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ClassicsOnline Home » PROKOFIEV, S.: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts) (arr. for brass) (Eikanger-Bjorsvik Band, Engeset)
The idea of arranging movements from Prokofiev’s popular ballet Romeo and Juliet for brass band and percussion is not as strange as it may first seem, since Russia boasts a great brass band tradition. The three arrangers who participated in this unique project have had a close relationship with the Eikanger-Bjørsvik Band for many years, resulting in colourful and thrilling arrangements that showcase the full range of sonorities available, particularly involving melodic percussion instruments and the expressive contrasts achievable between muted and full-voiced brass.
By Frank Behrens
Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)
Romeo and Juliet (for Brass Band)
Sergey Prokofiev’s ballet music for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is unmistakeably Russian in its drama. One could say it has it everything: folklore, poetry, humour, elegance, great emotional outbursts, noble calmness, crazy speed and the grandest of power. This musical spectrum is presented here by a unique and dedicated Norwegian brass band, Eikanger-Bjørsvik musikklag (EBML). There exists a great tradition for brass band in Russian music; Shostakovich used “Banda” several times, for example in the ballet The Bolt and the film scores Alone and Girlfiends. Prokofiev included cornet in his orchestral score for Romeo and Juliet, and the cornet is used as a solo instrument in Lieutenant Kijé. The Russian soul sings in a special way through the sound of the cornet, defying the cold and the tragedy. In our arrangements for brass band it is, in particular, the melodic percussion instruments and the use of mutes that create contrasting colours and contours. However, phrasing, characterization and a whole-hearted use of all musical means have been at the centre of our work.
The love story of Romeo and Juliet is truly is one of the greatest stories of all time. The first violent chords confirm the dimensions and the dynamic range; the
ancient conflict between two proud families, the Montagues and the Capulets of Verona. In our excerpts the two dances, Morning Dance and Masks, present the young Romeo Montague and his friends. These dances frame the portrait of the pure, young Juliet Capulet: Juliet the young girl. The grand duet, the balcony scene, is full of poetry and strong emotions. Prokofiev’s ballet music is also full of vivid character portraits, and we have included depictions of The Nurse and Friar Laurence. The masculine Dance that follows leads directly into the fatal swordfight that ends with the death of Tybalt, Juliet’s brother. The impossible love between the two is now irresistible, and in the ending of Romeo and Juliet before parting. the choreography is often built around the plans for an escape, for Juliet to use a sleeping potion to fake her own death. We have placed the light-footed Aubade here as an almost absurd pause,
before the drama reaches its climax, with Romeo finding Juliet whom he thinks to be dead, at his feet. He kills himself. She awakens and follows him into death.
This recording is the result of a unique project. All three arrangers have had a close relationship with the EBML for many years, and they have a thorough knowledge of the brass band medium. Here they have managed to create a complete whole, based on great respect for Prokofiev’s orchestral and piano versions. For some two years we have performed these excerpts from the ballet music in a number of concerts, both in Norway and in Great Britain (Manchester). I became more and more impressed with the dedication and hard work of the musicians, their wish to penetrate more deeply into this piece, and their respectful interaction with one another. I felt that I could “stand on the shoulders” of conductors such as Elgar Howarth, Howard Snell, Reid Gilje and several others who have played a significant rôle in shaping this band. We chose the Biskopshavn Church as the recording venue, to give it a feeling of a concert venue and natural acoustics. This music is close to life, written for a story exploring the best and the worst sides of humanity.
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