The Evolution of a Masterpiece: The Unlikely But True Story of Gareth Wood’s “Euphonium Concerto”
by Stephen Arthur Allen
The Story of the Premiere (the Geography)
In September 2008 I flew to England from the USA to join my brother Chris on his annual trip to Birmingham for the British Open Brass Band Championships. We were there to spend time with Edward and Bram Gregson. Eddie had composed the new test-piece Rococo Variations and was celebrating his retirement as Principal from the Royal Northern College of Music. While there I came across my old friend and mentor Geoffrey Brand who had (along with Eric Ball, OBE) awarded me a Royal Academy Scholarship in my teens and with whom I had also worked on my conducting during the same period. (Geoffrey had been Musical Director of the legendary Black Dyke, G.U.S. and Brighouse and Rastrick bands at that time.)
Now as Co-Director of G & M Brand Publications, with his son Michael, Geoffrey invited me to give the U. S. premiere of the Euphonium Concerto (2006) by the distinguished Welsh composer Gareth Wood (b. 1950). As I had just been appointed Professor of Euphonium at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (I am also a tenured Professor of Music at Rider University), the timing of Geoffrey’s invitation could not have been more Providential—not to mention the fact that I was being offered a “free” concerto! David Childs had originally invited Gareth to write a concerto for him and Gareth approached Geoffrey with the work. However, Geoffrey was not able to find a “sponsor” and in the end Gareth wrote the work without financial commission. (It should also be noted that Geoffrey Brand commissioned the very first euphonium concerto, composed by Joseph Horovitz and premiered by legendary Trevor Groom, in 1972.)
Back in the States I began communicating with Michael Brand who sent me a hard copy of the solo part that arrived on October 11th. My eyes were immediately drawn to the Performance Note:
“In addition to this Concerto the composer has also written an Allegro Scherzando [i.e. the Waltz movement*] for euphonium (also published by G & M Brand Publications), which may be performed on its own as a complete work. However, as the Allegro Scherzando uses related thematic material it may also be played as an additional movement in this Concerto, inserted between the opening Allegro and the following Andante, extending it into a four movement work. In this case, the last bar of the first movement [Bar 159 marked* in the score and parts] should be omitted.”
*Note: although the title of this second movement in the manuscript is “Allegro Scherzando for Euphonium,” Gareth confirmed that the publisher, not the composer, for independent publication, added this designation. Therefore, in keeping with the titles of the other movements by their musical designations, I will refer to the second movement as the “Waltz movement” from “Tempo di Valse.”
Now my research chops were activated (my Ph. D. [D.Phil.] sleuthing at Oxford University having been on the operas of Benjamin Britten) and over the following eight weeks I began piecing together the fascinating story of the journey of this remarkable piece of music.
The Wood concerto had originally been given an incomplete premiere in 2006 by the superb David Childs (the works dedicatee) accompanied by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force conducted by Squadron Leader Duncan Stubbs at my old alma mater the Birmingham Conservatoire in England on May 4th, 2006 (another piece of Kismet!). Although this three-movement premiere was recorded only a few excerpts were subsequently made available on the G & M Brand website, so it was impossible to get any real sense of the orchestration or flow of the music in toto at this preliminary stage.
I also learned from Michael that because of the general phenomenon of plummeting music sales across the board in the USA, the punitive initial costs of publishing and concern about the overall length of the concerto (some 20-plus minutes) and the difficulty of attracting band directors to program a solo item of such length, it had been provisionally decided, with the publishers’ regret and the composer’s reluctant approval, not to publish the Waltz movement at that time. So the 2006 premiere went ahead with only the first, third and fourth movements. It can be conceded that this sequence does at least succeed in following the traditional fast-slow-fast three-movement formal design of the traditional concerto type. But, as will be shown in this particular case, the inclusion of the Waltz movement restores the truly symphonic design of the work—for the Wood Concerto is truly a “Symphony for Euphonium” in its thematic as well as formal aspects.
