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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra No. 2 (2008)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra No. 2 (2008)
Composer Note:
I wrote a concerto for tuba way back in 1960 for the late Harvey Phillips, the great tubist of our time. It was called Cappricio for Tuba and Chamber Orchestra. Forty-seven years later, by which time Harvey had retired from performing and from his Distinguished Professorship at Indiana University, I received a call from him in which among other things he said "You know, Gunther, I would like there to be another tuba concerto from you." He substantiated his wish by offering an actual commission, even though he knew that he would never be able to perform the work and might not even be able to hear it premiered. (Harvey Phillips died on October 20th last year.) Tonight’s performance is its world premiere.

As recently as fifty years ago the tuba was still regarded as a laughingstock of the orchestra, stereotyped as the instrument that could oom of oom pah in marching band. Harvey, inspired by his teacher William Bell — long-time member of the New York Philharmonic, and the first true artist on the tuba — initiated a revolution in tuba playing that clearly demonstrated that the instrument could produce the whole range of musical expressions from the subtlest most refined lyricism, to the utmost technical virtuosity, equal to any other orchestral instrument. Three generations later the soloist tonight, Michael Roylance, is one of the many beneficiaries of that earlier artistic breakthrough.

Concerto No. 2 for Tuba and Orchestra was composed in about four weeks in the spring of 2008. It is a big piece in four contrasting movements. It seemed natural to me to prominently feature, along with the solo tuba, other low-register instruments. The piece starts with a dark harmony in five solo string basses, answered by the solo tuba and a little later by the contrabass clarinet. At other times throughout the piece the contrabassoon and bass clarinet make prominent contributions. In the last movement there is a Cadenza which briefly features a two-tuba duet. But by sonoric contrast with the darker sounds the Concerto also presents many shimmering high-register sounds in the violins, and eventually the whole rich and varied coloristic palette of the modern orchestra.

The second movement, in a lighter mood, includes a Scherzando section, showing the tuba’s amazing agility as well as a few tricky metric modulations. The slow third movement (Arioso) presents the tuba in most lyric, singing, gently expressive vein.

The Finale begins with an introductory orchestral explosion, aided and abetted by four screaming piccolos and various turbulent brass outbursts.

It eventually modulates via a calmed down horn quartet to the movement’s main body, an energetic, driving Allegro. A quieter sustained episode offers occasional sporadic quotations from my earlier Cappricio tuba concerto. The tuba’s solo cadenza leads to a return of the initial Allegro energico and ultimately to a boisterous climatic ending.

— Gunther Schuller

The piece itself is both artful and approachable, using coloristic contrasts to striking effect while also demonstrating a range of expression and virtuosity beyond what an unsuspecting listener might imagine possible on the tuba. Cast in four relatively brief movements, the work opens with a phalanx of basses laying down a bed of sound in the subterranean depths of the orchestra. The tuba enters as if awakening from sleep, and later engages in a kind of free-ranging dialogue with the orchestra.

The orchestral writing throughout is clearly etched and includes pronounced roles for harp, clarinet, horns, and even a second tuba. Bright violin figurations offset the tuba in the first movement. A series of visceral eruptions declares the arrival of the finale, which soon reclaims its composure and eventually sprints to a jazzy, high-octane conclusion. The solo line, penned by a composer who is also a horn player, has plenty of sustained singing phrases but also some fiercely demanding passagework.
Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe,17/02/2011
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