The Concerto for Tuba by Anthony Plog: A Commentary and Interview with the Composer
by Dr. Janet M. Tracy
The initial goals of this interview were to investigate the circumstances of the composition of the Concerto , to have the composer offer his insight on style , and to discuss the techniques he used in the compositional process . When Plog was asked about style and interpretation, he gave examples of the two players he had in mind as he was composing the piece, Roger Bobo and Dan Perantoni.
Roger Bobo’s style of playing was envisioned for the aggressive First and third movements, and Dan Perantoni’s style was the inspiration for the lyrical section in the first movement and all of the second movement. Plog did use the terms “aggressive” and “lyrical” but he related these adjectives to well-known and highly respected players whose performances are associated with many characteristics that go beyond these basic terms, such as the way they approach and lead a phrase, articulate, and color their sound. This information gave the writer a point of departure in preparing her performance of the Concerto . This document includes the transcription of the interview conducted by the writer, via email with Anthony Plog, discussing his career, the Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra, and the techniques he used in the compositional process. This interview was held between January 2005 and July 2005.
Anthony Plog’s Background
|Anthony Plog is one of the most well known composers in the brass world. He is a native of California, born in Glendale, November 13, 1947. He began studying music at the age of ten. His trumpet studies began with his father, Clifton Plog, and continued with Irving Bush, Thomas Stevens, and James Stamp. By the time Plog was nineteen, he was playing extra trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta, James Levine, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Claudio Abbado. Plog graduated from UCLA in 1969.
In 1970, he won his first principal trumpet position with the San Antonio Symphony, a post he held until 1973. The 1974-1976 concert seasons, he served as associate principal trumpet with the Utah Symphony. He moved back to Los Angeles in 1976 to pursue his solo performance and composition careers.
In Los Angeles, he played principal trumpet with the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony and the Pacific Symphony, and he can be heard on various soundtracks including Star Trek 1, Gremlins , Rocky 2&3, and Altered States . It was after his return to Los Angeles that he was appointed to his first collegiate teaching position.
Since 1976, Plog has held teaching positions around the world at such institutions as California State University at Northridge, the University of California, University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, the Music Academy of the West, the Schola Cantorum (Basil, Switzerland), the Malmö Music Academy (Malmö, Sweden), and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy. Since 1993, he has been a professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany.
While living in the United States, Mr. Plog had a highly successful international career as a trumpet soloist and toured throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan. He made numerous solo recordings on the BIS, Crystal, Centaur, and Summit Labels. In 1990, he moved to Europe to play Solo Trumpet with the Malmö Symphony in Sweden.
Chamber Music is an important part of Anthony’s musical life. He is a founding member of the Fine Arts Brass Quintet and the Summit Brass, and has performed with such diverse chamber groups as the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chamber Music Northwest, and the Saint Louis Brass.
Plog left the concert stage in 2001 to compose full-time. Plog’s early compositions were almost exclusively for brass and were carried by several of the top publishers, including Western International Music and Brass Press. In the years 1992-2001, his exclusive publisher was Editions BIM of Switzerland. He now publishes under his own label, Anthony Plog Press.
Mr. Plog comes from a different direction than some composers. Instead of a formal education in composition, he draws from his rich background as a highly accomplished trumpet player. He did receive mentoring from composers during his last few years at UCLA, but the majority of his influences come from performing. He operates on the sound he wants to convey, as opposed to applying specific techniques.
His music has been performed all over the world, and he is the recipient of many grants and commissions. These include the National Endowment of the Arts (for The American Brass Quintet), the Malmö Symphony (Sweden), the Summit Brass, the GECA Brass Ensemble in France, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Nick Norton and the Utah Symphony, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Saint Louis Brass Quintet.
His works have been chosen as required repertory in numerous international brass competitions, including the ARD competition in Munich, Germany, as well as competitions in Porcia, Italy; Toulon, France; Brno, Czech Republic; and Lieska, Finland. Much of his music has been recorded with several of his works having four or more different recordings. In 1990, a CD was released on the Summit Label and is dedicated to Plog’s works for brass entitled: Anthony Plog: Colors for Brass . The featured performers are the Summit Brass and the Saint Louis Brass Quintet.