A new year came round and I contacted Michael on January 14th, 2009 with a request to obtain the original Waltz movement. It turned out that the engraving of the three published movements had been carried out under the publishers’ auspices because Gareth still composed directly onto manuscript into full score, not using computer software for composing/orchestrating. Thus at this stage the Waltz movement only existed in manuscript full-score form. So Michael sent me a copy of the solo euphonium line for the Waltz movement engraved over empty piano score from which I cut out and assembled a provisional solo part.
I also learned that there was no existing piano accompaniment—not just for the Waltz movement but also for the entire Concerto! So on March 9th I contacted Gareth and Michael requesting one. The very next day Gareth wrote back with the news that he had directly started work on it. By April 7th he had it completed the whole accompaniment and mailed out to me. Having worked on the part alone for several months it was good to at last be able to hear the solo euphonium lines clothed in their harmonic and rhythmic dress.
It had also gradually dawned on me that what had originally been planned as a US premiere of the published three movements was now evolving into a world premiere of the entire four movement work, a fact that excited myself, the composer and the publishers—Michael flying out to the U. S. for a meeting in Princeton, N. J. on Wednesday September 2nd to formulate ideas. (Incidentally I also phoned dedicatee David Childs and received his blessing for this undertaking.)
I approached Gareth in July about the issue of the band parts for the Waltz movement and by August 16th he wrote out (by hand) and mailed the complete band set and a copy of the manuscript score. (Incidentally the writing of the piano accompaniment and parts was carried out while Gareth was working on other projects! I took the liberty of mildly editing the piano accompaniment draft it to include some important recapitulated thematic material. It is, at the time of writing, in preparation for publication.) Now having possession of the complete musical materials it was a question of finding a band and schedule with which to give the premiere: to my delight my colleague Professor Darryl Bott with his excellent Rutgers Symphonic Band welcomed the proposal.
The Symphonic Bands demanding schedule meant that the premiere had to be set at the earliest date of Wednesday April 28th 2010 at the Nicholas Music Center of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, with a provisional run-through of the first movement in a joint concert with the Princeton Brass Band (of which the author is Musical Director) on Tuesday April 6th, and for which, in another piece of Kismet, we were able to make use of the final substitute ‘conclusive’ chord Gareth had inserted into the published three-movement version—to chord to be omitted when the Waltz movement is restored. (For the sake of completeness it should be noted that pianist Jihye Park and myself gave the world premiere of the Concerto with piano accompaniment on the evening of Thursday March 18th at Rider University.)
I cannot describe the joy I had in working with Darryl and the Rutgers Symphonic Band and our mutual discovery not only of the brilliant colors and orchestration of the work but also the intensive and protean thematic and tonal design Gareth has deployed– truly symphonic in range and ambition. We discovered that we had Providentially been handed a masterpiece of its kind, and it is my dearest hope that this article—a further fruit of that trust by publisher and composer—will enable the reader to discover a true Masterpiece that is already four years overdue such recognition.
2. The Story of the Music (the Traveler)
The supreme irony of the initial publication of the Wood Concerto without its Waltz movement is that this was the first music to have been conceived by the composer and from which, in his words, the rest of the Concerto is derived. Gareth told me that the music “came to me in a dream”—he woke up and simply wrote it down. (The only other time this had happened to him was with his orchestral overture Suffolk Punch from 1981.)
There is something almost inevitable about this music suggesting such a natural origin, it being perhaps more inclined to the world of nightmare—of the Danny Elfman variety— than dream. So it makes sense to concentrate our analysis firstly on the Waltz second movement, to identify the import of its thematic and tonal design as well as observing details of color and orchestration before un-packaging its ramification for the rest of the work.
