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John McCabe

Publisher: Novello & Co

Horn Concerto (Rainforest IV) (2006)
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Sub Category
Soloists and Large Orchestra
Year Composed
24 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
John McCabe Horn Concerto (Rainforest IV) (2006)
Adagio – Moderato, poco pesante – Lento – Allegro – Adagio

Having for many years enjoyed playing numerous concerts with the late Ifor James, a great horn-player and someone to whom I owe a profound debt of gratitude, I wanted for a long time to write a Horn Concerto, so this commission gave me a wonderful opportunity of writing for another supreme interpreter. The Concerto was commissioned by the BBC for the National Orchestra of Wales and first performed by them, with David Pyatt as soloist and Tadaaki Otaka conducting, on 16th February 2007 in St David’s Hall, Cardiff.The work plays continuously, but falls into several clearly-defined movements, based on the long horn solo with which it both starts and finishes – at the start the horn is hand-stopped, but open at the end, and the final note’s crescendo is also a change from the opening. The inspiration for the work came from two elements: the sound of jazz horn in the 1950s and 60s, especially in West Coast jazz, as well as the scoring of people like Gil Evans, and the contemplation of the rainforest world with which the music seems to start. It is the contrast between this, in the slow movements, and the urban world represented by the other influence, that governs the different characters of the movements.

Opening and closing with a slow introduction (in which the orchestral brass are silent) and epilogue, the piece has three main “movements”, if such they can be called. The first quick one is entitled Scherzo and Trio, in which the jazz influence is most clearly heard – here, the strings (save for the Violas in the Trio section) are silent. There follows another lyrical slow section, in which the orchestral brass are again restrained from their natural exuberance (I love the sound of brass, but there are times when a woodwind-and-strings orientation is more effective!), and then a second quick movement with several changes of tempo, hopefully increasing the tension to lead to a rapid pounding of the three chords which underpin the work, and leading to the epilogue. The original title of the work was going to be Rainforest IV, and after the first performance I decided to revert to this, but as a subtitle, since I felt strongly that when the epilogue starts, far from being valedictory it is positive – the rainforest is, so to speak, reclaiming its territory.

The scoring of the work is for a symphony orchestra, but slightly reduced in size (only two each of horns, trumpets, and trombones, for instance). Though there are few percussion instruments, there are important parts for timpani and marimba, and despite the numerous passages of fairly full orchestration, the whole band is seldom heard together – rather, the keynote of much of the scoring is an almost chamber-music-like transparency.

Programme Note © Copyright 2007 by John McCabe

Score preview:

... McCabe, a contemporary composer who actually communicates.
Geoff Brown, The Times,08/09/2009
Regarded as one of the hardest of all instruments to play, the French horn is also one of the trickiest solo instruments to write for. John McCabe's recent concerto, commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales a couple of years ago, is one of surpringly few to use the instrument's full range...The journey between takes in a plethora of different colours and moods, some of which may be explained by the subtitle (Rainfored IV - elemental rythmns, prominent marimba, twittering woodwing), and some of which may be not...But the diversity never becomes chaotic. The solo part found David Pyatt, who premiered in the work in 2007, fully abreast of the part's expressive and rhythmic requirements ...The orchestra, undert the regular Dutch guest Jan van Steen, were also in excellent form.
Guy Dammann, Guardian,07/09/2009
Pianist-composer John McCabe's new horn concerto - written in memory of Ifor James and premiered in this concert by David Pyatt and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales - was an affectionate portrait of both a friend and the instrument itself. Nevertheless, the deeper, more searching elements of the writing ensured McCabe's characteristic balance, where instinctively felt ideas are worked through with precision. Over the span of a single multi-sectioned movement, the romantic, heroic facet contrasted strongly with the other influence in this concerto, the horn sound of 1950s and 60s west coast jazz, but it was the clarity of Pyatt's engagement with different instruments in the orchestra, notably marimba and woodwinds, that was most persuasive.
Rian Evans, Guardian,20/02/2007
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