TECS Book Club: 36 Celebrated Studies by Narcisse Bousquet

Provide a general synopsis of the book (challenges/ fundamental focuses consistent among the etudes), the difficulty, and pros/ cons.

Narcisse Bousquet’s collection of studies provides an accessible and incredibly charming challenge to the studious brass player. These studies remind me of the Arban Theme and Variations, but with a much lighter and playful aesthetic. Bousquet was a renowned performer of the flageolet (a recorder fitted with a flute’s key system), and the technical demands of this book come from the intervallic and delicate writing that may seem more idiomatic for the woodwind family.

I find this book to be a fantastic choice for those looking to gain absolute precision throughout their range and musical nuance in their virtuosity. This book requires a nimble and exact approach to intervals and arpeggios, and overblowing these delicate passages will cause constant frustration. Striving for an immediate, focused sound with pristine and energetic articulations will transform these studies from a pedantic walk through various keys into a dazzling dance through delightful compositions.

- Dr. Matthew Kundler

The 36 Celebrated Studies by Narcisse Bousquet present the tubist with an accessible, yet challenging set of technical etudes that extends beyond the typical demands for the instrument and offers a refreshing variety of musical possibilities. Due to the expectation of performing an accompaniment role in ensemble settings as a bass instrument, the contrabass tuba is not often presented with opportunities to explore highly technical facets. Bousquet, however, equips us with light-hearted etudes that provide musical means to explore fundamental aspects that may oftentimes appear daunting or grueling when approached strictly through a lens of “routine material that I should practice to improve.” Here, Bousquet tackles a wide variety of fundamental concepts, such as scales, arpeggios, intervalic accuracy, articulation variances, rhythmic variety, and dynamic extremes in a setting that gives musical meaning and context to what would otherwise amount to isolated principles in one’s daily routine.

Despite its many strengths in providing accessible and inviting opportunities for technical growth, the lack of slower, lyrical material does render the 36 Celebrated Studies as an arguably one-dimensional tool unless partnered with a second book that offers balance, such as the Bordogni Vocalises or Concone Solfeggi. It is my personal opinion that the Bousquet studies, while perhaps tempting to perform as a substitute for a methodically organized daily routine, functions best when paired side-by-side with a moderate amount of fundamentals so that the tubist can provide full attention to isolated exercises and then contextualize the building blocks into a practical, musical language.

-Juan Alonso

36 Celebrated Studies by Narcisse Bousquet is a staple in the trumpet/ cornet repertoire, dating back to the first arrangement of these studies for the instrument in 1890. The edition I am reviewing is a transcription for tuba by Peter Popiel and Matthew Wilson. This transcription would work best on contrabass tuba, as the tessitura is low and seldomly goes above the staff. These etudes place a premium on light, technical playing. The writing features diatonicism and rapid arpeggiation predominantly. Ornaments, such as trills and turns, are commonly employed to add awkward complexity to the already steep technical demands. In regards to this specific transcription, Popiel and Wilson have gone to great lengths to clarify the placement of these ornaments. This, and the outstanding rhythmic notation, eliminate the spectacle of deciphering the ink, allowing the performer to focus on their execution of these studies.

Compared to standard tuba etude books, such as Kopprasch and Blazevich, these etudes are longer in length, but lacking in variety in many ways. There are no lyrical selections or portions of etudes. Most of the etudes use (or allude to) a simple ternary, with the contrasting ‘B’ section often delineated by a change in modality and/ or the introduction of a new idea, rather than a change in texture. The prevalence of diatonicism and rapid arpeggiation mentioned earlier adds to the monotony of this book.

I am enthusiastic about using etude books written for other instruments to practice matching note shapes idiomatic to other instruments. This book definitely provides such an opportunity, with many recordings of trumpets and cornets on YouTube to serve as a model. It is also a great vehicle for honing flexibility and clarity of articulation. However, I feel I could see similar benefits in other studies that offer greater variety in regards to texture and technical demands. I do think the length of these etudes and musical accessibility make them more appropriate for college performance juries.

-Dr. Nick Beltchev

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