Second Movement: “Tempo di Valse” (lit. ‘In Waltz time’)
Firstly the second movement begins in the ‘dark’ key of E-flat minor, relative of G-flat Major, six flats, so about as dark as it gets (one thinks of the lethal ‘Storm Interlude’ of Britten’s Peter Grimes as an example). Within the tonal scheme of the Concerto E-flat is a semitone/half-step from the ‘affirmative’ D Major which, in a coda recapitulation of the waltz rhythm at the bar 181 Poco piu mosso in the Finale, brings the entire work to a rollicking close. Therefore, through the circle of 5ths (i.e. D-G-C-F-B-flat-E-flat), E-flat is half a world away from home—as far away a primary key as we get in this work. Incidentally this is not chronologically the first time we have heard E-flat minor in this work as the solo euphonium’s sudden pyrotechnic entry in the ‘development section’ of the first movement at Fig. 87 is also in E-flat minor and contains the same kind of dark colors in the piecemeal accompaniment (low clarinets, bassoons, lower saxes etc.) that we encounter in the opening accompaniment of the Waltz.
More significantly in local terms the Waltz’s E-flat minor launches out of the conflicted A Major that closes the first movement from bar 154, which is perforated by a highly stressful premonition of the Waltz theme first heard in the horns followed by upper brass and winds—the tritonal e-flats that strain in the wind figures pointing to the immanent collapse through a further tritone (A-e-flat) into the darkness of the Waltz movement itself. (We remember that the tritone is traditionally the Devil’s interval, in Latin: Diabolus in Musica, and its usage here is interesting in the context.)
This state of thematic and tonal affairs led Professor Bott (conductor) and myself to agree to proceed from the first movement directly attacca, after the merest of pauses, into the Waltz. This interpretive decision was confirmed by the composer, who informed me that he had originally marked attacca before the Waltz was dropped from initial publication (future performers take special note). Secondly, and rather curiously, the interval of a perfect fourth and its inversion as a 5th that informs so much of the thematic material of the other movements is primarily sublimated (repressed?) into that same darkly colored accompaniment in the Waltz. Instead the solo euphonium line dances around 3rds, 7ths and sinewy chromatic turns. This is emotionally complex because the first movement thematic obsession with “open” 4ths and 5ths can sound comparatively ‘intellectual’ and full of “meaningful emptiness”—a point that is emphasized by the manic virtuosity of the solo part. (I remember that my earliest impression of the first movement was of a self-consciously ‘patterned’ music, somewhat frantic and full of “meaningless” virtuosic activity beyond itself—very much like a lot of modern life in fact.)
So although we move into darker territory in the Waltz, the new embrace of the 3rd emphasized by the “simple” triadic accompaniment floods the music with emotional warmth seeming to suggest that the darkness is possibly somehow more comforting—or at least more emotionally ‘true’—for this composer, than the light. Ironically, the only hint of this future state of affairs in the first movement is the singular transition into the development section at bar 62 where a sudden shift of gear into B minor with chains of triplets in the solo part as well as again in the darker colors of clarinets in their low register with bass clarinet, bassoons, baritone sax, third trombone, tuba and string bass leads to the first announcement of the future Waltz theme in the horns at bar 69—this horn line must really come through clearly. It should be noted however that in this instance the agitated triplets in the solo euphonium part with side drum rim shots seem to be “resisting” the emotional comfort of the music. We will return to this in the discussion of the first movement.
What is interesting harmonically in the opening of the Waltz is how the chordal movement constantly inclines to lead us even further away through the cycle of 5ths from D (i.e. from bar 21 e-flat–a-flat–D-flat–G-flat–C-flat) before cadencing from F7-flat onto B-flat, subsequently repeating the cycle more urgently from bar 29 and again in restatement from bar 53 and bar 61. The interest here lies in the definite echo of Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations that one can detect behind the progression and one wonders whether, consciously or—more likely that it came to Gareth in a dream—subconsciously, this music is about someone or at least some kind of enigma? (The composer did confirm to me that his teacher, Dr. Frederick Durrant, had saturated him in Elgar’s music during his student days at the Royal Academy of Music.)
