Quintet for Brass Instruments








Alvin Etler (1913 – 1973)

Composer Information

Alvin Etler had his roots in the American Midwest. He started writing music when he was still in high school in Battle Creek, Iowa. He continued as a student at the University of Illinois, but made his first mark as an oboist, first with the Indianapolis Symphony, and then on tour in Latin America with the North American Wind Quintet. The success of his earlier compositions led not only to the abandonment of his oboe-playing career, but to further study at Yale under Paul Hindemith. Etler taught from post-World War II at: Yale, Comell, the University of Illinois, and, finally, at Smith College in Massachusetts, until his death.  Apart from choral music, two string quartets, a piano sonatina, a concerto for strings, and a viola-harpsichord sonata, nearly all Etler's works involve wind and brass instruments. Like his mentor Paul Hindemith, he embraced the "neo-Baroque" concepts of form and polyphonic writing. Etler is noted for his highly rhythmic, harmonic and texturally complex compositional style, taking inspiration from the works of Béla Bartók and Aaron Copland as well as the syncopated rhythms of jazz.



Associated Music Publishers Inc.





Ranking Position



Alvin Etler & Iain Hamilton by the New York Brass Quintet: Anthology of Recorded Music Inc., 2010.

Winning Artists Series by the Meridian Arts Ensemble: Channel classics.


Types of Instruments/Mutes

 2 Bb trumpets, horn in F, Tenor Trombone and tuba. Trumpets and trombone require both Harmon and straight mute. Horn and Tuba are also marked muted.

Final Considerations

In his quintet Etler uses serial techniques and free atonality within a cohesive structure; though the harmonic language is complex and dissonant, the jazz style is almost always present beneath the surface. The primary concerns of the piece are color, effect, and extremes of range and dynamics. Throughout the first movement, Etler often gives the tuba soloistic passages while he uses the other four parts to add rhythmic emphasis. The trombone exposes the main melodic material on movement two. The third movement is mournful in character. The fourth movement opens with a quasi machine-gun motif, concluding with a chaotic section. Since the movements are only listed by roman numerals, it allows the listener to conjure mental images of what each movement is about without being influenced by more obvious titles. This is a very intriguing piece that allows the performers to spread their musical wings and create new controlled techniques, such as flutter tonguing, doodle-tonguing, removing mouthpiece, half valves, and glissandos, not normally called for in more traditional literature. 


About the Quintet for Brass Instruments, Etler writes:

“The music was composed in the spring of 1963 and first performed by the New York Brass Quintet. While a considerable portion of the compositional and instrumental practices are reasonably au courant, a post-compositional search for sub-sets, source-sets, and segmental invariances yielded somewhat less than satisfactorily conclusive results. The compositional method consisted first in a series of extended confrontations between the composer and some materials which had presented and recommended themselves. Object—mutually sympathetic understanding. There followed a much longer—and I might add, more harrowing--set of daily and nightly combats during which these diverse bits of musical material were invited, cajoled, and sometimes overtly forced to change, grow, follow each other, complement, top, and overlap each other—sometimes to the point of crowding one another out. The aim was to achieve a long (ca. 15 minutes) and consecutive series of sound-forms compatible with the powers of the instruments that would be called upon to reproduce them—sound-forms that would be initially striking and eventually satisfying to the cultivated ear, and ordered in such a way as to produce a total form that might be inadvertently remembered on the day after a twelfth hearing. When the struggles were abandoned at the end of five weeks, the composer and his materials were sufficiently convivial in their attitudes toward each other to arouse hope that it might become contagious for players and listeners as well.”