For a period of some years, I had written for the late Bill Goodwin, music director at the First Congregational Church in Woburn, Mass., several "functional" pieces for brass quintet (or brass quintet plus) for use in various services. While I enjoy the challenge of writing for a specific occasion (and appreciate the opportunity to furnish music for specific use), after a while I wanted to write a concert piece for brass quintet, which did not need to fulfill any purpose other than sounding as I wish it to sound. And the first freedom which that gave me was, that I could write a longer piece than (say) would have been useful in a church service.
Hearing the delightfully mysterious and (in the context of the rest of the orchestra) rather otherworldly Flugelhorn in Stravinsky's Threni, I thought it would be nice to substitute Flugelhorns for the trumpets of a standard brass quintet in my piece. Because of their mellower tone, the "hardest-edged" instrument in my quintet would be the trombone, and I imagined a piece whose soundworld was generally soft, diaphonous. And the first musical idea I had for the piece was not a sound, but a kind of visualization: a sort of glow; the narrow glow of the unison which starts the piece (a unison which become increasingly "qualified"), and the effulgent glow of the final "chord of the piece, a fairly close tone-cluster which, in these brass tones, is more a sweet sound than a dissonance. The unison idea attains a forte climax at roughly the mid-point of the piece, a section marked Vivo ma tranquillo.
The piece begins with a long-breathed dissonant-ish chorale. This yields place to a brief, lumbering dance, which then ushers in some rather stern counterpoint. There is a varied return to the opening chorale idea, whose close writing foreshadows the cluster of the final chord of the piece. There is a hint of the opening unison, and then the vigorous unison (octaves, really) passage aforementioned). There is a sort of broad march section, which ends by echoing the end of the "vigorous octaves," and then there is a closing chorale.