The Tuba Works of Jan Koetsier
By Ed Owen
The following article is the second of a three-part series offering a brief description of Jan Koetsier and his music for tuba. “Part I: An Overview of the Man, His Musical Style and the Works for Tuba and Keyboard” appeared in the previous issue (34:2 Winter).
Part II: Works for Tuba and Orchestra and Multiple Tubas
Works for Solo Tuba and Orchestra
The Concertino, Op. 77 für Tuba und Streichorchester was composed in 1977 and revised in 1982. Like the Sonatine , it is dedicated to Manfred Hoppert. This composition displays the technical and lyrical possibilities of the tuba and requires a high level of endurance and musical maturity from the performers. Of the Concertino , Professor Koetsier states,
“There is too little solo literature for the mighty brass instrument, the tuba. I’m sure that music lovers that have only experienced the tuba from the last row of the orchestra are amazed at the singing tone quality, the virtuoso mobility, and the sometimes-eccentric humor that is hidden in its massive frame. These qualities appear best of all when the tuba is removed from the other brass instruments normally surrounding it and placed on its own in front of a string orchestra. The Concertino follows well-known concerto structures. The first movement follows in its realization the sonata form seasoned with comical cadences. The second movement is a bel canto form interrupted by a scherzo-like intermezzo. The third movement is a good-humored Bavarian folklore parody in which the tuba plays the most important role.”
Jan Koetsier (1911–2006)
The first movement is marked “Allegro con brio” and is in sonata form. The two-measure introduction is followed by a brief cadenza for the solo tuba. The first theme of the exposition features a wide angular leap followed by a cantabile passage accompanied by staccato eighth notes in the orchestra (see example 1). This wide angular leap is an important structural cell motive throughout the movement. The lyrical second theme consists of a melodic line in duple subdivision accompanied by thickly orchestrated quarter note triplets. The development section is an entertaining conversation between the orchestra and tuba with variations of both themes presented in the exposition. An interlude marked “animato e stringendo” with ascending sequences of quarter note triplets leads to the recapitulation. The fiery coda utilizes the angular leaps of the first theme to bring the movement to an exciting conclusion.
The second movement “Romanza” is inarguably one of the most beautiful slow movements in the solo tuba repertoire. The slow-moving harmonies of the opening convey a mood of peacefulness and tranquility. A very abrupt, heavy scherzo provides a stark contrast to opening romanza. The return to the romanza is similar to the opening with the addition of a sustained trill in the violin. The orchestra then presents the first phrase of the romanza accompanied by staccato eighth notes in the tuba. The tuba takes over the cantabile melody and finishes with a beautiful ascending passage to d-flat above the staff.
The third movement “Bavarian Rondo” is a marvelous example of Koetsier’s ability to mix humor with sophistication. The rondo theme is highly energetic and alternates between triple and duple meter. The sophisticated humor of Professor Koetsier is found quite obviously in his use of the clarinet polka theme in the section marked “Doppio movimente, molto grazioso.” An animated interlude with rapid trills in the tuba leads to the final statement of the rondo theme. The ending must be played with authority and decisiveness in order to provide an effective conclusion.
Since the Concertino is more frequently performed with piano rather than orchestral accompaniment, the commentary that follows will focus on performance problems with piano. Nevertheless, all of the performance problems encountered in the piano accompaniment are applicable to the orchestral accompaniment. There are, however, two challenges that are unique to the orchestral accompaniment. These challenges include key signature and the selection of tempos. The keys of B-flat minor, D-flat major, and B-flat major are not idiomatic for string instruments. Indeed, this factor presents quite a challenge for a younger ensemble. Additionally, the faster tempos of movements one and three will most likely have to be reduced when playing with orchestral accompaniment.
The Concertino is by far the most challenging and physically demanding composition in Koetsier’s early tuba works. The range (FF to g 1 ) and high tessitura together with the length of the composition require a highly developed embouchure and exceptional endurance. There are also frequent wide intervallic leaps that require a high degree of pitch accuracy, particularly in the first movement. As mentioned earlier, the first three notes of the opening theme are developed extensively throughout the movement.
Example 1. Concertino, Movement I, mm. 18–21.
The most extensive use of this three-note motive is found in the development section. The intervals between the notes are expanded and, at times, inverted and the rhythm is slightly altered. This alteration increases the difficulty of pitch accuracy, especially when the intervals are inverted and the figure begins on a note above the staff.
Example 2. Concertino, Movement I, mm. 60–102.
The three-note motive is further utilized near the end of the movement in an ascending sequence to heighten the final statement of the main theme, an octave higher than the initial presentation (see example 3). In all of these instances, the performer will find it helpful to practice the passages with the intervals adjusted to smaller than an octave. Moving the lower notes up an octave or bringing the upper notes down an octave removes the difficulty of the figure and helps to reinforce the correct pitch.
Example 3. Concertino , Movement I, mm. 161–170.
Three passages in the final movement require precision in terms of valve technique and articulation. The first is found in the “Doppio movimente, molto grazioso” section and is a sudden, descending arpeggio marked “grottesco.” This motive requires accurate placement of the first note and a crisp double tongue technique. A similar figure occurs six measures later. Both of these figures should be practiced down an octave to reinforce correct pitch placement.
Example 4. Concertino , Movement III, mm. 174–192.
