Why I like it: Persichetti, Parable

This series of articles is devoted to advocating contemporary repertoire for trumpet.  I believe new music is often unfairly criticized.  Let’s face it, as brass players we can be a little closed-minded! Hopefully these articles will open your ears to some pieces I find truly fascinating.

“I like solo works, where the whole world is just you and your pipe.” Vincent Persichetti

Parable for Solo Trumpet is number fourteen in a series of instrumental parables written by Persichetti.  Like many of the other parables, it’s unaccompanied and it grows out of one simple idea:

1 – Introduction

The trumpet repeats a single note over and over, as though stuck, before suddenly shooting upward and scurrying back down.  The piece begins with a giant question mark.

Soon enough, the trumpet returns to a single note and repeats it, more and more insistently, eventually arriving at a strong statement – but this, too, trails off questioningly:

2 – second phrase

As the piece grows more schizophrenic, the sound of the trumpet grows harsher: the trumpet begins softly, with cup mute, then plays without a mute, and ends with metallic straight mute.  The game of question and answer grows more and more desperate until the trumpet swings between tender, lyrical moments and raucous, frenetic passages.

3 – Third example

What really strikes me about this piece is its communicative power.  The off-kilter rhythm and melody of the music seem almost speech-like, and the characters swings wildly between different styles.  The trumpet player is told to play “ardently”, “tenderly”, “capriciously”, “roughly”, and even “simply.”

The overall effect can be haunting: to me, this piece almost sounds like someone trying to speak to me who doesn’t speak a single word of my language.  I imagine their initial questions and simple repetition giving way to strong emotions: fear, agitation, and anger.  Ultimately, the piece ends almost exactly where it began, with one final, emphatic question:

4 – end

Complete performance: Persichetti – Parable

Other resources: CD including a performance by American Brass Quintet trumpeter Kevin Cobb, sheet music (Hickey’s Music)