When making this list, I considered primarily original works written for the solo trombone and not arrangements made for the trombone. Unlike a number of the other “standard” instruments, the trombone didn’t get a lot of love from many of the usual big-name composers. We don’t have any solo works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Richard Strauss, or John Williams (yet!). We are fortunate to have a select few works by masters such as Paul Hindemith, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Camille Saint-Saens, and those pieces are obviously included on this list.
Since the tenor trombone didn’t really start to come to life as a solo instrument until the late 19th century and 20th century—and we’re still a work-in-progress gaining that foothold today!—, most of our solos are from those eras. There are a number of great arrangements of older works for various other instruments that we can enjoy playing on the trombone, but (with a couple exceptions), those works are not included on this list.
All of these solos are Class I solos on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List. There are some works that are terrific that I left off due to their extreme range or technical demands such as the Malcolm Arnold Fantasy or Paul Creston Fantasy. Those are for another article another time! The following list is arranged alphabetically by composer. Enjoy!
Cello Suites (1717-1723) by Johann Sebastian Bach
I said I was primarily considering original works written for the trombone, and this collection is the one exception! If ever there were a piece—or a set of pieces in this case—that trombonists should “steal” from another instrument, it would be the Bach Cello Suites. The Prelude (first movement) of the First Suite (there are 6 suites in all) is one of the most famous and immediately recognizable pieces of classical music out there; you’ve likely heard it on at least one jewelry commercial in your lifetime!
Each suite contains multiple movements (basically smaller pieces within a larger piece) that demonstrate certain dances, such as the bourrée, gavotte, sarabande, and gigue. These wonderful pieces demonstrate why J.S. Bach was one of the true masters of composition: beautiful melodies, groovy rhythms, enticing harmonic shifts, and exquisite craftsmanship.
Best of all, the Cello Suites were written without accompaniment, so you can play them whenever you want without needing to find a pianist first! I recommend beginning with the 2nd Suite as it lays perhaps the best out of all the suites on the trombone.
This is one of the tamer works on this list, technically speaking, but Barat does a terrific job of writing two highly contrasting primary sections that challenge the soloist musically. The hallmark theme of this piece is the opening lyrical, noodly bit that embellishes what is otherwise a straightforward melody. The “Andante” half of this solo will test the trombonist’s ability to play with a clean legato, requiring the navigation of the many long-distance slide changes, in addition to the quick natural slurs that occur here and there.
The “Allegro” half of this solo is a light-hearted fanfare that demands an understanding of the dotted-8th, 16th rhythm, juxtaposed with fat, placed triplets. Bring your slide control and scale comprehension, and enjoy this lovely work by Barat!
One of the most popular French recital pieces for trombone. This solo features equally a number of great lyrical sections as well as disjunct, dance-like sections. There is also one extended cadenza that requires an understanding of musical pacing and how cadenzas function in comparison to “normal” metered music.
This solo is mostly in tenor clef, and the range is from a low E to high Db. It begins with a soaring melancholy section and ends with an exciting showy section, including a big glissando.
One of the great, everlasting solos in the trombone repertoire, “The David” (generally pronounced “dah-VEED,” despite whether that is actually correct or not!) is the most commonly requested trombone solo work for college and professional auditions. It is the epitome of essential works for solo trombone.
The piece begins with a sublime lyrical theme in the woodwinds that grows and morphs into a thunderous climax when the solo trombone first enters alone, fortissimo with a commanding fanfare figure. David masterfully composes alternating fanfare-ish segments with lyrical ones, all the while building up to electric arrivals.
If you’re wondering what a concert-INO is, it is literally a “little concerto.” A concerto is a piece of music featuring a solo instrument, generally with a large accompaniment such as an orchestra. Concerti are usually multi-movement works. This Concertino for all intents and purposes has three movements, but instead of there being clear ends to each of the movements, David makes them “through-composed,” which in this instance means the music goes continuously from start to finish without any big breaks.
The 2nd movement is a funeral march, and the soloist gets to both lament their profound loss and remember the good times with soaring lines. Operatic tragedy is present throughout this entire movement.
The 3rd movement is in many ways a mirror to the 1st. The piece eventually arrives at a grand, proud finale with propelling triplets in both the accompaniment and solo scores. The trombonist has one final flourish up to a high C followed by a quickly descending scale, before a hint of the tragedy from the 2nd movement makes an appearance in the last few bars of the piece, ultimately closing in a confident-sounding Eb major.
An outstanding example of music that is both fun to play and enjoyable to listen to, the Ewazen Trombone Sonata is not only the most recently composed work on this list, but it is one of only two pieces by American composers. Eric Ewazen is also the only current living composer on this list.
If you don’t already know anything about Eric Ewazen, anyone who does can tell you he is a bubbly, charismatic guy, who loves to laugh and enjoy life. You can hear Ewazen’s joyous personality throughout this sonata.
Ewazen’s music is often immediately recognizable, and this piece is no exception, with Ewazen’s trademark disjunct dancing lines juxtaposed with beautiful, lyrical melodies.
Trombone Concerto (1924) by Launy Grøndahl
The Grøndahl (usually pronounced in America as “grahn-DOLL”) is probably 2nd to the David Concertino in its place on audition lists around the world. This lovely Danish concerto hits on a number of different dramatic moments musically all the while sitting comfortably on the horn.
