The work is cast in the traditional concerto format of three movements. The solo part is in the eighteenth and nineteenth century virtuoso tradition. The cadenzas in the second and, especially, the third movements hearken back to the eighteenth century tradition of having the performer improvise much or all of the cadenza. A variation on this idea was used in the first movement, where instead of having the soloist improvise a cadenza I had the entire orchestra, other than the soloist, improvise it.
The orchestra does function in this piece in much more than its traditional role of accompaniment. The individual orchestra parts are, in places, virtuoso passages in their own right.
Music today is undergoing drastic changes. Many of the time-honored concepts of music are being cast aside. The composer of a generation or two ago would have included such items as melody, harmony, and counterpoint as being essential ingredients in the structure of any good piece of music. Many composers today feel that this is not so. Music is, in its broadest sense, sound. Sound is endlessly fascinating in its own right. It does not need the traditional use of melody or harmony to make it interesting. Nothing in the symphony orchestra has as much appeal from the standpoint of pure sound as does the percussion section with its enormous variety of instruments. One percussionist is capable of producing a veritable kaleidoscope of color.
Each movement of the concerto is based not only on certain musical motives but also on certain basic ?sounds? which are used and developed in their own unique ways. For example, the snare drum roll which opens the first movement functions as one of these basic sounds. It is shortly followed by a tremolo in the harp which is an outgrowth of the snare roll. This is followed by a tremolo in the strings and, eventually, by trills in all the wind instruments. Thus, all the instruments in the orchestra produce that sound which is closest to the sound of the snare drum roll. This roll, trill, tremolo sound appears throughout the movement.
Probably the most basic sound in the second movement is a glissando. It is started in the first measure by the piano, harp, and trombone. Thereafter it can be heard moving from one instrument or section of the orchestra to another. Eventually almost all the instruments are playing continuous glissandi as an accompaniment to the percussion cadenza.
The third movement uses several different basic sounds. One is a percussive ?click? as exemplified by the opening passage for harp, piano, and percussion. Another is the flutter tongue sound which occurs soon after in the brass. A third sound is a ?rip? up in the brass which immediately follows the flutter. All of these sounds follow one another in rather rapid succession throughout the movement. An example of the mutation of one of these sounds is found early in the movement. The strings play a passage in which, instead of bowing their instruments, they push their fingers against the fingerboard producing a sound which is an outgrowth of the opening ?click? sound of the piano, harp and percussion.
Hoping that this suffices as an example of what I call basic sound, I should like to finish with a few more words about percussion. Every age has produced its great virtuosi. In past eras, we have had great violinists and piano virtuosi. In our time, a new and I think, peculiarly American virtuoso, the percussionist has made an appearance. We live in an age of great percussion players, and it is only fitting that virtuoso pieces should be written for them.