The Horn Concerto was composed in 1970-71 in response to a commission from Mario di Bonaventura for the Hopkins Center Congregation of the Arts Festival at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. It is dedicated to Barry Tuckwell. It belongs to the series of my ‘dramatic abstract’ works (following the Clarinet Concerto, Night Music and Memento Vitae); that is, dramatic in presentation and abstract because it contains no programme.
Here the dramatic idea concerns the relationship of the solo horn to the orchestral brass (2 trumpets, 1 trombone and 4 horns) which form a kind of concertante group set against the rest of the orchestra. When they play it is to interrupt, distort and, as it were, to mock. Thus they break up the mood of the opening Misterioso, come un sogno with their Parodia, con violenza and later overwhelm the Cappriccioso section with wild fanfares. (The percussion spread around the back of the orchestra also help to build this climax.) For this the trumpets take up new positions. Later the orchestral horns explore greater stereophonic possibilities, when, in the last section, they move so as to surround the solo horn, who mostly directs how they should play. This division of the control between solo horn and conductor allows for ideas of superimposed in many different ways.
The idea of superimposing musical ideas that are contrasted both in substance and tempo comes naturally as one result of having worked in the electronic field. Other tape procedures are also imitated in the Parody sections: slowing down, distortion (prepared piano, harp, muted brass, flutter tongue, clusters), feedback effects, and, of course, the stereophonic possibilities of moving players to different positions in the hall.
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