• John McCabe
  • Horn Concerto (Rainforest IV) (2006)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2(pic).2.1+bcl.2/2221/timp.perc/hp/str
  • horn
  • 24 min

Programme Note

Adagio – Moderato, poco pesante – Lento – Allegro – Adagio

Having for many years enjoyed playing numerous concerts with the late Ifor James, a great horn-player and someone to whom I owe a profound debt of gratitude, I wanted for a long time to write a Horn Concerto, so this commission gave me a wonderful opportunity of writing for another supreme interpreter. The Concerto was commissioned by the BBC for the National Orchestra of Wales and first performed by them, with David Pyatt as soloist and Tadaaki Otaka conducting, on 16th February 2007 in St David’s Hall, Cardiff.The work plays continuously, but falls into several clearly-defined movements, based on the long horn solo with which it both starts and finishes – at the start the horn is hand-stopped, but open at the end, and the final note’s crescendo is also a change from the opening. The inspiration for the work came from two elements: the sound of jazz horn in the 1950s and 60s, especially in West Coast jazz, as well as the scoring of people like Gil Evans, and the contemplation of the rainforest world with which the music seems to start. It is the contrast between this, in the slow movements, and the urban world represented by the other influence, that governs the different characters of the movements.

Opening and closing with a slow introduction (in which the orchestral brass are silent) and epilogue, the piece has three main “movements”, if such they can be called. The first quick one is entitled Scherzo and Trio, in which the jazz influence is most clearly heard – here, the strings (save for the Violas in the Trio section) are silent. There follows another lyrical slow section, in which the orchestral brass are again restrained from their natural exuberance (I love the sound of brass, but there are times when a woodwind-and-strings orientation is more effective!), and then a second quick movement with several changes of tempo, hopefully increasing the tension to lead to a rapid pounding of the three chords which underpin the work, and leading to the epilogue. The original title of the work was going to be Rainforest IV, and after the first performance I decided to revert to this, but as a subtitle, since I felt strongly that when the epilogue starts, far from being valedictory it is positive – the rainforest is, so to speak, reclaiming its territory.

The scoring of the work is for a symphony orchestra, but slightly reduced in size (only two each of horns, trumpets, and trombones, for instance). Though there are few percussion instruments, there are important parts for timpani and marimba, and despite the numerous passages of fairly full orchestration, the whole band is seldom heard together – rather, the keynote of much of the scoring is an almost chamber-music-like transparency.

Programme Note © Copyright 2007 by John McCabe



  • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Celebrate the environmental consciousness of Wise Music Group composers as we explore the meeting of art and activism in compositions which echo the urgent call of our planet.