Blazhevich – The History of Selected Works

by Andrey Kharlamov

Misinformation concerning the origin of certain works by Blazhevich and the titles associated with multiple publications both in Russia and abroad must be rectified.

There are many works which are still unknown to the Western musicians. Among them are the advanced etudes for Alto Trombone(first published by East West Music Int. as a part of the School in Clefs, 2007), the original advanced Bass Trombone Studies (to come out of print in the Spring of 2009 by EWMI), Five concert pieces for Trombone, Twenty miniatures for Trombone and Piano and many other works. Some of the etudes, for instance, made their way sparingly into one Russian publication in 1985, stunning many western trombonists who happened to see this edition.

It is the time to clarify the confusion around Blazhevich’s Trombone methods. It is often unclear to western trombonists that Blazhevich wrote two complete trombone methods under very similar titles: one in 1925, best-known today as Clef Studies in the United States and as The School for Trombone in Clefs in Russia; the other in 1936, known as The School for the Slide Trombone. American researchers often confuse the two because Blazhevich’s 1925 work originally bore the exact same title as his 1936 work does today, The School for the Slide Trombone.

When introducing his 1936 method, intended for beginning students with piano accompaniment (mostly for ear training purposes), Blazhevich used the same title – The School for Trombone as with his 1925 method, but then renamed his 1925 method, written in multiple clefs for the more advanced student, to The School for Trombone in Clefs. When editing this 1925 edition for its first American publication in 1948, Jacob Raichman changed its name again to Clef Studies for Trombone, thus distinguishing the method even further from its original 1925 title. If we saw a cover title of the original 1925 method (printed in two languages, German and Russian), it would match the cover title of the 1936 method and its modern American version by Accura Music (1990), which some of us definitely have in our possession. Had we seen the inside of the 1925 method, we would have easily found out that it was nothing else but Raichman’s Clef Studies.

While it is unequivocally correct to assume that Blazhevich used the same material in some of his methods and studies, it is not always true that he simply transposed passages down an octave, as in the case with the 70 Studies for Tuba where he adjusted the musical text to fit this instrument better (Robert King/Alphonse Leduc). When Blazhevich compiled these 70 Tuba Studies, his main method for tuba was still yet to come. Published by Muzgiz in 1937, The School for Contrabass Tuba (in BB flat) had nothing in common with the 70 Studies, which were a quick solution to the tuba study repertory hunger in Russia at the time.

There are several publications of Etudes for Trombone in Russia. These etudes have never been published outside of Russia and they are not available for purchase in the west, however, some American trombonists are familiar with them and define them as the material contained in the American published, Clef Studies. Yet, there are Russian editions that include material never seen before in Clef Studies. This material is said to greatly expand the overall range of these studies. This extra material was borrowed by an editor of the compilation, Mamed Zeinalov, then professor of the Moscow Conservatory, from Alto and Bass studies mentioned earlier.

There are many Russian editions of the Etudes for Trombone prior to the 1985 compilation, but all of them are direct derivations of the study material found in the 1925 edition of the School in Clefs (Clef Studies) The 1985 Russian publication also resembles the Clef Studies as well, as it is also originated from the same source except for the addition of some of the Alto and Bass Studies never published even in part before 1985. Those trombonists viewing the 1985 edition by MUZGIZ in two volumes gave the works much praise. It includes most of the etudes from the 1925 School in Clefs, however, the editor of this 1985 Etude compilation, subjectively excludes some of the etudes from his edition based on the his musical preference as he admitted to some of his students later.

It is best to refer to Blazhevich’s own writing about his works to finalize itemization of his pedagogical literature. Besides the two schools for trombone (1925 and 1936), and the above noted etudes for alto and bass trombone, the composer wrote 12 Melodic Etudes (which serve the purpose of preparation for studying the Concertos), 24 Etudes “Virtuoso,” intended to develop agile technique on the trombone, 26 Sequences for Trombone for development of rhythm and time skills, Legato School in two volumes, and finally, 10 Concert Etudes with Piano.

Regarding Blazhevich’s solo repertory for trombone, he composed most of his 13 Concertos for Trombone in the early to mid 1920s. All recovered manuscripts are dated 1924, the date of composition in Blazhevich’s own handwriting. Both Concerto No.2 and Concerto No.9 are dated 1924 as well in the manuscript. However, Blazhevich’s Program for Trombone at the Moscow Conservatory compiled in the mid 1920s (see Chapter III, Pedagogue) does not give mention of concertos 11 through 13. These concertos were probably written later in the 1930s, as they are not more challenging that the previous ones. Prior to the concertos, and according to his own writing in “Methods, 1941,” Blazhevich wrote 20 Miniatures for Trombone and Piano for development of phrasing, technique and skills of playing with the piano, and later on, Five Concert Pieces, preceding the concertos. Concert Piece No.5 was the first one published in 1938 by Muzgiz. It remains the only one published to this day even though the manuscripts of the other four do exist. Concert Piece No.5 enjoyed much popularity in the United States and has been republished here many times since 1939.

Almost all of the concertos are written in the same three-in-one form where distinctive parts of the piece are combined into one movement connected by piano interludes. As the composer describes in “Methods, 1941,” all concertos were written in free form, not necessarily subordinating to the three separate movement concerto form, with the exception of Concerto No. 11 that was composed in the small sonata form where the third movement is a recapitulation of the first one. In spite of some misconceptions present in the United States, Concerto No. 11 was written for the trombone as well and not for the tuba, as some research suggests. The common practice for tubists in Russia to transpose and play Blazhevich’s concertos down an octave inherently caused to draw this conclusion, as a solo part handwritten down an octave was reviewed. When discussing the concertos and their performance media, it is important to mention Concerto No.5, the most popular one of all of Blazhevich’s solo works in Russia. When Blazhevich was occupied with expanding the amount of available training literature for band instruments, he recomposed the solo part of this concerto to fit the technical capabilities of trumpet and bassoon.

This is how Blazhevich describes the compositional structure of the concertos in “Methods of Teaching Trombone” (“Methods”, Page 128): The first movement includes an opening, then a theme of melodic character with development, followed by a recitative theme that goes into recapitulation of the first theme, then ends with a virtuoso cadence. The second movement is always a lyrical Andante in a three part song form (ABA), intended for the development of musicianship and tone quality. The third movement is usually in the Rondo or Scherzo form. The main theme from the first movement is sometimes utilized to end the concerto.

In his final work Blazhevich says that his purpose in writing the concertos was to show off the trombone and all of its technical and musical capabilities achieved thus far, besides supplementing his students with solo literature. For the development of ensemble playing and orchestra career readiness, he wrote 38 Concert Duets (some with piano accompaniment), 24 Trios and 5 Suites for three trombones, 2 Suites for Trombone Quartet, and two pieces-fantasies for ten trombones and two tubas.

The following Russian editions are most commonly referred to in the US:

  • V. Blazhevich, Etudes for Trombone, Vol. 1&2, Moscow: Muzika, 1966; 1985-86 (Zeinalov, Ed.).
  • Vladislav Blazhevich, “Methods of Teaching the Trombone,” Moscow: 1941, p.128.
  • James Sparrow, DMA Thesis, p.37.
  • Blazhevich, “Methods,” The Trombone Repertory.
  • Ibid, Chapter 19, pp. 128-129.