What is unique about music written for the wind ensemble?

Does music for orchestra work well when transcribed for winds?

What range of styles can you find in music for wind ensemble?

Music Written for Wind Ensemble / Band

Symphony No. 1, Lord of the Rings, by Johan de Meij

This is deservedly probably the most widely performed of all original music for wind ensemble. The Wellington Wind Symphony performance is noteworthy as it is conducted by the composer.  An original wind ensemble composition, de Meij’s Lord of the Rings is a very rare instance of a major symphony having been written first for wind ensemble and then transcribed for orchestra (the “Gandalf” movement only). De Meij’s music works wonderfully well for symphony orchestra, but he has said that he will continue to emphasize the wind symphony in his writing, because he is passionate about the unique beauty of its sound.

More about Johan de Meij

Composer Johan de Meij’s website
Naxos Music: An Interview with Johan de Meij
Johan de Meij on Facebook

In All Its Glory, by James Swearingen

This is a very popular work in the narrative mode of American band music. Its appeal lies largely with its rhythmic excitement and immediately apprehended, logical structure.

More about James Swearingen

Composer James Swearingen’s website
Wikipedia: James Swearingen

Away Day by Adam Gorb

This is a relatively early work by this distinguished British composer and it remains one of his most popular. He has devoted a large part of career to writing wind music. The piece is charmingly engaging, but it is very difficult to play with the requisite lightness of spirit.

More about Adam Gorb

Composer Adam Gorb’s website
Royal Northern College of Music: Adam Gorb

Orchestral Transcriptions

Die Meistersinger, by Richard Wagner, transcribed by Mark Hindsley

This overture is an important part of the standard orchestral repertoire. It is included here because it demonstrates the wonderful work of a musician who dedicated a large part of his career to giving bands superb transcriptions of a large part of the great orchestral repertoire, Mark Hindsley. He never sacrificed any of the quality of the music in his search for a perfect recreation of the works he was transcribing for wind band. The result is that his transcriptions are always challenging and always satisfying to play.

More about Richard Wagner

Biography.com: Richard Wagner
Internet Public Library: Richard Wagner

More about Mark Hindsley

Mark Hindsley’s website
University of Illinois: Legacy of Illinois Bands

Tam O’Shanter, by Malcolm Arnold, transcribed by John Paynter

The British composer Malcolm Arnold wrote colourful music that is well suited to the band medium. The important American conductor, and educator, who was long associated with the stellar wind program at Northwestern University near Chicago made a number of transcriptions of Arnold’s work. Tam O’Shanter is the most brilliant of these.

More about Malcolm Arnold

The Malcolm Arnold website
Faber Music: Malcolm Arnold
Wikipedia: Malcolm Arnold

More about John Paynter

Northshore Concert Band: John Paynter
Wikipedia: John Paynter

Orchestral Transcriptions with Soloists

Piano Concerto No. 1, by Sergei Prokofiev, arranged by Douglas McLain
Olena Klyucharova, piano

This concerto is noted for the profoundly virtuosic piano part. It was first played by the composer himself in 1912. The piano is an especially appropriate solo instrument with a wind ensemble because it can compete well with the power of the band, which makes for a very exciting combination.

More about Sergei Prokofiev

Wikipedia: Sergei Prokofiev

More about Olena Klyucharova

Accent Piano Studio: Olena Klyucharova

Piano Concerto No. 2, by Dmitri Shostakovich
Julie Strom & Mike Bronson, mallet percussion

This is a very unusual transcription because not only is the orchestral part transcribed, but the solo piano part is also transcribed, in this case by one of the soloists, Mike Bronson. The result is especially exciting, both musically and visually.

More about Dmitri Shostakovich

Wikipedia: Dmitri Shostakovich
Internet Movie Database (IMDb): Shostakovich
Listen to Shostakovich himself, performing the Piano Concerto No. 2

More about the Soloists

Julie Strom’s website

Concerto in D, by Antonio Vivaldi, transcribed by David Arthur
Kevin Ramessar, guitar

This is a most unusual transcription in as much as one would not expect to hear a guitarist as the soloist with a band, especially not in a work from the Baroque period.The guitar is very skillfully amplified with very pleasing effect.

More about Kevin Ramessar

Guitarist Kevin Ramessar’s website

More about David Arthur

DavArt Music

Concerto No. 1 in F Minor, by Carl Maria von Weber, arranged by Scott Amort
Becky Maresciuc, clarinet

Of the concerti represented here, this is the only one that is traditionally heard on band concerts. The clarinet is of course an essential instrument in the band. The composer may be fairly called the Chopin of the clarinet since he wrote so much wonderful music for that instrument. The soloist is in this case the E-flat clarinet player with the Wellington Winds.

More about Carl Maria von Weber

Wikipedia: Carl Maria von Weber

Beim Schlaffengeh’n from Four Last Songs, by Richard Strauss, arranged by Michael Purves-Smith
Sandra Tucker Halbfell, mezzo-soprano

Over the years the Wellington Wind Symphony has frequently featured vocalists with the band. That is because the voice is the soul of music making. Our YouTube channel features a number of unusual performances. Some are original works and some are transcriptions of works that members of the group have particularly desired to play.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder is one of his last works. It is autumnal and profound and it is a matter of the highest skill the way in which he surrounded, yet made room for the soloist in the midst of a vast orchestra. The arranger, Michael Purves-Smith has retained the original voicing wherever possible.

More about Richard Strauss
Wikipedia: Richard Strauss

More about Michael Purves-Smith
Michael Purves-Smith’s website

More about mezzo-soprano Sandra Tucker Halbfell
Sandra Tucker Halbfell’s Facebook page

YouTube-social-icon_red_24px Explore more performances on our YouTube Channel

Questions to Drive Further Inquiry

  • What are the characteristics of music written specifically for the wind ensemble?
  • Why are orchestral transcriptions such a big part of band repertoire?
  • What are the differences between a composer, an arranger, and a transcriber?
  • What transcriptions have you performed? What was their original medium?
  • Explore the differences between music written specifically for wind ensemble and transcriptions by comparing two specific pieces that you have performed.
  • How does playing transcriptions enhance our musical experience?
  • What role do transcriptions play in creating programs for band performances?
  • Many of the transcriptions on the Wellington Wind Symphony’s Youtube channel feature soloists. Why do think that is important?


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