Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra

Dan Welcher

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

Quick Overview

This work is my seventh in the concerto genre. Commissioned by the Utah Symphony Orchestra for its Principal Timpanist, George Brown, my "Timpani Concerto" puts into play everything I learned in the previous six concertos: when to expose the soloist (and when not to), how much to allow the orchestra to shine by itself (and when to suppress that gleam), and most importantly, how to keep the audience?s focus on the soloist even when he?s resting. A concerto for timpani could easily descend into twenty minutes of dramatic banging, but I wanted to create a vehicle that would show this instrument?s facility and delicacy, as well as its unparalleled theatrical nature.

George Brown originally suggested calling the work ?Janus? after the two-faced Roman god, because he wanted a concerto that looked both forward and backward, in terms of musical history. I started work on this piece with that in mind, and crafted a three-movement layout that would show the timpanist as soldier, poet, and dancer in sequence...using both old and new methods of playing. The timpani is a very old instrument, though the design of the modern instruments, with tunable heads, is barely 100 years old. It was my idea that I could chart its growth from the Turkish military ?kettledrums? and military bands (remember Meredith Willson?s ?Copper-bottomed timpani in horse platoons?, in?76 Trombones??) to the post-modern ultra-tunable drums, all in one piece. I soon realized that this would only make the older style look like quotations from a book, while the newer music would seem incongruous next to it. So I kept the three-movement design, with the stylistic divisions of ?Marching,? ?Mourning,? and ?Dancing,? but stayed within the bounds of modern timpani styles?with a few teasing references to the past that should entertain the audience as well. Each of the three movements is cast in a different sort of variation form.

The first movement, ?Marching?, begins with the timpanist all by himself. In its six minutes, it presents a march theme that undergoes several variations, giving us (in order) a modern march, a quick-march with cinematic overtones, a funeral march-dirge, a quickstep (with a nod to Prokofiev), the whipping sounds of a galley-slave ship (with the ubiquitous timpanist, driving the rowers!) and even a reference to the glory of the British Navy. The instrumentation is mostly for winds and brasses, since strings rarely participate in march music. The movement ends as it began, with the soloist happily marching along to the beat of his own drum.

The second movement, ?Mourning,? is a chaconne. This ancient ground-bass variation form comes from the early Baroque, but was revived in the late nineteenth century (Brahms? Fourth Symphony ends with one of the most extensive chaconnes ever written) and has been kept alive by such composers as Benjamin Britten. Basically, a chaconne states an eight-bar chord progression/theme, then proceeds to repeat it without a break, over and over, with variations. In ?Mourning,? the soloist gets to play countermelodies to the theme, but never actually plays the entire theme himself. Instead, the strings (who had been in the background for the march movement) take center stage here.

The finale, ?Dancing,? presents a rollicking 6/8 tune (after a fanfare), which is played first by the soloist. Then, in turn, we hear that same tune treated as a Hoedown, Celtic Jig, an Afro-Cuban exotic dance (picture sultry nights in the tropics), and finally, as a fugue. The rest of the percussion section has a larger role in this movement, and actually begins the fugue with pure rhythm instead of pitch. By the end, the entire orchestra has re-joined the dancing, and the timpanist has one last burst of cross-sticked ecstasy to bring the "Concerto" to a rousing close.

"Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra" was commissioned by the Utah Symphony Orchestra, Keith Lockhart, Music Director; and is dedicated to George Brown.

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Concerto - Full Score - Study
Concerto - Full Score - Large
Concerto - Solo Part

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Utah Symphony & Opera
Composition Date 2004
Duration 17:00
Orchestration Solo Timp.; 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; 4Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
Premiere October 7, 8 and 9, 2004 - Salt Lake City, UtahUtah SymphonyKeith Lockart, conductorGeorge Brown, soloist


I. Marching
II. Mourning
III. Dancing