He now composes in many different media. The Utah Opera premiered his children’s opera, How the Trumpet Got Its Toot , in July of 2004. He has also recently completed a trumpet sonata, a horn concerto, and a comprehensive trumpet method.
Mr. Plog believed he was very fortunate to grow up in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s because it was a vital musical time for brass players in the city. There were a number of composers writing for brass, such as William Schmidt and Frank Campo.
Plog’s first composition was written in 1969, during his senior year at UCLA. The piece, entitled Mini Suite for Brass Quintet, had four movements and was four minutes in duration. All of his early writing was for brass, and the first non-brass piece he wrote was a piece for wind ensemble entitled Textures, which was premiered at the University of Southern California. When Plog was in college and for at least ten years after graduation, he thought of himself only as a trumpet player, not as a composer. His entire being was wrapped up in playing the trumpet.
Composing came on gradually as something that complimented his trumpet playing. In December of 1989 he went to see Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet performed at the Deutsche Opera. It is one of his favorite pieces from any period of music, and even though it wasn’t a particularly good performance, something happened that night that was almost like a vision to him. He remembers going into the lobby after the second act and writing notes on his program. It was at that time that he decided to become a composer. That evening in Berlin led to his retirement as a performer in 2001.
It wasn’t difficult for Plog to give up his playing career. He had thought about it for a long time, and arranged to play an additional six months so that he could play his last concert with the Summit Brass, a group that has always been close to his heart. He believes that the important thing for him was that he was moving towards something, in his case composition and more time with his family.
What has been very interesting to him was his reaction after retiring from playing. On a conscious level, he was actually surprised at how easy things have been. He still teaches trumpet as his main source of income, he is still involved in the trumpet culture, and he doesn’t seem to miss playing that much. On the subconscious level, he still has quite a few dreams about the trumpet. At the beginning, they were almost always the same: he would be playing in an orchestra and a solo would be approaching that he knew–just knew –that he was incapable of playing. Every time he would wake up before having to play the solo. His thought was that during his playing years he had repressed the fears that we all have about making mistakes and now they were free to express themselves. His wife, however, thought that he was simply realizing that he could no longer do what he once could do. Plog now believes that it was probably a bit of both. Now when he dreams of playing the trumpet, it is just a relatively normal dream where he is playing in a group.
Mr. Plog has now been retired from trumpet performance for four years. He has written a family opera that was premiered last July and has a very short series of “kiddie” operas based on Aesop’s Fables that was completed last September. He is currently writing a Christmas opera entitled Santa’s Tale and has been working on a holocaust themed opera for a number of years.
In 1997, Jean-Pierre Mathez of Editions BIM told Plog if he would write a tuba concerto it could be premiered at the Tuba Competition in Guebwiller. For a number of years he had been involved in a project that included writing a solo piece, a piece for piano, a piece for strings, and a full concerto with orchestra for all the brass instruments, so the idea fit well with the project.
Plog wrote the Concerto and dedicated it to Markus Theinert, virtuoso tuba soloist and symphony conductor. Theinert, who premiered the Concerto , has performed in all the Berlin orchestras: the Philharmonic, Radio Symphony, and the German Opera Orchestra
The Concerto requires advanced technique and its melodic material is based on harmonically driven motives. It is a highly chromatic Neoclassical concerto. Plog combines aspects of Classical form such as the theme and variations in the third movement, along with contemporary harmonic treatment and percussive rhythmic patterns. These features set the foundation for the many contrasts in this work. The concerto’s many style and character transformations make it colorful and engaging.
Plog did not know Markus before the preparations for the premier. There was some minor editing of articulation before the performance. After the premier, Plog did 79 revisions: most of them were small but a few were quite large. The Concerto has not been performed with an orchestra since its premier. The piano score is quite difficult, and was not written by Mr. Plog, but by the publisher, Editions BIM.
