The first brass quintet in Berlin

How Arno Lange introduced brass chamber music to Berlin with influences from Japan and Chicago

A meeting with the Berlin trumpeter Arno Lange not only gave us insights into the founding of the Berlin Brass Quintet, but also insights into the chamber music situation of the brass scene in Germany.

The Berlin Brass Quintet (from left: Michael Kringel, Arno Lange, Gerhard Vellmerk, Ernst Giehl and Wolfgang Hagen)
The Berlin Brass Quintet (from left: Michael Kringel, Arno Lange, Gerhard Vellmerk, Ernst Giehl and Wolfgang Hagen)

It was in 1961 when Arno Lange won the audition for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. At this time, studying at a conservatory was almost entirely based on orchestral playing. Brass playing in chamber music was rarely seen. For brass players a music degree consisted primarily of orchestral and opera literature which were developed and studied down to the smallest detail by all well known composers - such as Strauss, Verdi and Wagner.

So when Lange had his audition there was no list of works that needed to be prepared, but rather it was expected that he would be familiar with any and all Opera works. He would only know what he was to play when he walked on stage and saw what was lying on the music stand.

His first performance was the opening of the newly constructed Deutsche Oper on Bismarckstraße in Berlin, in 1961 with Mozart's "Don Giovanni" as part of the program.


In 1963, the Deutsche Oper Berlin opened the Nissay Theater in Tokyo - the first opera house in Asia. In another guest performance, in 1966, Yamaha's instrument makers came to the theater and asked to test the first prototype of the brass instrument production - a D-trumpet (serial number '001'). None other than Renold O. Schilke, who founded "Schilke Music Products" as early as 1956, acted as advisor to Yamaha and designed their first trumpets. The former solo trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a teacher at Chicago Musical College really liked Arno's feedback.

In Tokyo: l. to r.: Renold Schilke, Arno Lange, 3 employees of Yamaha
In Tokyo: l. to r.: Renold Schilke, Arno Lange, 3 employees of Yamaha

The spontaneous friendship with Schilke meant that Arno Lange was summarily invited to Chicago to teach a summer trimester at Musical College, which he was gave in 1968. There he became acquainted with the members of the trumpet section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who in turn gave him students for them to learn opera literature.

He also met the trumpeter Tom Crown (, who then played at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  

In this formative period, Arno gained insights into the vast amount of chamber music literature written for brass instruments, which was still relatively unknown in Germany. Inspired by the experience, he sought to form an ensemble in Berlin.

When swarming about old times
When swarming about old times

In 1969 the "Berliner Blechbläserquintett" was born, with it's members coming from the Deutsche Oper

The ensemble was unique in terms of the classic quintet formation, as it was played exclusively on rotary valve instruments. In the first few years of the ensemble, the horn was replaced by a bass trumpet. At that time Michael Kringel and Arno Lange played the trumpets, Wolfgang Hagen bass trumpet, Ernst Giehl trombone and Gerhard Vellmerk tuba.   


In 1973, Lange received an exchange offer to swap positions with Tom Crown, who had already been traveling a lot in Europe at that time. Lange played a season at the Lyric Opera in Crown's place and taught for a year at Musical College. In return, Tom went to Berlin for a year at the Deutsche Oper and helped out there again in the brass quintet.

During his second time in Chicago at the Lyric Opera was played some Wagner and Strauss among others. The trumpeters there were curious about German trumpets and let Arno play the lower parts on his rotary B flat-trumpet by Josef Monke.  

With the help of Bud Herseth, the then solo trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he chose a C-trumpet by Vincent Bach, as was the norm in Chicago at the time. With this instrument he played the rest of the repertoire of the opera.

After his return to Berlin some recordings were made. The "Quintet No. 1 "by Malcolm Arnold was just about 10 years old at the time. It landed on the first record of the Berlin Brass Quintet. Since the US American label "Crystal Records" needed an English name, on the cover was written "The Berlin Brass Quintet".  There was also a compilation of different brass quintets with the name "Brass Bonanza". 

In addition to concerts in Germany, the Berlin Brass Quintet also travelled abroad and presented its repertoire under the trademark of rotary valve instruments. This was followed by recordings for the RIAS and SFB and others.

We are very happy to continue the tradition of 'The Berlin Brass Quintet' and to bring chamber music to a wider audience.  

We would like to thank Arno Lange for an entertaining afternoon with terrific weather in his garden in Berlin.

Dominik Gaus and Timofej Stordeur