“The shawm players play on instruments of various sizes, some high for the upper voices, some low for the middle and bottom voices. Sometimes they are joined by brass players who play on a kind of trumpet (…). When all these instruments play together it is called the alta.”
This is how Johannes Tinctoris (1435-1511) describes the first brass ensembles in a treatise written in 1487, as they were also pictured in innumerable paintings of the 15th and 16th century. The “alta capella” used to be the loudest ensemble of its days – and certainly the most popular one. Indispensable for all ceremonial occasions at court and cathedrals, the alta ensemble served as manifestation of power in politics and glorification of God in religion. Even Renaissance nobility enjoyed these noisy orchestras for their entertainment during banquets or as dance accompaniment. Beyond the court, wind bands known as “Stadtpfeifer” became essential parts of a vivid mediaeval city life playing at both official and merry occasions. This development entailed both the gradual professionalization of musicians and the development of an overall new repertoire. Innovations in instrument making, the invention of an autonomous musical notation system and last, but not least the emergence of a strong polyphonic and contrapuntally tradition in Western music since the 12th century, allowed the composers of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance time to develop even more complex oeuvres. By reviving the virtuosity of these pieces, newly arranged on modern instruments, the festive brass serenade reflects the self-perception of an era that might not have identified itself as “Renaissance” yet, but by playing with differentiations was able to continually surprise itself. Conductor: Martin Wiblishauser.