The melodic material of the Concerto is chromatically complex. When asked about his technique, Plog replies:
“I am aware that for certain pieces I use a lot of chromaticism, but it is not really a conscious thing nor does it come from any sort of specific technique. Basically when I sit down to write I am faced with several general problems, which could be stated as: “How can I write a piece or even a passage that has substance and meaning?” and “How can I make it work”? Now of course I am not thinking of this consciously, but that is essentially the problem of composing.
A number of times when I am in the middle of a passage, or perhaps even a transitional passage, I have the feeling that one note is almost drawn to the next as if by a magnet (no doubt somebody will be inclined to tell me I need a new compass).”
In writing the Tuba Concerto , Plog really had two tuba players in mind as previously mentioned: Roger Bobo for the aggressive passages, such as the opening of the piece, and then Daniel Perantoni for the lighter more delicate passages, such as the cadenza in the first movement or the lyrical passages in the second movement.
In the first movement, the opening statement in the tuba announces a motive that permeates both the piano and tuba parts throughout the entire movement. Its first appearance is in measure 5: the statement E-flat/E/E-flat in two sixteenths followed by a quarter tied to an eighth.
All excerpts used with permission. World copyright © 1997 by Editions Bim (Jean-Pierre Mathez), CH-1674 Vuarmarens / Switzerland (www.editions-bim.com).
Example 1. Plog, Concerto for Tuba , Movement 1, mm. 1-9. Opening motive used throughout the movement.
Mr. Plog explained that although this motive does permeate the movement, he really didn’t think it was critical to the movement as a whole, but it is a reiteration of the opening three chords of the piece, and that harmony is what permeates the first movement, much more than any rhythmic motive. For Mr. Plog, the most important thing when he was composing the piece was the opening chords and the silence between these chords. His hope was to create a lot of tension during the rests, perhaps somewhat similar to the way Sibelius ends his 5 th Symphony.
Example 2. Plog, Concerto for Tuba, Movement 1, mm. 1-8. Opening three chords, serving as a harmonic motive in the first movement.
His feeling was that if he got the opening four measures right, what followed in the tuba line was not nearly as important. The opening of the first movement should be aggressive and almost bombastic. Plog believes that the opening works well with full orchestra but isn’t nearly as successful with piano. He wanted the beginning to be shocking, even brutal. An orchestra can capture this effect, but the piano cannot.
During the interview, Mr. Plog mentioned a cadenza in the first movement, which was not designated in the writer’s copy published by Editions BIM. Plog explained that the cadenza section was at the end of the movement in the 3/8 section, in measures 149 through 181. He confessed that it probably wasn’t a cadenza, but to him it was, and that it should be performed with a waltz-like feel.
The second movement begins with a free unaccompanied section for the first 15 measures, and that material is brought back again at the end of the movement. It has a beautiful lyric quality and is less chromatic than the first and third movements. The second movement has a slower tempo to further retreat from the tension of the surrounding movements. The composer’s intent was to get away from the aggressiveness of the first and third movements. He implemented a more tonal and interval-related type of writing to further reinforce the lyrical quality of the movement.
Example 3. Plog, Concerto for Tuba , Movement 2, mm.1-15. Unaccompanied tuba intro, contrasting to the first and third movements.
The third movement is in a theme and variations form. The style returns to the aggressiveness of the first movement, and Plog begins the movement with a four-note motive, G/E/F-sharp/D-sharp.
Example 4. Plog, Concerto for Tuba , Movement 3, mm. 1-12. Four-note motive introduced in the third movement.
That interval pattern prevails throughout the theme on different tonal centers, and is spun-out in different directions with each presentation. With each variation, the tightly woven chromatic tension seems to unravel as the movement motors to an end. This movement is the most tonally forward moving of all the movements. From the writer’s standpoint after preparing and performing the work, this movement seemed more focused on the final C major cadence. Mr. Plog couldn’t really recall his thoughts when he was writing the opening, but what he could say was that he found that a theme “worked” for him and although he doesn’t believe that he had a specific reason for combining chromaticism with thirds, and although the third movement is perhaps more tonal than the other movements, it wasn’t a conscious decision. After having said that Mr. Plog continued to explain that the entire piece was in C major, so it had to end in C major. He states:
“Endings can be very difficult at times, and the more I write, the more I realize that not only is the ending important but the preparation is equally important. In other words, I have written some endings that were actually pretty good, but they didn’t work because they weren’t set properly. In a way, it is the same thing with a punch line to a joke–it can be a great punch line but if it is not set up right, it falls flat.”
