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Reviews

Barton Cummings

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THE TUBA JOURNAL, Winter 1991 Issue, Volume 19, No.2; by Barton Cummings, composer, tubist:

 

Review of the Tuba Concerto No. 1 in Bm by Eugene D. Anderson;

 

"Eugene Anderson has been a familiar name amongst tuba players for many years. He is a noted performer, composer and conductor with many credits in all three areas. He is a prolific composer and arranger and his catalog is a testament to his interest in the tuba and his dedication to composing music for it. The work under discussion was written during 1968 through 1970. It is dedicated to Arnold Jacobs, former tubist  with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Sadly enough, neither Jacobs nor the Chicago Symphony ever performed or recorded this work. Nor for that matter has anyone ever recorded the work under optimal conditions, which has prompted the composer to offer a $300.00 stipend to the tubist who can and will do so. Will the money be worth

the effort needed to learn and record this work? Let's answer that question, after more has been written about the work.

 

The composer states that he feels this may be the longest concerto ever written for a brass instrument and certainly for the tuba. Not to take away from its formidable length, this is the second longest work. There is another work for solo tuba and orchestra that is more than 45 minutes in length, thus exceeding the present concerto by some 10 minutes. Not that time has anything to do with the worth of the present piece; it is simply a point of interest for those who care about such things. It is, however, important to performers when considering compositions to program.

 

This Concerto is a full blown composition that takes as its models music by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mahler. These influences are used without apology and are used in a free way, yet in other ways this is a twentieth century work. And why apologize? For the three composers mentioned are three composers who provided the music world with some of the finest music.

Writing for tuba and orchestra is a challenge that has been met very rarely in the past, even by some of the giants of the present era, and in fact this reviewer once stated that all tuba concerto must use the Vaughan Williams Concerto as the one from which all others must stem. However, with the present work that statement provides some awkward feelings.

 

With his Concerto No. 1, Eugene Anderson has accepted the challenge and has met that challenge admirably. Let's begin with the first movement. This movement begins slowly and solemnly and sets the scene for the entire concerto. It is in a subdivided 6/8, with the eighth marked as 76. This later moves up to 100 and to 132. The theme is built around some triplets including sixteenth notes in the triplets. In spite of the dark and somber quality, this is a very beautiful and melodic opening that leads to a very fast moving section which will require expertise in the double tongue from the soloist and some super flexibility in negotiating some wide intervals and some slurred passages. This section leads into a slower section in 6/8 which then goes into another articulated passage at quarter note equal to 96. The work then takes a plunge into some 7/8 measures, taking us into a 3/4 section, back to 7/8, 3/4 and in 3/4 to the tempo of 132, easing back into a restatement of the beginning theme and finishing the movement very quietly, yet very nicely.

 

Movement two is based on a single theme-that of a Swedish lullaby learned by the composer from his grandparents. It is in the form of a Theme and Variations, which in program might be thought as a child being sung to sleep and during that sleep experiencing dreams of a pleasant and not so pleasant nature, which causes the child to wake. At this point the lullaby and its retrograde played together put the child back to sleep. Musically, this is a gorgeous movement with lots of lush, romantic spots and the chance for the tuba to really "sing." There are, to be sure, some very technical passages that will require virtuosity from the player and some very quick meter and tempo changes to contend with. It is, in short, not a simple movement by any means. This movement also ends very quietly and, in some cases, on a disturbing note (no pun intended). It does not end so peacefully as might be expected because of the fact that the tuba ends on the fifth of the particular chord after seeming to want to end on the root. Perhaps to "sleep like a baby" is not all it is believed to be?

 

The third movement literally bursts open at a fast and furious pace and a loud dynamic, the tempo and notation will require virtuoso technique far above average. After a while this motion ceases and the tempo changes to a Largo. This leads into another fast section which in turn leads to another slower section. This pattern continues, thus giving the movement the form of a Rondo with some interesting twists and turns. While containing a lot of virtuoso passages, there are also ample opportunities for the tuba to display its melodic side in some beautiful melodic sections. The ending of this movement is unique in that it combines all of the main themes from each of the three movements, plus the counter melody and accompaniment of the third movement in one giant explosion in which the work comes to an end. The piece ends, after some thirty five minutes, on a G# above the staff!

 

Now, as to the mechanics of the piece and the production of performing of such a work as the one under consideration. First, to perform this work with piano is a tragedy of major proportions since one of its unique qualities is the orchestration and the use of the various instrumental colors including percussion. After hearing the first movement with orchestra and the other two with piano, one can only surmise the color, but it can be done. The tragedy of a non-orchestral accompaniment becomes obvious and painful.

 

So, step one would be to find a conductor intelligent enough and serious enough to learn the score, and then this conductor would have to have an orchestra capable of sustaining the work. Step two is to find a soloist of the ability needed to play this work. Anyone attempting this work needs endurance, intelligence and artistry, three qualities which we all strive for but often times fail to meet. Step three is to find the time and space to do it-int this case, space on a program.

 

This is one of those compositions that makes one angry. It is a giant in terms of all its many facets, and yet will receive few performance other than those by the composer because caring is so lacking amongst our conductors, both at the professional and the educational levels. It will probably never see a beautiful engraved edition because publishers, for all of the talk, will not produce this kind of product. So, where does that leave the composer and the Concerto? Back to the question of whether three hundred dollars is worth the time and effort to produce this work. The answer is yes and no. Yes, because it is musically worth it and no, because there are, unfortunately, very few three hundred dollar orchestras. And those that do exist don't play.

 

All that can be hoped for is that tubists will trust that the recommendation to obtain this work is true. For this reviewer will state in the strongest terms available that this is a masterwork of the first order and that it deserves to become known, performed and recorded, then engraved and published. The reviewer will say all this in light of the fact that this is purely a musical effort, no gimmicks, new techniques, strange movements on stage or any other extraneous aspect of what has now become musical performance. Every tubist owes this piece a performance, and in either form, orchestral or piano reduction, it should be in every tubist's library. In hesitation, there are cuts offered by the composer to reduce the performance time, but these should be avoided if at all possible. Good music does not benefit by cutting, and all one ends up with is a good piece cut, not a good piece strengthened. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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