Suddenly in bar 69 we reach a d minor climax in a blaze of brass in which the horns swing through the chords of E-flat (bar 70) A (bar 72) tritone with a unison line that summarizes all that has happened before in a kind of ‘mini coda’ to the first half of the movement, arriving at an unfinished cadence on c minor (bars 73–74) which slides to C Major (75–76) before a final sidestep to another tritone—the triad of F-sharp Major (bar 77, an augmented 2nd from E-flat minor!).
This F-sharp triad in the upper winds starts ticking like a clock on staccato repeated crotchet/quarter notes while the solo euphonium picks out an entirely New Theme. This really amounts to kind of “Part 2” within the Waltz and this New Theme has all the qualities of some kind of ‘call’—the kind of signal one might give to someone else, a kind of mini-fanfare, and this kind of exchange is emphasized by a second “voice” in one-bar canon with the soloist on (successively) trumpet, tenor sax/euphonium, and cornet.
This dialogue between solo euphonium and other soloists is conducted in a diatonic C major, which is in tritonal tension with the ticking F-sharp clock in the upper winds. The solo euphonium line constantly alights, like a naughty imp, on the pitches B-flat and F-sharp before tumbling back into the E-flat minor at bar 93 and E-flat major at bar 98. A long pedal point of B-flat Major beginning in bar 103 reuniting soloist and accompaniment in a restatement of the New Theme which is again constantly niggled by the “wrong note” A-flat in mounting obsession—as if the whole ensemble is sticking out its tongue in rude derision (let us not forget that this whole work is, on one level, about keys that are a tone apart—the “C Major” of the first movement yielding to the D Major of the conclusion). Is this all some kind of Devilish spite—albeit playful—between two people or is it an internal dialogue—a dream or antagonizing nightmare—inside one person?
We cannot be sure, of course (and the composer isn’t telling!), but the bravura B-flat Major reaches a sudden manic virtuosic spasm before collapsing just as suddenly (bars 124–5) back into the desultory E-flat minor (bar 126) for the recapitulation of the Waltz itself. This time, however, there is another duet now initiated by an insinuating alto sax solo ‘singing’ the Waltz theme with the solo euphonium in counterpoint. Again we are reminded that a waltz is not danced by one dancer but by two—so who is this Other dancer joining the soloist at various points and in different instrumental voices throughout the movement? It is an enigma, and again we are swept up into a full-blown Viennese (or is it Elgarian?) climax at bar 146, the 5th cycle now in the more “natural” triads of d-g-C-F-B-flat followed by A and a final peroration at bar 154.
There is a final surprising side-shift to a C-sharp pedal with chromatic decorations exploiting the tritone in all the upper wind and brass voices leading to the tritonal G Major whack (is it a slap or a punch?) in bar 163 out of which emerges the solo euphonium’s concluding B-flat unaccompanied question mark—the New Theme recapitulated as a four bar coda with tritonal E in the band.
The length of this movement is only 3’20” yet we have covered an enormous amount of emotional, tonal and thematic territory and opened up as many if not more questions than we have answered: Why is this dream so dark? Is it really a nightmare? What is the meaning of those “enigmatic” 5th cycles and tritones? Who is the mysterious dancer who joins the solo euphonium on the dance floor and why is there the almost childish ‘Nah, Nah, nah-Nah, Nah’ tongue-poking in the new theme in part two of the movement?
It makes perfect sense that this Waltz movement would be the first music to be written and the seedpod from which the rest of the music in the concerto derives, as its multifold conundrums cry out to be worked out in a symphonic design. So now we turn retroactively to the first movement, that together with the Waltz unofficially constitutes a two-movement Part 1 of the concerto (as officially do the first two movements of the four-movement Euphonium Concerto by Philip Wilby of 1995 incidentally!).
b. First Movement ‘Allegro’
We have already covered a lot of ground regarding the first movement in our discussion of the Waltz. What remains here is to notice Gareth’s remarkable handling of the sonata form idea that is the traditional expectation of the first movement of both concerto and Symphony and at least as importantly the expressive meaning he fills that mold with.