Example 5. Plog, Concerto for Tuba , Movement 3, mm. 234-246. Final section of the work, emphasizing C major.
When preparing the Concerto, the performer/writer was made aware that not only was it technically challenging, it was also physically taxing. The tessitura is within reasonable range for an advanced player, ranging from the G below the staff to the E a major third above middle C, but the technical demands are well above average. There are many lengthy technical areas and there are numerous unexpected chromatic variants within the melodic line. It was difficult to develop a melodic memory for the various sections of the Concerto. The variability of the chromatic motion, and the number of repetitions needed to develop memory for this work were the primary challenges. The character and texture changes are easy to locate and accommodate, and they seem to relate well to each other, as if characters in an opera or play. The characters and colors transform several times within a single movement, which makes the work even more interesting and exciting to play.
The Concerto requires ample rehearsal time. The piano reduction of the orchestral score is complex and the color, texture, and meter change frequently. Much of the piano score is difficult to read and would be extremely difficult to sight-read.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Bass Tuba was written and premiered in 1954. It has long been the standard by which other tuba concerti have been measured. When it was written, only a handful of players could perform it. Now nearly every tuba player who is considered a professional has performed it at one time or another. Even the occasional high school student has given it a try. Fifty-one years later, many things have changed: instruments are more efficient, teaching methods are better and more organized, and information relating to performances and recordings is more readily available.
The Plog Concerto is more difficult than the Vaughan Williams Concerto in certain ways. It requires a more highly developed technique from the performers and a wider variety of colors and textures. The technical passages are more extensive, and the style is more aggressive and more physically demanding. This is where the comparisons should probably stop. Vaughan Williams’ Concerto is the tuba’s first concerto. Its lyric quality and musical character have not yet been equaled by any other tuba concerto. Plog’s Concerto fills a need in the repertory for a more highly charged concerto. It is a very exciting work with diverse colors and textures that relate well and flow energetically throughout the entire fabric of the piece. To use the composer’s terminology, this concerto definitely “works.”
Janet Tracy: What was your first musical influence?
Anthony Plog: My first musical influence was my father, who taught trombone and trumpet privately. I started the trumpet with him when I was 10 and later moved to Irving Bush and then Tom Stevens, also major influences. When I was in the last two years of college, another huge influence was the composer and publisher William Schmidt and his wife, Sharon Davis. Bill and Sharon were really mentors for me. There were, of course, other influences, but these were the major ones.
I believe that I was very lucky growing up in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s because it was a very vital musical time for brass in the city. A number of composers were writing for brass, such as Bill (Schmidt) and also Frank Campo. Some of the playing was spectacular and in a way something new and interesting seemed to be happening every day. Nothing was static, and for a student to be exposed to all this was just wonderful.
JT: What was your first full-time job?
AP: My first full-time job was principal trumpet in the San Antonio Symphony. But in my late teens and early twenties, before joining the San Antonio Symphony, I had the good fortune to be an extra with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That was not a steady job, but it was an incredible experience, not only playing with such great brass players (Roger Bobo was the tubist those days) but also under some great conductors.
JT: Did you ever do any freelance or studio work?
AP: When I was living in L.A., I did quite a bit of freelancing and a little studio work, enough to make a living at it. I played extra with the L.A. Philharmonic but also played principal with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, and the Pasadena Symphony and basically took what ever came down pike, which is essentially a freelancer’s life. I was once at a party in San Francisco and somebody asked me what I did, and when I replied that I was a freelancer, the response was, “ah, so you’re out of work.” Which is, in a way, a pretty good description of a freelancer.
JT: What was your first composition, and for what medium was it written?
