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Brass Circus

Advanced Ensemble for Brass Nonet

Brass Circus (2017)

Paris Circus

On a recent stay in Paris I discovered the history of the Circus Fernando, later named Circus Medrano, a source of great entertainment for all classes of people from 1873 until its demise in 1963. The circus was located in Montmartre, at that time on the outskirts of Paris. Today, there is still an active circus in Paris, the Cirque d’Hiver, a rival during the days of Cirque Medrano. You can see its building, which resembles the Cirque Medrano structure built in 1875, on Les Grands Boulevards (see Circus Medrano on circopedia.org for others images and more information).

Artists active during the circus’ early years and living nearby would drop by to sketch or paint the circus performers and animals. Marc Chagall, Raoul Dufy, Georges Seurat, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas and other artists produced beautiful and interesting paintings inspired by this circus. In turn, I was inspired by their artwork as I composed this suite for brass nonet.

Each of the movement titles in Brass Circus represents an act of the circus. We begin, of course, with the Announcer. Often referred to as the Ringleader, he is the man (usually) in the English riding suit--black trousers, red tuxedo-style jacket and black top hat—who introduces each of the acts and keeps them flowing. Circus performers sometimes call him “The Smart Pants,” hence the subtitle. In the second movement, I imagine an ensemble of sweet, hobo-type clowns, in their over-sized and awkward shoes, trying to perform a ballet for laughing children. The third movement captures the high energy of acrobats skilled at tricks on horseback. The last movement uses a lilting rhythmic motif to represent the up/down and back/forth of the graceful aerial artists.

My artistic inspirations were the following:

  • The Ringleader: Circus Paintings by John Stillman
  • Clown Ballet: The Circus with the Yellow Clown and Deux Clowns à Cheval by Marc Chagall; Les Clowns Beby Andrew et Vincent by Camille Bomboi;
    Clown by Walt Kuhn
  • Acrobats on Horses: Acrobates sur un Cheval de Cirque, Raoul Dufy
    The Great Circus, Jineto de Circo, L’Ecruyere en Rose, Le Cirque, Paris; Le Cirque, Plate XXIV, Woman Circus Rider on Red Horse, all by Marc Chagall; The Circus by Charles Ginner
  • In the Air: Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando by Edgar Degas; L’Acróbata and Acrobat by Marc Chagall; The Tightrope Walker by Everett Shinn

Follow the link below to see images of these art works.

View Photos on Pinterest:


Brass Circus

Brass Circus Options

Brass Circus Options

Other music for brass

Five Minutes of Play for Solo Bb Trumpet
Theme and Variations for Bb Trumpet and Tenor Trombone
Inspirations for Brass Quartet
Fanfare and March for Brass Octet
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