For this first movement has an exposition (bars 1 to 74), development section (bars 74 to, I would argue, bar 102) and compressed recapitulation (bars 102, complete with restatement in the solo euphonium of the end of the orchestral introduction, to 125) leading to an extended accompanied cadenza that is itself a kind of written out jazz-improvised second development section (bars 125 to 149) and final coda (bars 149 to end).
Gareth’s exposition itself fulfils Classical sonata form expectations by featuring a “masculine” first subject based on a motive of a falling 4th rising 6th and rising 3rd within a triad of B-flat and a ‘feminine’ second subject (bar 54) which is a rising scale in f minor (parallel minor to the dominant of B-flat, F Major, as Classic design dictates).
What is interesting about the orchestral introduction is that the horns stridently announce the first subject motive—a mini-fanfare that again could constitute a kind of ‘call’ to someone—followed by a semiquaver/16th note Whistle Motive (going across bar 1 and 2) in the winds that juxtaposes B-flat, B Major, and F minor triads of BOTH first and second subject. This leaves us wondering whether we are hearing the opening phrase in F Major, Fminor or even B-flat as the B-flat b pitch and triad are so initially insistent (despite the E naturals).
However as important is the essential shift from the pitch of B-flat down a tone to A-flat —and this whole-tone relationship is in kernel form the essential tonal question of the entire Concerto, for the first movement is ultimately “in C” and the Finale closes “in D.” It is D Major that suddenly explodes into view in bars 6 and 7 of the introduction, trilling flutes and all, as the first subject is already developed in the cornets and horns (falling minor 3rd, rising minor 6th, falling semitone/half-step in D Major triad) out of which comes a clear statement of what will become the second subject sounding in the horns and euphoniums (a Classical ‘orchestral exposition’ if ever there was one!).
Finally a sequence of the 16th-note Whistle Motive leads to a calm C major at bar 17 out of which the solo euphonium states the first subject “in B-flat”—there is that whole-tone relationship again! But we should realize that in reality what we are hearing is not simply a statement of the first subject motive but an immediate virtuosic development of it with the soloist tossing around every conceivable 4th sequence and transposition including the inversion of a 5th. (It is also worth pointing out that the little repeated octave figure for the soloist in bars 39-40 and especially 44–45 where it echoes in the bassoon and piccolo flute, also constitute a kind of ‘signal’—like someone repeating “Over here! Over here! Over here!” that fits into the call-like nature of much of this music—little hooks that get into the ear!)
At bar 54 the euphonium lays out the second subject with the first subject sounding in simultaneous counterpoint but in augmented rhythm in the tuba. It should be noted that because the second subject is a scale contained within the span of a 4th it seems to derive from the first subject to a degree—or to approach the first subject from another angle. There is an excited exchange between syncopated cornets and flutes with oboe over this new subject, with a jazzy (Cuban?) feeling of three across the beat —another call-response signal—that morphs into the new triplet quaver/8th rhythm marking the first premonition of the Waltz movement at bar 62 in B minor.
All kinds of 3rds now flood the texture, including the solo part, as the horns intone for the first time the Waltz theme, and the soloist pits himself against this new downward trajectory, pushing ever upward for air aided by the rim shots in the snare drum. Finally the soloist breaks the surface in a violent spasm in bar 73 releasing a glorious Major key statement of the second subject counter-pointed against the first subject in the euphoniums in the key of A-flat Major at bar 74 marking the beginning of the development section. The move to the home key of C Major for restatement a third higher in bar 78 is even more radiant. The immanent nightmare of the Waltz seems to be temporarily thrown off, rescued by the formal transition!
Development Section And Incorporated Recapitulation And Cadenza
But this developed restatement of the second subject leads, as it did in the exposition, into another segment of music related to the Waltz, for at bar 87 the solo euphonium lands both feet first into the key of E-flat minor! When the accompaniment does begin in bar 91 it is also now in the darker Waltz colors of low-range horns and tenor and baritone saxes, and as low-range clarinets enter in bar 96 we are aware of another flood of those Waltz-related 3rds.
