Farbenspiel [Concerto for Orchestra No. 3] (1985)
Concerto for Orchestra No. 3: Farbenspiel is my third Concerto for Orchestra, the other two works in this category having been composed for the Chicago Symphony (in 1966) and for the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. (in 1978). The title Farbenspiel and is movement subtitles indicate the general characteristics and distinguishing features of the work's three movements. "Chorisch" (the first movement) indicates an emphasis and separation of the instrumental choirs or groups of the orchestra, e.g., a consort of four bassoons, or four flutes, or a septet of contrabasses, etc. Much of the movement deals with the constant interplay between such timbral elements like the shifting colors of light reflecting on a lake. The woodwind choirs are especially singled out.
The second movement, "Solistisch," employs various soloists in the orchestra with an emphasis on the brass instruments. There are substantial solos for horn and trumpet, of a kind that composers in today's often highly fragmented continuity and short-breathed structures rarely write anymore. The mood is one of melancholy and meditation, and only in the great climax in the middle of the movement is the prevailing pensive mood dispelled.
The third movement, "Orchestral," brings all the forces of the orchestra together in dense, multicolored, multilayered aggregates of sound, at times delicately web-like, at times rather massive. A link with the Concerto's first movement is established by the fact that, occasionally, instrumental groups rise briefly, soloistically, above the texture, like sudden white crests on a large wave. This movement also plays with constantly shifting tempos, ranging from the quite agitated to the extremely calm. Eventually the degree of activity and movement subsides and, after an interlude featuring the percussion section, the movement dies away leaving only the tiniest wisps of sound. The last sounds are those of isolated cellos and basses, the instruments with which the work began.
— Gunther Schuller