When the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the premiere of my Violin Concerto two years ago, it was not in fulfillment of a commission. I had written the Concerto for Elmar Oliviera, as a gesture of friendship and admiration, and Oliviera asked Eugene Ormandy to look at the score. Those performances were very well received, and consequently the Orchestra did ask me to write a work. I suggested a concerto for flute and bassoon, and Ricardo Muti accepted this idea enthusiastically. He and I conferred on the score at various stages of its progress, and he has seemed quite pleased with it.
Had anyone asked me what I wanted to write at that time, I would have been able to say I had in mind a concerto for these instruments. The idea of writing for flute and bassoon appealed to me to no end, and I was only surprised that there were virtually no precedents. I knew the Villa-Lobos Duo for flute and bassoon alone, of course (the Bachianas brasilieras No. 6), but I gather the only concerto for these instruments before this one of my own was the one in G minor by Vivaldi, called La notte. Of course, Murray Panitz and Bernard Garfield, whom I’ve known for years, are both wonderful artists. Bernard Garfield was the soloist in my early Concerto for Bassoon and Strings, with Leon Barzin and the National Orchestral Association in New York, back in 1948.
The first movement (Allegro/Quasi-recitativo) moves back and forth between a gesture that is quite carefree and lilting, and a different gesture that is very sober in nature. In a way, the tempo marking describes the character of these contrasting gestures. The notion of the movement is that these two ideas are evolved separately and juxtaposed against each other. Whereas the first gesture has a sense of rhythmic identity, the second has a sense of flexibility built into it.
The second movement (Andante, ma non tanto) is lyrical in nature. A number of linear ideas present themselves. When the second them appears, its notes are actually played alternately by the two soloists, to suggest a conjoint creation of the lyric thought; once it is so stated, the two soloists play the theme in unison. This initial character is interrupted in the middle of the movement by an Allegretto which is animated but not dramatic, confined to soft dynamic: here the two solo instruments ornament the thematic gesture which is borne by the strings. The movement is a broad ABA, which with the return of the original idea reaches certain dramatic heights. For the first time I faced a decision regarding the orchestral treatment: I had to keep it relatively light and transparent in order to ensure clarity for the solo instruments, but surely this would not be appropriate for such a climax. I decided it was important to build the appropriate texture in the orchestra and somehow ensure that the soloists would be able to cut through. That moment of climax is abruptly cut off, and the movement ends with a series of sustained chords and a gentle reminder of the original idea.
In the concluding movement, a Theme and Variations, the theme is sauntering, and should be played with great precision. There is a suggestion of inner tension in the way the theme is articulated. The variations are sharply contrasted, but flow from one to the next fairly seamlessly, with no stops of pauses between them. There are seven variations, and then cadenzasfirst for the flute, then for the bassoonleading to the eighth and final variation, which is actually the coda (Allegro con brio).
Like so many of my recent works, the Concerto moves freely from tonality to atonality and back, so that, instead of two conflicting methods clearly separate from each other, what we have is a third approach incorporating both elements together.