But the soloist is having nothing to do with this as he ‘tweets’ out yet another new call of 4ths and 5ths in rapid semiquaver/16th double-tongued patterns finally alighting in bar 102 on a developed legato statement in E-flat Major of the Whistle Motive that opened the orchestral exposition and now, therefore, leads through a downshift into D-flat Major (bars 105–6) to the recapitulation in the home key of C Major at bar 108. However instead of hearing the first subject, the soloist simply leads us through a series of first-subject-related 4ths (bars 109–112) directly into the second subject in D-flat Major (bar 114—notice that apart from its first appearing all subsequent developments of the second subject are major not minor!) with an interpolation of development section ‘tweet’ in bar 121, which indicates that this is not merely a recapitulation but, indeed, a recapitulation absorbed into the continuation of the development section.
At bar 125 we arrive at a long 24-bar accompanied cadenza in G Major (dominant of the home key of C Major). The accompanying riff is based squarely on the Whistle Motive but now underpinned by yearning sequences of 5ths in the tuba and bari sax. The whole accompaniment begins to build like a jam session (performers beware of considerable challenges of balance here!) with the clarinets further developing the “tweet” at bar 137 while the soloist continues to unfold a cadenza of significant virtuosity. Even the (Cuban?) syncopated call-response between cornets and flutes (now clarinets) from the end of the second subject jump into the jam (bars 142 forward) as the alto saxes begin insinuating the Waltz theme in d minor in bar 143.
Again the euphonium soloist wants nothing to do with this and as the Waltz theme becomes increasingly agitated he launches off into outer space with chains of 5ths (bars 146 on) while finally settling on the legato version of the comforting Whistle Motive as the band exultantly RISE from bar 149 through d7, e7, F7, G, to a climactic blazing A Major (dominant of the D Major that closes the work) while, against them, first the horns then the flutes, oboes, trumpets and cornet get sucked into the Waltz vortex in the tri-tonal E-flat minor of the second movement which follows attacca.
Summary of ‘Part One’ (Movements 1 and 2)
So what our analysis has told us so far is that the first movement Allegro is really a struggle between the external, outward optimism and activity of the 4th and 5th –based music of C Major and related keys and the gradually increasing traction of the interiority of the Waltz in E-flat minor and related keys and expressive 3rds, which reaches back its tentacles into the first movement slowly but inexorably pulling everything, including the reluctant soloist into its Devilish dance. We can only be certain of this progression by knowing that the second Waltz movement was written first, and therefore the materials of the first movement were arranged by Gareth—consciously or otherwise—in direct relationship to it.
The question now is how the unofficial “Part 2” (the third and fourth movements) resolves these tensions, if at all, for the end of the Waltz has left us with a definite question mark requiring an answer.
c. Third Movement: “Andante”
What may surprise us about the opening of the third movement is the immediate and transparent reappearance of the perfect 4th as the governing thematic interval. Although stated delicately on the flute with all the qualifications we have to admit with the wayward chromatics engendered by the counterpoint of the solo clarinet (psychological scarring from the Waltz?), we can nonetheless discern grounds for optimism both in the predominance of 4ths and the fact that the opening trio—for we are also joined by a 4th dominated muted cornet in bar 8—is tenuously “in D” the key of the glorious close of the Finale.
At bar 14 the soloist enters now in the key of B-flat, but the predominant 4th-based tune reveals its lullaby-like soothing qualities and indeed, in more ways than one, this entire movement will reveal itself to be ‘a little night music’ (shades of Bartók anyone?). The slightly unsettling chromaticism that subsequently slips in is soon banished by the wistfully beautiful emergence of D Major in bar 20 leading to a full-throated moment of exultation in the key that will mean so much in terms of good news. The little cadential figure in the solo part in the second half of bar 23 into the first half of 24 even echoes the shape of the Waltz theme—but now ‘healed’ into a whole tone (as opposed to a minor 3rd) and octave (as opposed to Major 7th) and when the Major 7th F-sharp does occur at the beginning of bar 24 it is only to peacefully resolve onto D. Here are the premonitions of an ultimate resolution and happy ending perhaps?
