Temperamental Suite for Solo Bass Trombone

The inspiration for Temperamental Suite came from bass trombonist Johannes Bigler, who asked for a piece of moderate difficulty for his masterclasses at the Varna International Music Festival.  The challenge for a composer in writing a piece to be played by a solo instrument is to exploit the full resources of the instrument to be able to vary the mood and colors to maintain the listener’s interest. Musically illustrating the four temperaments provided an ideal way to do so.

The Greek physician Hipopocrates (460-370 BC) first developed the theory that a person’s temperament was determined by which of the four “fluids” (humors) of the body was dominant: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, or blood. These were later associated with the four seasons: yellow bile: summer. Black bile: autumn. Phlegm: winter. Blood: spring.

 If ‘yellow bile’ was predominant , the person would be choleric, or angry.

In Movement I, “Choleric”, the player uses a wide palette of effects and colors to express an angry personality: fluttertongue, glissando, foot stamping, playing without the extension slide, heavy accents and wide dynamic ranges.

Too much phlegm meant the person would be phlegmatic (stolid, sluggish, apathetic). Movement 2 is played muted, and requires the player to sing and play at the same time in one passage. He also must give a series of ‘sighs’, must give a series of ‘sighs.

An excess of ‘black bile’ gave rise to the melancholic personality.  “Melancholic”, movement 3, is a straightforward sad, slow waltz.

If blood were the dominant humor, the person’s mental and physical characteristics would be sanguine, that is, have a ruddy complexion and have a cheerful temperament (fun-loving, optimistic). The last movment, “Sanguine” is a jazzy romp, slipping and sliding with glissandos and rhythmic legerdemain  to make an exciting finish through this brief solo tour of the four temperaments.