Sunday, October 15, 2017

The classical influence on rock and roll: The Beatles - Penny Lane

I expect that all our readers will be familiar with the trumpet solo in "Penny Lane":

It turns out that it was inspired by Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2:

This is a particularly interesting version of the concerto performed by the Freiburg Barockorchester using period (early 18th century) instruments.  You don't often see a recorder used in chamber music these days, although it was quite common in earlier days (English King Henry VIII composed a number of pieces for Recorder).  More to the point of the subject of the post, the trumpet isn't really a trumpet.  Rather, it looks like an antique variant of a coronet (I confess to being a little hazy on the type here despite being an old trumpet player back in school).  It has a higher pitch than today's trumpet, and in fact sounds very like the pitch of the Piccolo Trumpet used in Penny Lane.

The story is that Paul McCartney was watching a BBC show where the Brandenburg Concerto #2 was performed.  McCartney was transfixed by the trumpet performance by David Mason.  The music inspired McCartney to add a pseudo-baroque trumpet solo, and the rest is history.  McCartney asked Mason to record the solo on Penny Lane, which he did on January 17, 1967.

And thus we see that even The Beatles knew the truth of the old saying: if it's not Baroque, don't fix it.


libertyman said...

I played the trumpet as well! A year or so ago I took my old trumpet to the dump's "good" table so maybe some young person is playing it now. Hmmmm. I played something for the National Honor Society induction ceremony. I think it was by Purcell.

Nice post that brings back memories

Old NFO said...

Interesting how 'old' is new again... Not only in music, but all of art... :-)

Sdv1949 said...

The solo in 'Penny Lane' was played on a 'piccolo trumpet.' It plays in the key of B flat just like a regular trumpet but is pitched an octave higher. My trumpet teacher, a university professor, had one and worked for a few months until he could play the solo to his satisfaction. He had total respect for the guy that did it originally.

Jeffrey Smith said...

Bach wrote for natural or valveless trumpets, which are confined to the harmonic scale. Keyed and then valved trumpets and horns didn't exist until after 1800, and didn't fully supplant valveless instruments until after 1840.