In the Composer’s Own Words by Mickey Wrobleski
Capriccio for Tuba Solo By Krzysztof Penderecki
Editor’s note: In preparing this article, Mr. Wrobleski used the page numbers as they appear in the published edition o f the Capriccio for Tuba Solo. If readers refer directly to the page numbers o f that edition, points o f reference for all comments should be very clear.
On Thursday, March 16, 2000, I had the rare opportunity to perform a piece of music for a composer who is still alive and in attendance. I would like to thank Gene Pokomy for setting up this special master class, as well as Maestro Penderecki for donating his valuable time. This master class with Krzysztof Penderecki took place in the Grainger Ballroom of Symphony Center in Chicago, Illinois, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
I should begin with a brief history of Penderecki’s Capriccio fiir Tuba Solo for those who might not be familiar with this work. In 1980, Maestro Penderecki was commissioned by the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra to compose a piece of music for an upcoming celebration. As the Maestro put it, “Time got away from me…” and, before he knew it, the deadline for the composition was only days away. The opening five notes came to him while sitting in his chair and two or three hours later, he had finished composing what we know today as his Capriccio fiir Tuba Solo. The Capriccio was premiered days later by the orchestra’s tubist.
Here are some corrections/composer preferences …
There should be a variety of tempi throughout the piece.
The first tempo marked. Scherzo alia Polacca should not be played too fast. Penderecki prefers a stately tempo in the beginning of approximately M.M. = 120 – 124. The tempo should remain rather steady until the marked rallentando at the bottom of page five. It should be noted that this (as should be the case with all of the other rallentandi/ritardandi) should be taken very literally. In other words, they start EXACTLY where they are printed in the music. Penderecki was VERY particular about this matter.
The second tempo marking is actually a mistake in the part. Starting at the top of page six, Penderecki prefers it MUCH faster than it is marked (a tempo). Instead, the composer would like this section to be played at M.M. = 144 -152. This tempo should be kept until the leggiero on the fourth system from the top of page six. At this point, Penderecki would like the performer to begin setting up for the upcoming Tempo di Valse with a slight holding back of the tempo.
The third tempo, marked Tempo di Valse, should be taken as such. Not only should it be played in the “tempo” of a waltz,” but it should also be performed in the “style of a waltz.” This is very important to the composer, because there is (for those who know the piece) a fair amount of humor in this particular section. The fourth tempo marking, located at the third system from the bottom of page six, “a tempo,” is a mistake in the part. It should actually be marked Tempo I. The waltz is over…
The fifth tempo marking is not in the printed part. It comes at the recapitulation (starting at the top of page seven). It should be marked slightly faster than Tempo I. The printed “a tempo” in the second measure of the fifth system from the bottom of page seven, is an actual “a tempo.” Starting with the pick up notes at the end of the second system from the bottom of page seven, there is an unmarked accelerando to the end of the piece. From this point to the end, “ya don’t look back.”
Here are corrections for the misprints in the published version.
The first error is an omission and it is located in the second system of page five. The repeated pattern of E natural to C sharp at the end of the line should have accents on ALL of the E naturals.
The second error is a misprint located in the third system from the bottom of page six. Starting at the “a tempo,” the sixteenth notes should actually be eighth notes. The third error is also a misprint, and it occurs on the second system from the bottom of page seven. It concerns the last three notes of the line. These three eighth notes should actually be sixteenth notes.
It should be noted that the eighth rest (which precedes these notes) should remain an eighth rest.
The fourth and final error is a mis-grouping of notes, which occurs on the second system from the bottom of page seven. The repeated figure. High F to High D to Low C sharp should be printed AND performed as if they were connected with a single bar.
The following are Maestro Penderecki’s personal preferences. These preferences, he feels, will help one achieve more of a “what-the-composer-wanted” performance.
1. As stated before, don’t begin the piece too fast. It is important to the piece that it starts off a little less and then really save it and go for it at the end.
2. Each time that the cell consisting of a slurred descending minor third occurs, there should be a slight weight given to the upper note. Especially where these notes are not printed with accents. Think of them as quasi-accented.
3. The arrowed notes in the last system of page five, according to the composer, should not be played as random high and low notes. Rather, they should be played as the best possible high and low notes that the player can produce. It should be thought of as if it were written for a string player. For them, yes, there are limits to highs and lows. When they perform those notes in similar circumstances, they play their best sounding high and low notes. This is what we need to do also. When I played this section for the composer a second time (very energetically) he grinned, leaned over and said, “Yes, that was quite flatulent, I think that was very good.”
4. Again, in the last system on page five, the last note has a fermata on it and a glissando tagged to it. This should be played as written. In other words, one SHOULD NOT copy the last two pages to alleviate the page turn. Why? Because that slight pause was INTENDED by the composer.
5. The trills in the fourth and fifth systems of the sixth page should be kept in tempo and not have any sort of ritardando. As noted before, the performer should not slow down until the music says to do so! Simon says…
6. Tempo di Valse should be a lot of fun. It should be in very strict tempo, however.
7. The grace notes in the third line of the Tempo di Valse should be played very “easily” – very “nonchalantly.”
8. At the top of page seven, the tempo should pick up slightly – subito.
9. At the marked ritard in the fifth system of page seven, immediately begin slowing down and continue all the way until the bar line. One should be presenting a feeling of “fatigue” or exhaustion. It should sound “tired.”
10. At the marked “a tempo” in the fifth line from the bottom of the page seven, the juxtaposed fortes and pianos should not be too different. In other words, it should be more mezzo forte and mezzo piano.
11. Starting with the newly evolved sixteenth notes in the last part of the third system from the bottom of page seven, an accelerando should begin that will continue and grow until the sixteenth rest in the following system. From this point, the accelerando stops, but you stay at the tempo where you ended and stay at that tempo until the end of the piece. The last two notes should be quite deliberate and not too slow!
12. Finally, you will notice that there are several breath marks or “commas” throughout the composition. They are not to be interpreted as “pauses” or slight “lifts”. They are what they appear to be – places to breath. As with any ideas regarding interpretation, these are just that – ideas (that happen to come from the composer of the work). One doesn’t have to follow them to the letter. Instead, when learning the piece, just read the notes and give the piece a run through. Try out some of the ideas. Approach it as a song instead of the four-minute mile study for the day. Maybe you will agree with these suggestions – or perhaps you won’t. That’s the real beauty of our art form. We are limited only by our own imaginations, not anyone else’s. It is nice, however, that a major composer took time out of his very busy schedule to give us some input on a very important work that he has graciously provided for our instrument. This is a piece which took a composer only a couple of hours to write, and takes most performers months to master. (By the way, according to the Maestro, don’t be looking for a Penderecki tuba concerto anytime soon – maybe a triple cello concerto or a duet for tubas…)
About the author…
Micky Wrobleski is a free-lance tubist and studio teacher in Chicago, Illinois, where he is a frequent sub!extra with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as principal tuba with several local orchestras in the greater Chicago-kind area, including the Elmhurst Symphony, Oak Park-River Forest Symphony, and the Illinois Philharmonic. He is instructor o f Low Brass and Conductor of the Honors Brass Ensemble for the Merit Music Program in Chicago and is a founding member of the Polk Street Brass Quintet.