The second passage, marked “animato e pressante,” is a chromatically descending line highlighted by rapid trills. The use of alternate fingerings to keep notes within the same partial will facilitate this passage. For example, on F tuba, the trill from a-natural to b-flat in measure 221 should be played with a-natural using the first and second valve combination. For clarity of these rapid notes, it is essential to maintain constant wind through the phrase.
Example 5. Concertino , Movement III, mm. 221–228.
The final passage regarding valve technique is a very rapid, slurred triplet section. Precise valve technique and constant wind through the phrase is absolutely essential for an effective performance. Special care should be taken not to rush the descending triplets in measure 261.
Example 6. Concertino , Movement III, mm. 257–266.
Perhaps the most important performance consideration for the Concertino involves the rhythmic coordination of the tuba and accompaniment parts. There are many challenging sections that will require extensive rehearsal. Two such passages are found in the first movement. The legato second theme in the tuba is presented in duple subdivision, while the accompaniment plays triplet subdivision. This particular passage should be practiced at a significantly reduced tempo so that the exact placement of the notes within the separate subdivisions can be accomplished.
Example 7. Concertino , Movement I, mm. 30–37.
The most difficult section to coordinate in the first movement is the very rhapsodic development section. There are numerous tempo changes and transitions that require an intimate knowledge of both parts to ensure an effective presentation (see example 2). The final movement presents a rhythmic challenge because of the lively mixed meter dance theme. Consequently, both performers must strive to maintain a steady subdivision so that the tempo does not rush.
Example 8. Concertino , Movement III, mm. 45–61.
Special consideration is also required to coordinate the tempo changes in the “Doppio movimente, molto grazioso” section mentioned earlier (see example 4). This passage should be rehearsed first with a strict ratio of 2:1 between the two tempos without any ritard. Once this is achieved, the ritard into the slower tempo can be reinstated.
The final performance consideration for Concertino is the overall difficulty of the piano accompaniment. Since the piano part is an orchestral reduction, a highly skilled pianist with superb technique is absolutely essential.
Works for Multiple Tubas
Wolkenschatten, Op. 136 für Tuba quartett was composed in 1993. Though often played by the standard instrumentation of a tuba quartet (two euphoniums and two tubas), Koetsier specifies in the score one euphonium, two F tubas, and one BB-flat tuba. Interestingly, this is the only composition by Koetsier to include euphonium. Gary Buttery, tubist with Alchemy, states, “ Wolkenschatten shows strong compositional influences of Hindemith. Koetsier used the total harmonic and rhythmic spectrum of the quartet to craft this three movement work into an exciting standard-bearer for the next generation of tuba quartet composers.” Indeed, the rich sonorities and rhythmic intricacies of Wolkenschatten have established it as a standard in the tuba quartet repertoire. The title, “Cloud Shadows,” foreshadows the use of impressionistic techniques such as chord planning, pointillism, and dynamic shading.
The serene opening of the first movement features gentle bell tones in the lower three parts. The euphonium then presents a beautiful cantabile solo over an accompaniment that alternates between triple and duple subdivision. The opening motive returns near the end to serve as a coda.
Example 9. Wolkenschatten , Movement I, mm. 1–28.
The second movement is seemingly in minuet and trio form, but its character is much more like a scherzo. The four measure introduction features diatonic and chromatic scale patterns that move across the ensemble at a furious pace. The euphonium then takes over with a dance-like theme accompanied by arpeggios in the bottom three parts. The technique of chord planing is seen in the root movement of these arpeggios.
Example 10. Wolkenschatten , Movement II, mm. 5–8.
However, the meno mosso “trio” presents the most obvious use of chord planing in the entire work. These lush harmonies showcase the rich sound of the tuba quartet.
Example 11, Wolkenschatten , Movement II, mm. 41-50.
The final movement is a humorous mixed meter dance (see example 12) that drives forward to a very curious and somewhat puzzling ending. However, when reminded of the title and the resulting use of impressionistic techniques, the concluding chorale makes perfect sense.
Example 12, Wolkenschatten , Movement III, mm. 1–15.
The overall range of each part is very manageable with the exception of the first tuba part, which stays in the medium to high tessitura throughout. If, however, the first tuba part is played on euphonium, as is typical in a tuba quartet, then the concerns of range no longer exist. Breath control can be a problem in the middle section of the second movement, especially at a slower tempo. Balance is rarely a problem except at the beginning of the second movement when the euphonium solo is accompanied by rapid arpeggios in the lower three parts (see example 10). The lower three parts must play as soft as possible without losing clarity of line. Also, the solo euphonium should raise the dynamic level so that the melody can be easily distinguished. Rhythmic coordination is absolutely essential in the tricky mixed meter sections of movement three (see example 12). This section will need to be rehearsed slowly with a metronome to ensure a steady eighth note pulse. Finally, a generous amount of rehearsal time should be spent on intonation in the closing chorale section. Accurate intonation is absolutely crucial to the effectiveness of this ending. The performers should play through this passage at a full dynamic level to help solidify the intonation then gradually reduce the dynamic to the indicated level.
Part III of this three-part series will appear in the upcoming summer issue, covering the composer’s works for solo tuba in mixed ensemble.
Ed Owen is Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and Principal Tuba with the Arkansas Symphony. He has studied tuba with Andy Anders and Mark Moore.