Grøndahl does a wonderful job of alternating bold statements with sweeping legato ones, and exhibits a certain knack for building to great climaxes. This work should be towards the top of you list of essential trombone solos.
Morceau Symphonique is a French recital classic that begins with a brooding cantabile theme in Eb minor, allows the soloist a brief cadenza, then runs to the end with a lively section in Eb major comprised of many scales, syncopated figures, and juicy appoggiaturas.
This solo is for many a rite of passage and one that we can plan on hearing at trombone recitals until the end of time.
Hindemith is one of the most significant composers on this list and is considered a highly respected composer of orchestral works such as Symphonic Metamorphoses and Mathis der Maler. Hindemith also (kindly) set out to write sonatas for seemingly as many of the “standard” instruments as he could and said when referring to the repertoire for wind instruments such as the trombone, “there’s nothing decent for these instruments except for a few classical things.”
The Trombone Sonata is in four movements, and much of the material is big, bold, and commanding. Hindemith’s famously fascinating harmony and meaty rhythmic style are all here. The 2nd movement is a unique one in that the trombone soloist plays the same exact passage a number of times while the pianist whizzes away with intricately woven lines.
Warning: Your pianist will greatly appreciate advance notice of your planned performance of this piece because it is quite a challenging part!
As the title suggests, this solo is half song (aria), half dance (polonaise). The aria portion begins in a melancholy Bb minor that requires a solid understanding and command of legato technique with many of the passages using long-distance slide position changes. This is some of my most favorite lyrical writing for the solo trombone. Also, the register that the piano is scored in for much of this section is beautifully lush and supportive of the trombone.
The polonaise section is full of slightly awkward scalar flourishes and many double-dotted, snappy rhythms. This half of the piece requires a good amount of due diligence with taking the time to discover note groupings and the best slide positions to get the job done as best as possible. This piece finishes with an exciting “up” ending in D major.
Another Danish work, this time in a quintessential intimate, pastoral mood. Through this pretty (and fairly short) piece, you get a little glimpse of what Jørgensen might have been seeing out his window as he wrote.
This piece is another great avenue to demonstrate your legato playing. Other things to be aware of here are the dotted-8th, 16th rhythms juxtaposed with triplets. This happens over and over throughout this piece and you want to make sure you get the snappiness of the 16th notes.
If you want a piece where your only requirement is to sing and emote through the horn, this is a solid choice.
One of the most famous pieces for solo trombone, “Blue Bells” is a turn-of-the-century theme and variations work written by the famous trombone soloist of the Sousa Band, Arthur Pryor. Mr. Pryor is said to have performed with the Sousa Band over 10,000 times, many of which surely featured Blue Bells of Scotland.
Pryor once played one of his solos in Germany where the trombonists in attendance insisted on taking apart his trombone. Upon finding that it was indeed an ordinary trombone, one of the Germans said, “No one can play so well. It is a Yankee trick.”
Bring your high Cs, flexibility, and multiple tonguing to the yard for this one!
Rimsky-Korsakov is another one of those big-name composers mentioned earlier, known for dramatic and descriptive orchestral works such as Scheherazade. His Trombone Concerto is sometimes maligned as being unimaginative or overly repetitive. I personally enjoy the piece and think it certainly plays a role in the trombonist’s repertoire.
The opening movement is largely comprised of fanfare figures, the 2nd movement is a serene, flowing one in Gb major, and the 3rd movement is a military-sounding march with passages that sound similar to snare or timpani parts.
This solo is a good choice if your upper register is still developing as the 2nd and 3rd movements only go to a G above the staff. The 1st movement does have a high Bb, however. Also be aware of a brief triplet section in the 3rd movement that might require triple tonguing if performed at a brisker tempo.
The final “master composer” on this list, some popular Saint-Saëns works to check out include Carnival of the Animals and his grand Symphony No. 3 which features the organ. The composer wrote “Cavatine” in his home in Paris in 1915 as a gift to George W. Stewart, who helped organize the music performances for the 1903 World’s Fair and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
The Cavatine is a fairly brief piece in the key of Db major (the lyrical section is in E major). It comprises of 3 major sections in an ABA form. This piece as a whole is considered more of a moderate difficulty compared to some of the other works listed in this article, though it does have some pretty challenging moments. Be prepared for relatively fast 2-octave scales and arpeggios, and a handful of brief triple-tongued fanfare figures.
Sonata for Trombone and Piano, “Vox Gabrieli” (1973) by Stjepan Sūlek
This is one of the more recently-composed solos on this list, but it became an instant trombone classic upon its premiere in 1973 at the International Trombone Festival. Sulek is lesser-known composer of Croatian descent.
This solo serves as a terrific piece for the solo trombonist to demonstrate her/his beauty of sound and lyrical playing. Most of the solo voice plays in a legato and cantabile manner throughout with a handful of challenging technical passages. The range of this solo is pedal Bb to high Bb. Be prepared to express many emotions in this piece!
It is believed that this work was actually written for bassoon and not by von Weber, but trombonists still claim it as their own! This solo is almost entirely in a legato form of expression. It does have some challenging leaps from low to high which helps indicate to historians that this piece was more likely written for bassoon than trombone.
This is a beautifully expressive piece and one that fluctuates from sad minor sections to flowing, wistful major sections. There is one exciting climax to an optional high C. There are also many low Cs throughout that require an F attachment and command of the low register.