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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (1988)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
16 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Flute (piccolo)
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Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (1988)
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
Liner notes from Chicago Symphony performance 1988 season
Gunther Schuller was approached about writing a concerto for Walfrid Kujala nearly four years ago, by a small group of Kujala’s students, who realized that, in this way, they could honor their teacher and, at the same time, add an important score to the relatively scant repertoire of major concertos for flute and piccolo. By the time the details had been nailed down, 150 students, colleagues, and admirers of Walfrid Kujala from around the country, as well as Mexico, Canada, and Europe, had agreed to support the commission. Additional funding was provided by the band and orchestral division of Yamaha Corporation of America. The work was composed in 1987 and early 1988, and is “dedicated in greatest admiration to Walfrid Kujala.”

Gunther Schuller’s comments on the score follow:

The concerto is cast in the traditional fast-slow-fast three-movement format: I. Allegro; II. Lento-misterioso-quasi una fantasia; III. Quasi presto. The opening movement’s generally sprightly thematic material—set in chatty, running sixteenth notes (virtually in perpetual motion)—alternates with a more lyrical, flowing waltz like second subject. The development section not only works both subjects against each other in constant variation, but makes relatively hidden allusions to certain famous flute and piccolo passages from the orchestral literature. (These, however, do not place the work in that category of compositions so prevalent today, which quote in exact duplication and at length from the standard repertory.)
The second movement begins with nebulous cymbal shimmerings and quiet vibraphone and marimba tremolos, from which very gradually the solo flute and other orchestral instruments (muted trombones, cellos, alto flute) emerge. Here the solo-flute part makes copious use of pure glissandos (slides), a technique developed only fairly recently by a number of jazz flutists, including Mr. Kujala’s son, Steve. (This does not mean, however, that the slow movement makes any allusions or references to jazz.) In addition to the solo flute, the movement features prominent solos fro trombone and English horn.
For the third movement the soloist switches to piccolo in a virtuoso display of this tiny instrument’s unique capacities. Set in breakneck, headlong speed, the music eventually leads to a solo cadenza, in the middle of which the soloist returns to the flute. But in the coda, recapitulating the movement’s opening ideas, the piccolo has the final (very brief) word.

Schuller could not write a dull work if he tried, and he constantly pursues fresh sounds and fresh ideas while walking the tightrope between being up to date and retaining contact with the public. The basic structure of the concerto is quite traditional, three movements on a fast, slow, fast pattern, but there is nothing traditional about the content, which draws on the full resources of a composer writing today. The finale begins with the piccolo, the solo instrument, although the flute returns for some final comments. The ending is a surprise worthy of Haydn’s best. My first impressions are the work has extraordinary color and variety. It is relatively short, something like 20 minutes, and seems to swirl past you rather like a fireworks display.
Robert C. Marsh, Chicago Sun-Times,14/10/1988
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