H. Stevens: Sonata

The Stevens Trumpet Sonata holds its own as a pivotal work in 20th century American brass literature, and its acknowledgement by many American trumpet icons (i.e. Wynton Marsalis, Anthony Plog, and Thomas Stevens) via recording has shown the significance of the piece at large. Music critic Osvaldo Polatkan has this to say of Stevens’ music:

“Stevens composed music that was essentially tonal but not without modern influences, particularly Stravinsky and Copland. Though undeniably “American” in his musical language, the European sway is tangible. Stevens himself has acknowledged the pivotal influence of Bela Bartók… He has also stated that Brahms, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, and, to a lesser extent, Ravel and Schoenberg had served as important models for his music.”

This “European sway” that Polakan references is evident in his modal ideal of tonality. Unlike in Bozza’s literature, densely voiced chords are used much more sparingly. Additionally, a strong foundation of sonata form is apparent in the first movement (see video above).

This piece offers many opportunities for fundamental improvement on the trumpet. While I believe many trumpet students could be ready to perform the work around sophomore level of undergrad, I do think advanced, strong players in late high school could benefit from an educational overview of this music. The intervallic content demands slow, focused practice. I recommend time spent with a piano while singing or buzzing through difficult passages. Good luck.


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