The importance of this composition to the tuba repertoire is further underscored by the fact that it was included in the suggested repertoire in the Tuba Music Guide of 1974 . (11) It was also later included in the suggested repertoire for undergraduate tuba students in the Tuba Source Book . (12) It was composed in 1970 and is dedicated to Manfred Hoppert, who was Principal Tuba with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at the time. Koetsier provides the following description of the work, “The tuba begins like the instrument itself, in a rather big fashion, but proves that it is more than capable of melodious playing and phrasing. During the second movement, a heavy scherzo rumbles, followed in the last movement by Bavarian styled dance themes.” (13)
The first movement is in sonata form and begins with a pompous and majestic introduction in which the tuba doubles the piano bass line. The beginning of the exposition is marked by a fanfare-like motive in the solo tuba based on an E-flat major arpeggio followed by a quarter note “falling motive.” This motive is used as a unifying element throughout the movement. Following a brief caesura, a beautiful, contrasting cantabile theme is presented in the tuba accompanied by a sixteenth note “spinning motive” in the piano.
The Sonatine and Choralfantasie are published by Editions Marc Reift (http://www.reift.ch/).
Example 1, Sonatine, Movement I, mm. 1–12.
A “falling motive,” reminiscent of the opening fanfare, featuring root movement in thirds, signifies the end of the exposition. The concise development section is highlighted by dance-like staccato figures and shifting accents in both the piano and the tuba parts.
Example 2, Sonatine, Movement I, mm. 36–46.
The transition to the recapitulation is highlighted by descending, accented marcato passages in the tuba part that are answered in the piano. The beginning of the recapitulation is an exact repeat of the solo tuba part in the exposition. However, after the brief caesura, the piano presents the cantabile theme followed by the tuba. The short, four-measure coda features a return to the dance-like staccato passages of the development and provides a somewhat humorous conclusion to the movement.
The second movement is a minuet and trio in the relative minor. The minuet theme begins with a two octave C-minor arpeggio and includes numerous wide intervals and hemiola figures in the tuba part.
Example 3, Sonatine, Movement II, mm. 1–8, Minuet theme.
The calm and serene trio provides an interesting contrast to the minuet. The trio theme, marked dolce e cantabile, consists of a lyrical, diatonic melody in the tuba accompanied by gently dissonant chords in the piano. A gentle hemiola figure in the tuba brings the trio section to a close. After a return to the minuet theme, the movement is concluded by a short coda reminiscent of the trio.
Example 4, Sonatine, Movement II, mm. 17–24, Trio theme.
The rondo theme of the final movement consists of three sostenuto chords followed immediately by two 5/8 measures containing staccato eighth notes.
Example 5, Sonatine, Movement III, mm. 1-9, Rondo theme.
The first contrasting section is characterized by slurred, diatonic sixteenth notes and staccato, arpeggiated eighth notes. Two emphatic, marcato statements in the tuba that are imitated in the piano and followed by a highly effective silence highlight the return to the rondo theme. The second contrasting section contains rapid sixteenth note passages presented as a conversation between the tuba and piano. A lively mixed meter dance leads to the final statement of the rondo theme and a brilliant coda.
The light-hearted nature of the music might lead one to believe that there are few technical challenges involved in the Sonatina . The overall range of the piece (GG to e-flat 1 ) poses no major problems for the tuba player. Though definitely approachable on a CC or BB-flat tuba the medium to high tessitura and frequent wide intervallic leaps are better suited for F tuba. Indeed, endurance and pitch accuracy become a critical factor when played on a larger horn. This aspect of performance challenges is quite evident in the opening passage of the second movement (see Example 3). This particular passage is much easier on an F tuba due to the relationship between the tessitura of the notes and the harmonic series of the horn.
Regarding valve technique and articulation, there are two main passages that warrant special attention. The first passage is found in measures 42–44 of the development section of the first movement (see Example 2). Regardless of which tuba this passage is performed on, the clarity of notes in the G major arpeggio is essential. On some horns, it may be advantageous to use an alternate fingering to produce a valve articulation and, therefore, increased clarity. A suggested fingering for the final two notes of the arpeggio is indicated for F tuba in the example.