Before we get there, some vestiges of the nightmare still have to be exorcized and indeed at bar 29 the harmony slips to F-sharp minor in a clarinet trio that distinctly recall the haunted moments of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera The Turn of the Screw (1954—a work based on obsessive 4ths and 5ths it should be added!) However the solo euphonium insists on tenaciously asserting the healing D and as we move into F minor the D becomes an upper pedal point for the soloist around which the nighttime frogs crickets and other creepy insect and night-bird songs begin to click and whirr. The dark coloring of the accompaniment of bassoons and saxes again recall the Waltz as does the move to E-flat albeit major in bar 39, with bb minor in bar 41 and E-flat minor in bar 44.
At the moment the actual key of the Waltz is arrived at, the soloist suddenly repeats the lullaby, lulling the accompaniment from the threat of E-flat minor back into E-flat Major in bar 46 and onto an ethereal D-flat Major in bar 47. The horn duly sounds and repeats the ‘healed’ Waltz theme from the soloist’s earlier cadence (from bars 23–24).
When the horn does alight on the Waltz themes Major 7th at bar 50, a new resigned-sounding cadential figure announces itself on D in bar 51 in the horn and two bars later on A in the trumpet. While this has been going on the solo euphonium has been leading us from a7 minor at bar 50 through further cycles of 4ths into F-sharp/F-sharp and finally onto C-sharp at bar 56 although as the solo flute restates the lullaby we are aware of the overall D Major context of the music again which is confirmed as a pedal from bar 65 against C Major in the rest of the band as it builds to a mighty climax.
Suddenly there is a dramatic break and the cadential figure sounds in an apocalyptic C Major, which quickly transitions through all manner of chromatic chords until just as suddenly D is magically restored as a pedal point at bar 75. Again, as before, nightly shades and Waltz-like timbres color the music with a gradual saturation of 3rds until an outburst in f minor at bar 86 yields to F-sharp Major at 88. Once more everything becomes silent as the solo euphonium gently intones the cadential figure in bar 92 underneath which we hear the magical spread across the clarinets of the accompaniment figure of the first subject from all the way back at the beginning of the Concerto. It is an understated moment seeming to suggest that a healing has tentatively taken place and a kind of peace found and that the “patient” is ready to begin life again—or is he?
d. Fourth Movement: “Allegro”
The return to life begins in the Mixolydian mode (on G) in a buoyant 9/8 bustling with toccata-like streams of quavers/8ths in the winds. The mood immediately recalls early 20th Century French music (e.g. Debussy/Ravel/Dukas). Motivically and harmonically we are most aware of the total saturation of 4ths and 5ths (indeed the diatonic descending 4ths could be heard as a “corrective” to the rising chromatic series of 4ths in the solo euphonium line in bars 28 and 29 of the first movement!)
As the cornet enters in bar 9 we are aware that it oscillates between two pitches, C (the key of the first movement) and D (the ultimately triumphant key concluding this finale). The addition of the 2nd and 3rd cornets at bar 17 adds spice to this alternation, and the whole spinning minimalist texture breaks out at bar 29 with the exultant return of the first subject in B-flat from the first movement, now in compound time.