AP: The first piece I wrote was called Mini Suite for Brass Quintet ; four movements, which last less than four minutes long (I obviously had no technique in regards to developing ideas). Not a great piece (and that’s being too kind), but it was published and that was a real thrill for me. All my early writing was for brass, and I think that the first non-brass piece I wrote was a piece for wind ensemble entitled Textures , which was premiered at the University of Southern California. The Mini Suite was written in 1969, when I was a senior at UCLA, but composing at that time was nothing important for me.
JT: Did you view yourself only as a trumpet player?
AP: When I was in college and just out (for at least ten years), I thought of myself only in trumpet playing terms. I occasionally did a bit of composing, but even now I’m not sure why, as my whole being was wrapped up in playing the trumpet. It was a pretty narrow time in a way, but also full of wonder and fun, hearing great orchestral music for the first time, developing friendships that last to this day.
JT: At what point did you begin viewing yourself as a composer?
AP: Regarding when I first viewed myself as a composer, I can’t really say, as composing came on as a gradual thing, something that complemented my trumpet playing. But I did have one experience that was, in a way, life changing for me. It was December 1989, and I was in Berlin to play some Christmas concerts with an organ player. At this point in time I was doing some composing but the trumpet was still number one in my life
However, I had a free night and went to see Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet performed at the Deutsche Opera. This ballet is one of my favorite pieces from any period of music, and even though it was not a particularly good performance, something happened that night that was almost like a vision. I remember going into the lobby after the second act and writing notes on my program, and it was at that time that I made the decision that I would become a composer.
I felt (and still do) that even if I was a failure as a composer, I could claim the same beautiful and honorable profession as Prokofiev. And so in a way, that evening in Berlin led to my retirement from playing in 2001.
JT: You had a terrific performing career. Was it difficult to give it up?
AP: In a way, it was not difficult at all for me to give up my playing career. I had thought about it for a very long time, and actually played an extra six months so that I could play my last concert with the Summit Brass, a group that was always close to my heart. And that last week with the Summit Brass was such fun and such a great way for me to end my playing days. I think that the important thing for me was that I was moving towards something, in my case composition and more time with the family. In other words, I had something in front of me that would require a lot of time and energy and was also more meaningful to me than the trumpet.
What has been very interesting to me is my reaction after retiring from playing. On a conscious level, I have actually been surprised at how easy things have been. Because I still teach the trumpet as my main source of income, I am still involved in the trumpet culture, and I just don’t really seem to miss playing that much. But on a subconscious level, I still have quite a few dreams about the trumpet. At the beginning, they were almost always the same–I would be playing in an orchestra and a solo would be approaching which I knew, just knew , that I was incapable of playing. And every time I would wake up before having to play the solo.
My thought was that during my playing years I had repressed the fears that we all have about making mistakes and now they were free to express themselves.
My wife, however, thought that I was simply realizing that I was no longer capable of physically doing what I could once do. In reality, it was probably a bit of both. But now when I dream of the trumpet, it is just a relatively normal dream where I am playing in a group.
JT: What works did you compose immediately after you had made your life changing decision?
AP: After I retired, I basically kept working on the same pieces that were calling for my time before. In other words, I didn’t really do anything different. I just had a bit more time and focus. However, now that I have been retired for almost four years, I do see that I am going in a new direction. I have written a family opera which was premiered last July, I have a very short series of “kiddie” operas based on Aesop’s fables which was completed last September, I will be finished with a Christmas opera entitled Santa’s Tale this June, and I have been working for quite a number of years on a holocaust-themed opera. So I am moving towards bigger forms of music, and I think that if I were still playing the trumpet, that would be much more difficult to do.
B. The Concerto
JT: What prompted you to write a tuba concerto?
AP: I don’t have exact memories of the Concerto , but I believe that Jean-Pierre Mathez of Editions BIM told me if I wrote a tuba concerto it could be premiered at the tuba competition in Guebwiller.
For a number of years I have been involved in a project that includes writing a solo piece, a piece with piano, a piece with strings, and a full concerto with orchestra for all of the brass instruments, so this idea fit in well with this project.
The Concerto was premiered by Markus Theinert and the Mulhouse Symphony. After the premier I did 79 revisions, most of them small but a few that were quite large, and I think that these revisions have really made it a strong piece.
