Thomas Stevens

Halsey's Sonata

  • For Trumpeters Only

The Trumpet Sonata.

(to be filed under trumpet trivia)

This past year, a former schoolmate, Dr. Thomas Osborn, (not the famous Nebraska Cornhusker) passed away. I had not seen him since college, but the notice of his passing reminded me of an event that had completely escaped my memory.

During the 1959-60 academic year, USC professor and noted composer, Halsey Stevens (no relation), needed someone to play the west coast premier* of his new trumpet sonata, and I, an undergraduate, was his performer of choice.

One minor problem: I couldn’t play it, at least at an artistic level equal to that of the other performers scheduled to play on the same public concert (if memory serves, they were mostly Los Angeles professional musicians). Consequently, following a rehearsal with Halsey, I encountered very little resistance to my proposal to extricate myself from any obligation to do the piece. The problem was the composer couldn't find any other trumpeter willing or able to play it; so Tom Osborn, a doctoral student and professional clarinetist who later became a highly respected professor at Pepperdine University and the conductor of a number of so-called "metropolitan" orchestras in the southern California area, did the honors.

The reason for mentioning this in these pages is to point out, for the record, that the west coast, and quite possibly the first public performance of the now well-known and frequently performed Halsey Stevens Trumpet Sonata, was actually played on the clarinet! There were a few minor notational edits made in the hand-copied version for that performance. The final/published edition of the piece conforms to the original, pre-edited-for-clarinet, score (a copy of the first page of which is included here).

* It may have been the premier performance, but I have not researched the subject.

Supplemental Miscellaneous Intelligence: The use of the clarinet for the performance of a trumpet sonata was not unique at the time. On the cover page of the composer's manuscript (and also on the inside title page of the original published version-Edition Schott 3643, Germany-1940) ) of the Paul Hindemith trumpet Sonata there is a note, written in German and followed by the initials P.H., stating that a Bb Clarinet or some other high instrument, such as an Oboe, Violin, or Viola, could be used in place of the trumpet for the performance of the piece. A photo of the manuscript version is posted in the Gallery section of this website.