Concerto in F Minor for Bass Tuba and Orchestra
Despite often being characterised as very traditional composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams would often explore the more unusual instruments, having included harmonica, vibraphone, flugel-horn and saxophone in some of his later works. Choosing to write a concerto for tuba brought about some initial scepticism given the instruments’ reputation as being cumbersome and incapable of virtuosity. Premiered on June 13th 1954 by Philip Catelinet with the LSO, the Concerto in F Minor for Bass Tuba and Orchestra is today one of Vaughan Williams’ most popular works.
Whilst some pieces for solo tuba had already been written, this was the first ever full concerto composed for this instrument. As with many of his compositions, the concerto is profoundly influenced by the numerous English folk songs which Vaughan Williams studied throughout his life. Vaughan Williams chose to score this concerto for tuba and ‘theatre orchestra’, which includes two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, percussion and strings.
The work is in three movements, with a traditional “fast-slow-fast” form:
- Prelude: Allegro moderato
- Romanza: Andante sostenuto
- Finale – Rondo alla tedesca: Allegro
The Prelude is a lively march, with several fast passages which showcase the more virtuosic capabilities that the tuba has to offer. The movement ends with a florid cadenza, with extreme highs and lows, covering the full range of the instrument.
Reminiscent of many of Vaughan Williams’ folk song-inspired works, the second movement, Romanza, features a slow and beautiful melody. Written primarily in the high register of the tuba, the second movement demonstrates the more vocal and lyrical qualities of the tuba.
In contrast to the tranquil, meditative mood of the Romanza, the Finale is full of energy. Written in a German style Rondo, the Finale is humorous in nature, with the main tune featuring rocket-like arpeggios and nimble trills. The concerto concludes with yet another virtuosic cadenza and rounds off with a wild cascade of sound from the orchestra.