Unfortunately, the Concerto has not been played with an orchestra since its premier, and I think that this version is FAR superior to the piano version (and I know that pianists will agree with me!).
JT: Did you know Markus before he began preparing your Concerto ?
AP: No, I didn’t know Markus before we began working on the Concerto together.
JT: Did you have any contact with Markus prior to the performance?
AP: Yes, Markus came and visited, and I believe that we had a Sunday pancake brunch before we discussed the Concerto. By the way, he gave a heroic performance–about a week before the performance he was sick as a dog and was in bed for four or five straight days, and I don’t think he played during that time. He still wasn’t feeling well the night of the performance but he did a great job. I haven’t seen him much since the premier, but we occasionally trade “hellos” through other players.
JT: Do you remember what you discussed?
AP: I don’t remember a lot of what we discussed, but I do remember that he wanted a slow tempo for the second movement so that the pizzicati would sound and also I changed a col legno passage in the last movement to pizzicato on his recommendation, which I changed back to col legno when I did revisions after the performance. One thing that I don’t believe we discussed was the tempo of the first movement, which was way too slow at the premier. Unfortunately that was my wish, and only after the fact did I realize that I was wrong.
JT: Did you do any editing during his preparation?
AP: Before the premier I did no editing with Markus save the change from col legno to pizzicato.
JT: Your melodic material is chromatically complex and it produces a lot of tension and suspense. What techniques did you use to create this effect?
AP: I’m aware that for certain pieces I use a lot of chromaticism, but it is not really a conscious thing nor does it come from any sort of specific technique. Basically when I sit down to write I am faced with several general problems, which could be stated as: How can I write a piece or even a passage that has substance and meaning; and How can I make it work? Now of course I am not thinking of this consciously, but that is essentially the problem of composing. One question is esthetic (how to give substance and meaning to a piece) and the other is practical (how to make it somehow interesting).
I would say that I am much more concerned with these two concepts than with the specific techniques such as chromaticism.
But, having said that, a number of times when I am in the middle of a passage, or perhaps even a transitional passage, I have the feeling that one note is almost drawn to the next as if by a magnet (no doubt somebody will be inclined to tell me I need a new compass!). In other words, it is almost like the note or phrase HAS to go in a certain direction. Why, I can’t say, but deep down I suspect that a great many composers have the same feeling.
On the negative side, there are certain chromatic passages that I have written that now sound very much like formula to me, in a way almost like I had to confront the second problem (how to make it work) and settled for something easy or something I had done before rather than to struggle with the writing a bit more.
In the terms of adding tension and suspense, thank you very much, and I had no idea that this is what I have done with chromaticism. Quite often I write passages that are somewhat similar to being chromatic but have several notes not in the chromatic scale, and at times I guess I feel that this can produce tension. But, once again, this is not a conscious thought.
JT: In the first movement of the Concerto , you use a three-note motive: (E-flat E E-flat), which is notated in two sixteenths followed by a quarter note tied to an eighth. This motive appears frequently throughout the solo and piano parts on different tonal centers. How should this motive be presented, and what style did you have in mind for this movement?
Example 6. Plog, Concerto for Tuba , Movement 3, mm. 27-37. Permutation of the opening three-note motive.
AP: Although this motive does permeate the movement in a certain way I don’t really think that it is critical to the movement as a whole and certainly not to the beginning. For me the most important thing when I was composing the piece was the opening chords and the silence between these chords. My hope was to create a lot of tension during the rests, perhaps somewhat similar to the way Sibelius ends his Fifth Symphony. My feeling was that if I got the opening four measures right, what followed in the tuba line was not nearly so important–in other words, I felt that there was only one real opening four measures that I could do, but if I got those four measures right, then no matter what I wrote in the tuba line would work. And conversely, if the first four measures don’t work, then it really doesn’t matter how good the tuba line is, the opening is not successful and the rest of the piece is an uphill fight. What is a pity is that I think the opening works with full orchestra but doesn’t work with piano. The reason why depends on your second part of the question regarding style, and I wanted the beginning to be in a way shocking, even brutal. An orchestra can capture this effect but a piano can’t.
