Members of the Portland Brass Quintet
The First Blast of the Trumpet
by Jan Mittelstaedt
In 1558, John Knox*, a Scottish church reformer, published his controversial work, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women.
He argued that the rule by females (monarchs) is against the teachings of the Bible. He particularly targeted Mary of Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent to her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Mary I of England. In the end, however, Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister Mary I and Queen of England. She took offence at Knox’s words and hindered his involvement with the Protestant cause in England after 1559. The First Blast of the Trumpet is a musical rendering of Knox’s opinions and the women regent’s triumph. The first movement, Attack, musically portrays Knox’s attack. Introduced by the trumpet, the music begins in a fanfare style depicting Knox’s opinionated written
announcement. Accented chords depict anger while trombone glissandos represent sneering. However, the music could be viewed as having a light-hearted quality. Maybe Knox took some enjoyment in denigrating the roles of women. II. Offence paints a picture of the women’s reaction, especially that of Queen Elizabeth I. It extends to the present day and represents the reaction of most women to overbearing and controlling men. Punctuated by a few accented
notes and chords, swing rhythm and interwoven compound duple and triple meter vacillate back and forth. A few glissandos are also included. The idea here is that the women don’t care anything about Knox’s views and are nonchalant while thumbing their noses at him. Occasionally, a little spurt of anger surfaces. The final movement, Sovereignty, celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the women’s win over Knox. The piece opens with snippets of folk tunes from both England and Scotland. Quotes from the English and Scottish national anthems are used in various ways and a few references to the first movement may also be heard. At one point, the first phrase of “God Save the Queen” is dissonant (Knox trying to upset the rule) and is answered by a sweetly harmonized second phrase (Queen Elizabeth’s victory). The piece ends with the trumpet’s muted consonant chord as the women through the ages continue to take their rightful place in humanity.
*John Knox was called to serve as the first Presbyterian pastor of Saint Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1560. Jan Mittelstaedt is a member of First Presbyterian Church of Portland.