• perc/str
  • harpsichord or piano
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Slow Blues

The work was completed in September 1965 and premièred at the Camden Festival 1966 by George Malcolm, conducted by the composer, during the Camden Festival in March 1966. Since then performances have followed in various towns in England, the Belfast Festival, the Vancouver Festival during Expo, and in South Africa and Israel on the radio and in public. In July 1966 the work won the second prize in the international competition for "Musica ritmo-sinfonica" at Salerno in Italy where it was performed by the Brno Philharmonic. The work is dedicated to George Malcolm.

The term 'jazz' indicates the harmonic and rhythmic idiom of this concerto. Most jazz connoisseurs tend to insist on a further qualification of the word: that it implies a manner of musical procedure - i.e. the presentation of melodic and rhythmic variations on a fixed harmonic pattern. In this one respect jazz resembles some of the music making of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - roughly the 'basso-continuo' period. The often-quoted similarity - a rather superficial one - between the modern 'rhythm section' and the 'continuo group' of Bach's day obscures the underlying difference between the two styles. The real similarity is confined to variation techniques only.

There are many historical and sociological reasons for this limiting of the jazz idiom to one musical procedure, but this confinement of a language to one manner of employment seems to me absurd, rather as if Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Scarlatti had never written anything other than ground basses.

In this concerto I have attempted to combine the use of traditional jazz language with some principles of formal thematic development within individual movements. Sonata form in the first, song form A-B-A in the slow blues (B being a kind of cadenza) and rondo form in the last.

I emphasise my use of a clearly and easily understood traditional jazz language for this purpose, because past attempts to employ so-called 'advanced' harmonic idioms with super-imposed 'beat' have not been able to produce recognisable jazz, however broadly the term may be understood. It would indeed be quite feasible, metrically that is, to add a 'beat' to Schoenberg's wind quintet but it would then still not sound like jazz because 'jazz' implies a different harmonic language. This language has become the musical linga franca of our age to a far greater extent than some would have us believe.
© Joseph Horovitz


Jazz Harpsichord Concerto: I. Allegro
Jazz Harpsichord Concerto: II. Slow Blues
Jazz Harpsichord Concerto: III. Vivace