I consider the Concerto to be a much stronger piece than Three Miniatures, but with piano it tends to be perhaps just a longer version of Three Miniatures. With orchestra it is really a different piece.
In writing this piece I really had two tuba players in mind, and this is true for almost everything I write–Roger Bobo for the aggressive passages, such as the opening of the piece, and then Dan Perantoni, for the lighter more delicate passages, such as the cadenza in the first movement or the lyrical passages in the second movement. So, regarding the style of the first movement, I didn’t want it to be a virtuoso display sort of movement: rather I wanted to capture a darker, perhaps more brutal feeling (and my own feeling is that the beginning should be played in a very aggressive, almost bombastic sort of way, which for sure doesn’t work with piano).
After returning from his morning run the next day, Mr. Plog added to his previous response:
AP: I think I can give you a better answer regarding the opening. Usually when I write, some of the techniques I use are conscious, some are not, but almost always when I’m on to new projects (such as the opera I’m working on at present) I forget some things I did on other pieces, such as the Tuba Concerto. So, in thinking about the opening measures I remember what I was thinking at the time. The opening tuba line (E-flat E E-flat) is simply a reiteration of the opening three chords (E-flat E E-flat), and this harmony is what permeates the first movement, much more than any rhythmic motive.
Also what permeates this movement is the use of several different tonalities at the same time, for example: measures 7 and 8 leading to measure 9, we have (all in major chords) B-flat B leading to C major in an ascending mode and at the same time in descending mode B B-flat A, so that the eighth notes in measure 9 are C major and A major at the same time. Not anything really original, but I think this use of harmony was for me more important than any rhythmic or chromatic activity.
JT: You mention a cadenza in the first movement. In my edition (BIM TU-53a), there isn’t one marked on the score. Where is it located?
AP: Please know that I don’t have a complete score with me, so I can’t give specific measure numbers. However, regarding the cadenza in the first movement, it comes towards the end of the movement and has a waltz-like feel to it. It probably is not a cadenza in the strictest sense of the word, but what happened was that I started writing a cadenza and found out that I needed help from the other instruments in the orchestra, that somehow the tuba lines begged for some texture. So, even though it is probably not a cadenza (the tuba does not play alone) to ME it is a cadenza.
The cadenza section discussed begins in measure 149 and ends at measure 181.
JT: You begin the second movement with a free unaccompanied section for the first 15 measures, and bring the material back again, free and unaccompanied from measure 57 through 65. Are the two free sections a further departure from the aggressive, tense styles of the first and third movements?
AP: Yes, I wanted it to be a way to get away from the aggressiveness of the first and third movements. Obviously having a slower and more lyrical tempo and approach helps but also a thinner or more transparent orchestration can serve this purpose as well.
JT: The second movement has a beautiful lyric quality and is considerably more tonal than the first and third movements. Why did you decide to break away from the tightly woven chromaticism for the second movement?
AP: Thanks for the question (and compliment) regarding the second movement. It’s interesting that your questions are making me understand certain things about my writing that are normally not conscious decisions.
So I would have to say it was not a conscious effort to make the second movement non-chromatic in order to break away from the tension of the first movement, but I guess without knowing it in my mind I probably relate lyrical writing (which is what I intended for the second movement) to a more tonal type of writing or at least a non-chromatic, more-interval related type of writing.
These questions have made me think that when I write it is more instinctive than analytical.
JT: The third movement is a theme and variations. It returns to the aggressive style of the first movement. You begin the movement with the four-note motif (G E F-sharp D-sharp). That interval pattern prevails throughout the Theme and is spun-out in different directions with each presentation. Why did you decide to combine the chromatic movement with the regularly occurring minor thirds? Also, with each variation, the tightly woven chromatic tension seems to unravel as the movement motors to the end. This is the most tonally forward moving of all the movements. Was it your intent to have this movement more focused on the final C major cadence at the end?