The most difficult articulated passage is found in the third movement. It consists of rapid sixteenth notes with varying articulation. For an effective performance, the performer must keep the air moving through the passage and provide a clean, crisp articulation. This passage should be practiced using the following procedure: 1) half tempo, all slurred, 2) half tempo, articulated, 3) performance tempo, all slurred, 4) performance tempo, articulated. This procedure reinforces the concept of constant wind through the passage and helps to improve valve technique.
Example 6, Sonatine, Movement III, mm. 46–58.
The single most important aspect of performance challenges in the Sonatine involves the rhythmic coordination of the piano and tuba in the first and third movements. Two passages in the first movement involve syncopated patterns that move between the parts and require careful attention to a steady eighth note pulse. The first passage is found at the beginning of the development section (see Example 2). Rehearsing this passage at a significantly reduced tempo with a metronome will help to coordinate the intricate rhythmic patterns between tuba and piano. The second passage occurs near the end of the development section (see Example 7). The syncopated nature of this excerpt requires even more attention to steady eighth note pulse. It is imperative that the performers maintain a steady tempo throughout the passage and not wait for each other. Once again, rehearsal at a reduced tempo with a metronome will reinforce a steady eighth note pulse.
Example 7, Sonatine, Movement I, mm. 50–58.
The third movement contains, without a doubt, the most challenging passages in terms of rhythmic coordination of the tuba and piano parts. The rondo theme combines mixed meters and sudden changes in tempo, an intricate combination (see Example 5). Significant rehearsal time is needed for coordination of these tempo changes.
A lively mixed meter dance precedes the final statement of the rondo theme. As in the syncopated passage of the first movement, a steady eighth note pulse is crucial for a successful performance. Rehearsal of this passage at a reduced tempo is an absolute necessity.
Example 8, Sonatine, Movement III, mm. 62–73.
The Choralfantasie für Tuba und Orgel, op. 93 was composed in 1983 and is dedicated to Lásló Szabó, tubist with the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra and Professor at the Liszt Music Academy of Budapest. The work is based on the chorale, “Es ist ein Schnitter, der heißt Tod.” Though the poet and composer of the chorale are unknown, the work originates from Cologne in the year 1623. (14)
Es ist ein Schnitter, der heißt Tod,
hat Gewalt vom großen Gott.
Heut wetzt er das Messer,
es schneidt schon viel besser;
bald wird er drein schneiden,
wir müssens nur leiden.
Hüt dich, schöns Blümelein!
There is a reaper, he’s called death,
he has power from Almighty God.
Today he sharpens his sickle,
it cuts much better;
soon he will begin to reap,
ours is to suffer.
Take care, lovely flower!
Regarding the Choralfantasie, Professor Koetsier comments, “The Fantasy begins with a short introduction from the first four bars of the Choral which leads into a Passacaglia. After the theme undergoes ten variations the Choral is played in its entirety, followed by two more variations. An extensive Fugato with elements from the Choral melody closes the work with a tremendous crescendo.” (15)
The Introduktion is marked Maestoso and opens with the first four measures of the chorale theme in the organ. The tuba then presents a majestic obligato line over the organ pedal tone. This is followed by two measures of lively sixteenth notes in the organ that end with the interval of a tri-tone. The highly dissonant block chords in the organ and arpeggios in the tuba that follow are clearly descriptive of the mood of the chorale text.
Example 9, Choralfantasie, mm. 14–18.
The Passacaglia begins immediately with the theme in the organ pedals. The four-measure passacaglia theme is characterized by a descending sequence of octaves in half notes.
Example 10, Choralfantasie, mm. 26–29.
This theme is presented ten times in succession without break. The first four repetitions feature an obligato tuba part marked by descending rhythmic sequences. The organ then takes over the obligato line as the tuba presents a countermelody to the passacaglia theme. The tuba takes over the passacaglia theme at its eighth repetition. The final two repetitions feature tenuto quarter note arpeggios in the tuba. A short interlude leads directly into a straightforward presentation of the chorale theme by the solo tuba.
Example 11, Choralfantasie, mm. 72–93.
The music which accompanies the last phrase of the chorale text, “Hüt dich, schöns Blümelein!,” (16) is immediately repeated in the organ as an echo. This same four-measure motive is used to punctuate the end of Variations I and II.
Example 12, Choralfantasie, mm. 92–95.