However, this return of an “old friend” seems to prompt a sudden shut-down as the music suddenly sputters fitfully in bars 33–35 first in a disagreement between c minor in the upper register and D-flat in the lower before agreeing to settle on the pitches E and G for the now-sinister accompaniment to the solo euphonium entry. The 3rds of the Waltz are back yet again, darkening the vista, as the soloist unfolds a Sorcerer’s Apprentice-like chromatic line outlining as many 3rds as possible (the occasional 4th notwithstanding). The ghoulish squawks and squeaks emphasize again the night bird cries of the nocturnal world of the third movement. The key of f minor is tentatively established at bar 62 until suddenly yielding to a surprisingly euphonious and warm D-flat in lower brass at bar 77 and a new contrastingly broad second theme at bar 83 restores the emphasis on the 4th (notwithstanding the occasional 3rd). The percussion also now commences the toccata-like quaver/8th pattern from the beginning of the movement in a texture that will emerge to be the accompaniment of the cadenza—the second such “written-out” accompanied improvisation since the first movement, therefore balancing that movement in architectural design.
This cadenza is announced by a sudden burst of activity in D Major at bar 96—the home key—which is suddenly questioned by a grinding slide onto D-flat11 in bar 104 with the horns braying out the first subject of movement one again in bar 105—this is music that is still urgently seeking a new beginning. The cadenza itself is in the Waltz-like key of c minor—parallel minor of the rival key (to D Major) of C Major—and the solo euphonium line, although beginning with the rocking 4ths of the broad Second Theme, is full of 3rds again suggestive of yet another inner battle for resolution.
In bar 134 the tuba enters, reiterating the C pedal. In this context the “Brittenish” connection of the solo tuba sonority with death and disease comes to mind and at bar 163 it outlines the triad of c minor—a chord so close to the darker aspects of the E-flat minor Waltz (and the ‘dark side’ of C Major—perhaps revealing why that key must ultimately be rejected in favor of D). The chromatic chain of 4ths in the solo euphonium before this seem to indicate a “falling” into the C minor.
Sure enough the time signature changes in the solo part to the Waltz’s 3/4 and a virtuosic venture by the solo euphonium through almost every interval imaginable ensues concluding with an exultant peroration of the first subject of the first movement in bar 75 but with the tritone emphasized. This “revelation” sucks us, via a return of the dolefully resigned cadential figure from the third movement in the upper winds and horn (bars 180–83), into the tempo of the Waltz at the Poco piu mosso but now with the texture absolutely flooded with 4ths not 3rds and the upper winds exultantly singing the consoling lullaby theme from the third movement with the low brass intoning the sonorous Second Theme in counterpoint in G which could be the dominant of a C Major climax but ultimately yields to D Major in an “Amen” plagal cadence—a cadence based on the 4th be it noted—as the Soloist flies up to high D for a blazing finish.
What is clear from both the evolution and analysis of this great work is how essential it is to restore the Waltz movement to its rightful place within the body of the Gareth Wood Euphonium Concerto.
Wood’s music successively takes us through an enigma: an initially positively assertive musical personality (First Movement) is gradually dragged (throughout the first movement) into a kind of “dance of death” (Waltz) and, working through the dream/nightmare (slow movement), emerges into a world alternating crisis and resolve before a final “death bed” redemption (Finale).
This psycho-emotional story is deployed across an intensive network of themes, whistles, calls and responses, textures, chords, keys and rhythms that qualify this concerto as one of the most symphonic and deeply musical of its kind. It is truly a “Song Without Words” writ large. The composer is a humble and unpretentious man, and would never have entitled this work “Euphonium Symphony”—but that is in fact what it is, as I hope to have shown, and it may be the first of its kind for this medium (the Britten Cello Symphony comes to mind in another, not forgetting that the composer is himself an orchestral double-bass player!).
It is clear that performers will need to bring penetrating spiritual insight to a performance of this work—simply being the great virtuoso the work requires is only part of the picture, what is also needed, ideally, is having something to say about what is happening, to ‘retell’ the story in one’s own terms. Gareth confirmed to me that the soloist must play with a certain “edge” and I believe this simple comment gives profound insight into the nature of the music.
The Gareth Wood Euphonium Concerto is a work for which familiarity will not breed contempt. This soloist, the conductor and band and audience at the world premiere of the complete version at Rutgers in 2010 fell in love with the work, and it is hoped that soloists and conductors around the world will now further take up the cause of this masterpiece.