AP: Regarding the opening theme of the third movement, I can’t really recall my thoughts when I was writing the opening. Basically all I can say is that I found a theme that “worked” for me (and here we go back to that main idea of something either “working” or “not working”). I actually don’t believe that I had a specific reason for combining chromaticism with thirds, and, although perhaps this third movement is the most tonal of the movements, I don’t believe that was a conscious decision. Having said that, though, the entire piece is definitely in C major and so for me it had to end in C major. A bit of trivia is that the ending I wrote which was played at the premier was probably the worst ending I ever wrote, and so what you are familiar with is a re-write. Endings can be very difficult at times, and, the more I write, the more I realize that not only is the ending important but the preparation is equally as important. In other words, I have written some endings that were actually pretty good, but they didn’t work because they weren’t set up properly. In a way, it is the same thing with a punch line to a joke–it can be a great punch line but if it is not set up right, it falls flat. Well, now I’m into humor so I guess I’ve strayed a bit.
JT: During the duration of this interview (January through July), how many compositions were in progress?
AP: My main piece of work during this interview has been to try to finish a family opera called Santa’s Tale. With luck, it will be done by August 1. Usually I write at least several pieces during the same period–usually one big piece, plus a couple smaller ones. When the writing goes poorly on the big piece then I switch to something smaller. I’ve never had anything like writer’s block, and it is probably because I move around so much. Even on Santa’s Tale, I go from scene to scene.
JT: With so many projects in the works, do you have any free time? If so, how do you spend it?
AP: Finding time is actually quite difficult these days, as I have two children, ages 12 and 9, and of course spending time with them and taking them to lessons, sports, et cetera, is so time consuming. But it’s important, and I know that I’ll have more time once they leave the house in ten or so years. So basically I like to read as much as possible and I also love sports. Right now I have been training to run the Basil Marathon, and although my time will be incredibly slow, I find that the training really helps my energy, which of course helps my composing (and everything else).
Finding time for composing is difficult, so I am up at 5:30 every morning (even on weekends) because the kids are asleep at that time.
I’ve thought a lot about your questions, and why I have not been able to answer some of them as well as I would like. It seems to me as though there are perhaps two different types of composers (and most fall somewhere in between). For lack of a better definition, we could call one type of composer analytical and the other instinctual. To simplify things, in terms of a novelist, the analytical writer would outline the book, then outline each chapter, and once the structure was set, then begin to write. The second type of writer would have a basic theme and characters in mind, and would then begin to write and basically let the characters dictate where they want to go. I am more like this second type of writer, and so that makes it more difficult to answer certain questions.
All excerpts used with permission. World copyright © 1997 by Editions Bim (Jean-Pierre Mathez), CH-1674 Vuarmarens / Switzerland (www.editions-bim.com).
The writer would like to thank Mr. Plog who graciously gave his time and energy during this interview. This document has been extracted from the writer’s July 7, 2005 Doctorate of Musical Arts Lecture Recital and accompanying paper. Anthony Plog and Janet Tracy are collaborating on the development of a tuba sonata, which will be premiered within the next year.
Dr. Janet Tracy is on faculty at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she is Professor of Tuba and Euphonium, teaches Brass Methods, and coaches the orchestra wind sections. She is a freelance performer as a soloist and ensemble musician in the San Antonio and Austin areas. Dr. Tracy also serves as a consultant, clinician and private instructor in the Northeast (San Antonio) and New Braunfels Independent School Districts. She and her husband reside in San Antonio with their Catahoula mix Toby, and their four cats.
Anthony Plog: Biography . Anthony Plog. Professional Website. http://www.editions-bim.com/composers/plog.php; Accessed 29 June 2005.
Anthony Plog, Trumpeter and Composer, Named 2003 Distinguished Alumnus by the Music Academy of the West . Anthony Plog. http://www.musicacademy.org/FacultyArtists/ Facultybios/plog.html; Accessed 15 January 2005.
Biography. Anthony Plog. Professional Website. http://www.anthonyplog.com; Accessed 15 January 2005.
Plog, Anthony. Tuba Concerto for Tuba and Piano Reduction. Switzerland: Editions-Bim, 1997.
Markus Theinert . Theinert, Markus. Professional Website. http://www.markus-theinert.com.de; Accessed 17 March 2005