Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice (Arban) is one of the toughest pieces in the trumpet repertoire. It involves blisteringly fast scales, double tonguing (ta-ka-ta) and triple tonuing (ta-ta-ka-ta), crazy intervals over an octave in difference, 32nd notes, and on and on. I played an easier version (Clarke) my senior year of high school, and it took me a fair bit of practice to get it as perfect as I could.

I’ve heard it said that masterpieces are never finished, merely abandoned; and if you’ve ever gazed long at a renaissance painting you’ll begin to understand. The details could go on forever, and one wonders at the process… how the painter went about his business. When did he paint what? How did the pieces fit together in time as he created it? What made him move on from one zone of the canvas to the next and why? And at what point did he abandon it, effectively saying (in Italian, no doubt), “enough is enough!”

Wynton Marsalis, whom I practically worshipped as a young trumpeter in high school, produced a pinnacle of the art form in his recording of The Carnival of Venice on the record Carnaval. And yeah. It’s the Arban’s version, which is in another universe from the Clarke’s. Here's a YouTube link of Marsalis with John Williams and the Boston Pops orchestra that will blow your freaking mind. He's playing a cornet, not a trumpet, in that video. 

It’s a theme and variations, so it starts off with the basic melody. It’s in 6/8 time, so it feels like a waltz; oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah. It’s a nice little melody, if it does anything it lilts. I said lilts. Now I get a triple score. Anyway as the variations go on, they get more difficult until gradually, in the final variation it literally sounds like there are two trumpets playing simultaneously. I am not making this up. Just a shower of sound. Marsalis did this to perfection on the record Carnaval (aforementioned), released in the early nineties. It was and is incredible. I’m waiting on my public library to call me with my reserved copy of that recording; I just have to hear it again.

As you may or may not have gleaned from the buzz in the ether around here lately, I’ve picked up a trumpet after about a seventeen year hiatus. Right now I’m just using loaners however I can get them, but I’m back into practicing again nevertheless. Today during my routine I cracked into a dusty long-forgotten section of the Arban’s book.

J.B. Arban’s first comprehensive trumpet and cornet method was published in the late 1800’s and quickly became the ultimate authority on the instrument. I’d argue that it still is too, in many ways. It’s over an inch and a half thick and has everything you could ever and never think of inside it. Included is the trumpet part for The Carnival of Venice.

When I collided with it today it was glorious. I just thought you should know. As I was playing it, fond old memories started coming into focus again. That melody, those notes, are up near the rarified heights of musicianship that I was just beginning to know so many years ago. For me to make my clumsy little forays around the edges today was nothing less than a delight.

Mind you, our collision was probably hideously ugly to my next door neighbors. But to me, in my heart and head, it was a thing of beauty.