Mnozil Brass and Wagner

by Eli Pollock

A few weeks ago, I went to one of the most amazing performances of my life.  However, there were no lasers, no screaming fans, and no booming speakers.  The group performing was Mnozil Brass, and they were playing in the small town of Bethlehem, PA at Lehigh University.  Despite this rather obscure location, the large auditorium was completely packed, drawing appreciators of brass music from all over the state and even country.

Mnozil Brass, an Austrian group who are celebrating their 20th year of performing, could be considered the Monty Python of music.  Their acts are musically virtuosic, and yet the humor is also spot on.  Their antics ranged from playing recorders with their noses to having conversations with brass instruments to simulating various Olympic sports with musical accompaniment.  Aside from the amazing brass repertoire, the style of which ranged from Baroque to jazz, they captivated the audience by singing a capella barbershop music and an arrangement of Bohemian rhapsody.  I was either laughing or in awe of their musical talent, often at the same time, for the entire duration of the show.

Perhaps the talent of the group was best demonstrated in the “Lonely Boy” sketch.  One of the players came out on stage and sat in a chair.  He took his shoes and socks off, and proceeded to summon the other players onstage.  He ended up playing two trombones with his feet and two trumpets with his hands, all the while keeping an emotionless face.  This act can be seen on Youtube, and is their most-watched clip.  If you have time, I highly recommend watching it.

In addition to their entertainment value, the group also has relevance in the study of musical history.  One of the musicians, Leonhard Paul, played the bass trumpet at times, an instrument invented by Wagner.  We talked about Wagner’s love of brass instruments in class, and Mnozil Brass certainly demonstrates the power of a good-sized brass ensemble.  In fact, the program notes for the concert mentioned that Mnozil Brass with be playing for the City of Bayreuth (the town where Wagner had his personal opera house) in honor of Wagner’s 200th birthday.