• John McCabe
  • Flute Concerto (1990)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by Shell UK

  • 33334.3.2+btbn.1timp.4perchpstr
  • flute
  • 23 min

Programme Note

Allegro vivo - Maestoso -
Adagio -
Moderato - Andante flessibile - Moderato -
Andante flessibile - Vivo - Moderato -
Andante flessibile - Andante con moto -
Allegro deciso

This concerto, which was commissioned by Shell UK for the LSO and James Galway and which is dedicated to Mr Galway, is scored for a very full symphony orchestra, unlike many 20th century concertos for this instrument. The approach I adopted, however, was really to treat the whole thing like an expanded chamber ensemble, and though the orchestra at times is used characteristically in blocks, the nature of the orchestration is very much derived from the procedures one might adopt in writing chamber music. So there is a great deal of division of the strings into a large number of parts, and a lot of use of individual instrumental lines in all departments of the orchestra. The three orchestral flutes, too, are placed not together, as is customary, but spread out in the orchestra, from left to right across the platform - the reason for this will, I hope, become apparent as the work proceeds.

The work is continuous, but it falls into four main groups of sections. At the very opening, the character of which was suggested by the spray from waves breaking on the sea-shore, the harmonies and the outline given to them by the chiming glockenspiel introduce both the important harmonic basis of the work and an essential melodic ingredient - chiming, too, is another feature of the work. Indeed, the sea, whether in flood or in flat calm, is a major source of the impulse behind the work.

The opening movement is mainly fast, incorporating some cadenza-like sections in the early part, and culminating in an orchestral Maestoso. This is suddenly curtailed, and replaced by an almost static Adagio, with slow-moving violin lines, and solo passages for the flute and vibraphone - the oboes also introduce, in two-part counterpoint, a new and important melodic idea. After the flute and strings have developed these elements, a gradual build-up of texture using the three orchestral flutes echoing the soloist's phrases leads to the next section of the work.

This is a kind of slowish rondo, in which the ritornello (Moderato) is an increasingly complex series of overlapping repeated phrases, in a different section of the orchestra on each reappearance. The main theme, Andante flessibile, is first heard on solo flute alone, and gradually filled-out on each reappearance also, ending with slow, fairly free cadenza-like measures. Only once is the alternation of Moderato and Andante disrupted, for a Vivo in which three scherzos are combined in different ways (one for strings plus solo flute, one for winds with scurryings and legato chords, and one for woodwinds stating a hesitant chordal tune).

An Andante, followed by a brief accelerando, leads to the final part of the work, an Allegro Deciso during which some previous material returns during a build-up of tension and a release in a more elaborate restatement of the Maestoso from the end of the first part of the work. The Concerto closes with a phrase from the Andante flessibile tune played by the soloist, on alto flute this time, repeated and gradually fading out, accompanied for a while by a gentle repeated phrase on vibraphone which is a variation of the 2-oboe theme from the Adagio.
© 1990 by John McCabe

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