• Gunther Schuller
  • Concerto for Viola (1985)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 3(pic,afl)3(ca)2+bcl.3(cbn)/4331/timp.5perc/hp.pf(cel)/str
  • Viola
  • 18 min

Programme Note

Composer Note:

My Viola Concerto was written in response to a commission from the Walter R. Naumberg Foundation on behalf of the Austrian violist Thomas Riebl, who won the Naumberg Young Artist Award in 1982. The work was composed during the late spring and summer of 1985.

The work is in three movements, beginning with a quiet introduction (marked Andante sereno) during which the violist is not yet on stage. He makes his entrance a little later, almost like a strolling gypsy fiddler, arriving at the front of the stage in time to play in the movement proper, a vigorous Allegro. A solo cadenza, functioning in part as a development section, leads to a recapitulation of the Allegro, ending in a “brilliant,” headlong finish.

The second movement, marked Larghetto and entitled Fantasia, opens with a gossamer impressionistic introduction, highly fragmented rhythmically, texturally, and timbrally, all based on a single widespread chromatic chord. The tempo now relaxes to molto tranquillo as the solo viola enters almost imperceptibly under a receding horn solo. The molto tranquillo is pure fantasy: little chirpings and wisps of sound in the viola and various orchestral soloists, softly vibrating trills—all set over an organ-like harmonic background sustained by various low-register choirs of the orchestra (cellos, trombones, bass, etc.). A sudden burst of activity—like a sudden storm outside—interrupts the pastoral tranquility of the scene—and subsides. The final episode of the movement, marked “like an echo of the beginning,” is based on the fully chromatic chord of the opening, but now elaborated in different sonoric embroidery. Again a solo horn rises out of the texture, but this time the viola has the last word, drifting off into silence.

The final movement is an energetic, relentless, driving Allegro, with a slightly relaxed middle section. A vigorous virtuoso solo cadenza and a series of orchestral explosions lead, perhaps surprisingly, to a wispy ending, with the solo viola not only in its most delicate high register (in harmonics) but, like a film running backwards, exiting during the final seconds of the work.

—Gunther Schuller