Concerto for Flute and Orchestra

Dan Welcher

Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The idea of writing a flute concerto was suggested to me by the Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester. He had been seeking a suitable new work for Francis Fuge, the Orchestra?s Principal Flutist since 1959, to perform and record. I had come to Louisville in 1972 as Principal Bassoonist in the Orchestra and Instructor of Theory and Bassoon at the University of Louisvile School of Music, and one of the things that impressed me the most soon after arriving was the extraordinary caliber of virtuosity the orchestra possessed in its principal wind players, most notably Mr. Fuge. Having become very familiar with his playing in the Orchestra (and numerous chamber music sessions together), I was eager to write a piece for this occasion that would suit his particular artistic needs, and equally important for me, that would suit his particular artistic needs, and equally important for me, that would be direct and engaging for the audience. I have for some time been uncomfortable about the growing gap between the contemporary composer and his audience: out of mistaken insecurity, the typical concert-goer will lamely applaud an avant-garde piece that he finds boring or static, rather that to give in to his real feelings and his at it, as if he really isn?t sure what he should or shouldn?t like. This is not to say that music should regress, or that what we need is a spirit of condescension to the audience?s collective taste (whatever that may be); but that a very essential part of music should be its effect on an audience. This aspect of music is often overlooked by contemporary ?serious? composers, and I feel it is the main reason that so much new music seems relatively unimportant to everyone except the composer. Music is, after all, a communication: it involves active participation on both ends, Audiences too, have a responsibility to be discriminating and should, I think, voice genuine disapproval as well as approval (provided, of course, that they approach each new piece with optimism and receptive ears).

The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was written between September and December of 1973. It is scored for a rather small orchestra: piccolo, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, piano-celesta, and strings. The composition falls into two lengthy movements, each of which divides into several sections. The first movement is itself in two parts. It begins with a nervous figure in the xylophone (which becomes a unifying factor throughout the movement) and, after a tentative series of statements by the flute, leads into the main theme, a lyrical "Andante con moto". Muted brass contribute a secondary theme over which the flute continues to sing, and, after an extensive buildup in which the soloist is subjected to vigorous exercise, the main theme returns fortissimo, subsides, and moves on. A sudden restatement of the xylophone figure interrupts and heralds a brief cadenza, and the solo horn?s answer to that cadenza becomes transformed into a dance-like, rhythmic theme marked "Allegro vivo". This second section of the movement contains all of the themes presented earlier, but in more spirited settings, including the muted brass theme of the previous section which is cast as a capricious little waltz. The movement ends slowly and reflectively with the flute?s final word to the xylophone.

The second movement is a "Theme and Variations" and is written in a fairly strict serial format Only the theme contains non-serial elements, and while this may seem reversed application of the variation formula (that of varying elements present in the theme), it is actually quite natural: the theme ?discovers? a twelve-tone row within itself, and the variations expand upon it. There are five variations, arranged in three sections. The first three variations are connected without pause: one in which the flute is supported mainly by pizzicato lower strings, one in 6/8 time with a brooding quality in horn and violins, and a very excited third variation punctuated unpredictably by brass and percussion. The fourth variation is in a broad 3/2 meter and begins as a dialogue between the orchestra?s statements and the flute?s inversions and improvisations on those statements. A chorale follows; not ?in the Bach style? as Berg had done in his Violin Concerto, but simply the row-theme divided into chorale phrases. Celesta and tremolo strings provide a variation-within-the-variation as the flute pecks out an eerie staccato counterpoint. The chorale floats upward into solo strings, and the last variation begins with the banal thumpings of bass drum and cymbals. Marked "Allegro alla marcia", this variation provides a stimulating contrast to the solemnity of the previous one. For the first time, the entire orchestra is used to challenge the flute, which is put to a real test of virtuosity. The Concerto ends with a brilliant flash.

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Additional Information

Composition Date 1973
Duration 25:00
Orchestration Solo Fl.; 2 1 2 1 - 2 2 1 0; Timp. 2Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.