Concerto for Orchestra

Steven Stucky

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

My Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with the generous assistance of Johnson and Higgins, in celebration of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. It was composed in London between September 1986 and April 1987. The work was made possible both by the Constitutional Commission and by a Guggenheim Fellowship. The first performance was given by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti conducting, on 27 October 1988. The same performers gave the New York premiere in Avery Fisher Hall on 2 November 1988. The West Coast premiere was given by André Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 1989.

My largest composition to date, this concerto falls in a period of intense involvement with orchestras and orchestral music: in 1986 Dreamwaltzes, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra; then the concerto; Son et lumière for the Baltimore Symphony (1988); Angelus, written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic to celebrate the centennial of Carnegie Hall (1990); and Impromptus, commissioned by the Saint Louis Symphony (1991).

The work is a “concerto” principally in that the scoring relies heavily on soloists from within the orchestra and on various small combinations of instruments. Two sorts of musical construction, the continuous and the discontinuous, are at work. The first movement is essentially discontinuous, juxtaposing many short, contrasting ideas, each defined above all by its instrumentation for a small group of soloists or several small groups in combination—three oboes against the doublebasses, three quartets of solo strings, a horn quartet against a pizzicato backdrop. All is statement and juxtaposition; nothing is developed nor even continued for long. The recurring, fanfarish ritornello music on the brasses emphasizes further the sectional, even “modular” character of the movement. Later there comes an attempt to combine all the first movement’s themes and thereby to reach a dramatic climax and a conventional, affirmative ending. At the last moment, though, the attempt fails, collapses onto the second movement.

The second movement is music of the other sort, essentially continuous and monothematic. The three waves of cantilena—low strings, later very high violins, finally chorale-like brass—all develop the same very simple motivic idea, as indeed does much of the rest of the movement. The slow movement does have in common with the first, though, its inability to sustain a climactic moment and arrive at a conclusion. Once again there is a collapse, now onto a long, static, open-ended coda leading to the third movement.

The third movement picks up the unfinished business of the first. Now the fragmentary themes introduced earlier become the basis for a series of group cadenzas: low brasses, again the oboe trio, again the horn quartet, and so on. As before, the accumulation of these multifarious materials leads to a climax and, this time, a conclusion. I think of movements I and III as constituting, in effect, a single movement interrupted by II. (As it happens, the outer movements together equal in duration the slow movement, about fourteen minutes).
— Steven Stucky

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Concerto for Orchestra - Full Score - Study

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with the generous assistance of Johnson and Higgins, in celebration of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution
Composition Date 1987
Duration 28:00
Orchestration 3(2Picc./Alto)3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 4 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere 29th October, 1987. Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA.


I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Comodo