Variation I opens forte and is characterized by triplet figures in both the organ and the solo tuba. The absence of pedal work in the organ part for the majority of this variation serves to heighten its return in the “punctuation motive.”
Variation II also begins at a forte dynamic level and features dotted eighth sixteenth note rhythms in both parts. Again, the piano dynamic level for the middle section of the choral heightens the return of the “punctuation motive.
Variation III is a fugal treatment of the first eight measures of the chorale theme. The piece concludes with a final statement of the chorale theme in the right hand of the organ complemented with descending arpeggios in the solo tuba.
The primary performance challenges in the Choralfantasie are tessitura and endurance. The overall range (GG to f 1 ) is very similar to that of the Sonatine . However, there is a vast difference in the tessitura. Whereas, the Sonatine lies primarily in the middle tessitura, the Choralfantasie is almost exclusively in the upper tessitura. Indeed, the only notes in the lower tessitura are found in the last eight measures of the piece. This creates an endurance problem, and, therefore, a well-developed embouchure is an absolute necessity for an effective performance.
Only two passages in the Choralfantasie create any technical problems for the tubist. The first is found at the end of the Passacaglia section where the tuba plays a D Major ascending arpeggio followed by a cleverly disguised descending fully diminished seventh chord based on the organ chord. The articulation highlights the main notes of the organ chord and must, therefore, be played in a deliberate manner.
Example 13, Choralfantasie, mm. 65–71.
The second passage is found at the end of the third variation. It contains several descending arpeggios in the tuba part that begin above the staff. Because of the tessitura of the previous section, a good measure of flexibility is needed in order for the lower notes of these arpeggios to be played with a good tone and in tune with the organ pedal point. In addition, the performers must keep the sixteenth notes constant in this passage.
Example 14, Choralfantasie, mm. 203–206.
The concluding eight measures present a challenge because of the low tessitura of the notes. This passage requires the player to relax the embouchure and play with confidence and authority. Intonation is also a factor because the part is in unison with the organ pedals. Breath control can be a problem on the final note due to the tessitura and dynamic level.
Example 15, Choralfantasie, mm. 217–225.
The final performance challenges in the Choralfantasie involve ensemble coordination and balance between the parts. Though no major problems exist regarding ensemble coordination, the numerous transitional sections and tempo changes require special attention. Since the combination of tuba and organ is rarely used, performers will find it necessary to carefully monitor the balance between the parts, especially in the louder sections where the timbre of the tuba can be overpowered.
1. J.P. Mathez, “Jan Koetsier: Composer for the Glory of the Brasses,” Brass Bulletin, iv (1990), 78.
2. Beermann, Henner, Komponisten in Bayern, Bd. 19: Jan Koetsier, (Tutzing: H. Schneider, 1988), pg. 22.
4. Emile Wennekes, “Jan Koetsier,” in Stanley Sadie, ed., New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: MacMillan, 1980), 736-737.
5. J.P. Mathez, “Jan Koetsier: Composer for the Glory of the Brasses,” Brass Bulletin, iv (1990), 79-80.
6. Koetsier, Jan. Letter to Angie Hunter, March 20, 2002.
7. J.P. Mathez, “Jan Koetsier: Composer for the Glory of the Brasses,” 78.
8. J.P. Mathez, “Jan Koetsier: Composer for the Glory of the Brasses,” 80.
9. McDonald, Donna, The Odyssey of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (Bulle, Switzerland: Editions BIM, 1986), p. 63, 64.
10. Mathez, pages 84, 85.
11. Morris, R. Winston. The Tuba Music Guide. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974), pg. 27.
12. Morris, R. Winston and Edward R. Goldstein, eds., The Tuba Source Book (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), pg. 323.
13. Walsh, Thomas, Tuba Holiday, label unknown 1/0267-210, program notes, pg. 13.
14. Wasson, D. DeWitt, Hymntune Index and Related Hymn Materials, Volume I, (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1998).
15. Walsh, Thomas, Tuba Holiday, label unknown 1/0267-210, program notes, p. 15.
16. “Take care lovely flower!”
Part II of this three-part series will appear in the Spring issue, covering the composer’s works for solo tuba and orchestra and for multiple tubas.
is Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and Principal Tuba with the Arkansas Symphony. He has studied tuba with Andy Anders and Mark Moore.