Toying (2012)

For Solo Trumpet

Commissioned by Le Train Bleu
Composed for, and dedicated to, trumpeter Hugo Moreno

Duration: 9 minutes

Program Note:

“Toying” for unaccompanied trumpet was commissioned by the New York-based ensemble Le Train Bleu, to be premiered on a concert focused on the themes of play and playthings. In composing the piece, I approached the concept of “toys” by taking to heart both a sense of playfulness but also the vivid worlds toys inspire in the minds of those who play with them. In my piece, I treat the solo trumpet as a puppet, and think of the work as a series of duets for trumpet and performer (between puppet and puppet master), but also as duets between the trumpet and its own mechanics.

The first movement, “Wind-Up,” imagines a wind-up toy scurrying about a room. I imagined someone winding up the toy, setting it on the floor and watching it gleefully totter around on its own until it runs into a wall. The person then winds up the toy again, and sets it off on its own as it has its own adventures around the room, occasionally bumping into other walls, and finally unwinding itself. In this movement, the performer is asked to unscrew the trumpet’s first valve-cap so that a metallic clicking sound occurs when the valve is pressed. Here there is a duet between the rhythms of the valve clicks and the quiet sounds of the trumpeter playing through a practice mute.

The second movement, “Elegy for a Toy Soldier,” is a memorial ode to a fallen toy soldier. As a child, I had a number of small, metal toy soldiers, each less than an inch tall, that I sent heroically into battle. To my young self, these soldiers had rich lives and distinctive character, and so I have composed an elegy of deserving solemnity to the memory of these tiny souls. In this movement, the trumpeter removes the first valve slide entirely, so that when the first valve is pressed, the trumpet sounds out of the open valve-slide hole with a tiny, slightly detuned sound. I compose a duet that alternates these sounds with the normal sounds of the trumpet, to create the allusion of a toy trumpet saluting a toy soldier.

The final movement, “Ventriloquizing,” treats the trumpet as a puppet and the performer as its ventriloquist. The trumpet takes on many guises in the movement acting as different characters in a sort of theatrical skit. The movement is filled with vocal effects using the plunger mute, and other effects that coax various sounds of the instrument.

“Toying” is written for, and dedicated to, trumpeter Hugo Moreno.



From the Liner Notes from the commercial recording on Albany Records:

The three-movement Toying for solo trumpet naturally stems from the composer’s own awareness of the instrument’s potential, which, like As Above, takes the horn out of its “classical” comfort zone. Commissioned for the stylistically unconstrained trumpeter Hugo Moreno by the New York collective Le Train Bleu, Toying relies on its composer’s familiarity with the mechanical makeup of the trumpet as well as with its expressive and technical range. The three movements each treat a different aspect of toys. In the first, “Wind-Up,” the player is instructed to partly unscrew the trumpet’s first valve so it makes a sharp metallic click when released. The wind-up sound we hear in the movement is created through this effect; this can also be heard in conjunction with sounded notes, rendered thin and distant via a practice mute (a type of mute designed to keep neighbors happy, but rarely used in performance). The movement illustrates the unpredictable movements of a wind-up toy as it totters, stops or falls, and is started again. The rising and falling scale fragments, though, suggest a little personality behind the mechanism. In the second movement, the first valve is now properly seated but lacks its tuning slide, so any note played with that key depressed is thin and ghostly, a little similar to the soft/reverse trombone sound in As Above. This “Elegy for a Toy Soldier” alternates between the full and ghost sounds of the trumpet, remarking on both the heroism and tragedy of the toy’s fate. The final movement, “Ventriloquizing,” employs a plunger mute for its distinctive “wah” effect, as well as a variety of other vocal mimicry sounds, including partly depressed valves for a “laughing” effect, a “hrmpf” sound, and other Vaudevillian exaggerations. All three movements require a transcendent grasp, by both performer and composer, of the trumpet’s idiom.

Composer; Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Director of Program Publications, Editorial


Movement I ("Wind-Up"):

Movement II ("Elegy for a Toy Soldier"):

Movement III ("Ventriloquizing"):

Performed by Hugo Moreno (trumpet)
From the CD "Multitude, Solitude: Eric Nathan" (Albany Records)


Full video (all three movements):

Performed by Hugo Moreno (trumpet) live at le poisson rouge (New York)

View Online Score



"Toying" brings trumpeter Hugo Moreno to the fore. This delightful piece for the instrument Nathan mastered in his youth is another three-part suite, rising through its offhand brilliance to "Ventriloquizing," a masterpiece of muted one-instrument interplay. That sounds like a contradiction in terms; you have to hear it to understand how well it works."

- Jay Harvey, Upstage (12.24.15)
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