Eine Kleine Posaunenmusik (A Little Trombone Music) was commissioned by and written for John Swallow and premiered by him in 1980 at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The work is in five movements and is scored for a 22-piece chamber wind ensemble (including, however, harp, piano doubling celesta, and doublebass). It is part of an ongoing series of concertos for various solo instruments. The series began with a violin concerto in 1974 and has by now (1985) worked its way through concertos for horn trumpet, contrabassoon (sic!), alto saxophone, bassoon, cello, as well as a quadruple concerto for violin, flute, oboe, and trumpet and a Concerto Festivo for Brass Quintet and Orchestra. Concertos for viola, timpani, harp and string quartet are still to come.
While the work is not a Third Stream piece as such (i.e., fusing classical and jazz concepts), occasional references to jazz techniques do occur, for example, in the use of a wide variety of “jazz mutes” (including the plunger), a brief tribute to Lawrence Brown (near the end of the second movement), the up-tempo jazz episodes in the Rondo-Finale, and other less overt allusions.
The three middle movements carry the subtitles Recitative, Scherzo, and Chorale respectively, offering clear clues to the character and mood of those sections. The first movement is purposefully somewhat mercurial and introductory in character and continuity, but is held together by the refrain-like return of the opening D-minor idea. Constantly “searching,” it leads on each return to different musical conclusions.
The fifth (last) movement functions as a balancing symmetrical counterweight to the opening movement, also as a lively concluding postlude to the previous Chorale movement. In addition it provides the concerto’s single opportunity for a solo cadenza.