Three Colloquies

for Horn and Orchestra

William Schuman

Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The invitation of the New York Philharmonic to compose a work for solo French horn came at a perfect time. I had recently completed The Young Dead Soldiers in which there is a part for solo horn. The experience of composing that work whetted my appetite. Long accustomed to composing for the multiple horns of the symphony orchestra, I was intrigued by the wholly different and expanded expressive possibilities of the French horn when conceived as the central protagonist of an entire work. But, from the first, I knew that it was not a concerto I would compose, for my goal was not a priori to exploit all the technical resources of the instrument as a display piece. Rather, I hoped to create music which required a solo French horn to realize its intentions.

During the period of composition I became with dissatisfied with my tentative title, "French Horn Fantasy", but I realized I wasn?t sure what to call the work. Titles, I realize, can be wholly misleading if they suggest an extra-musical programmatic reference which the composer had not intended. Nevertheless, in this instance I have gambled, because I believe the words I have chosen do give a clue to the spirit of the composition.

From experience I know that some listeners like to have sonic weather report before they venture out into the uncharted seas of a new composition. The few remarks that follow are provided in the spirit of complying with such wishes and in no sense do they constitute required reading. Let me begin with a word on the instrumentation, which is devised to contrast rather than duplicate the special qualities of the solo horn.

In this score the usual French horns, trombones and tuba are eliminated; the lower sonorities are assigned to woodwinds, strings, piano and harp. The rest of the orchestra is bright in sound. Of special importance are the three trumpets heard in the second movement in thematic material of virtuoso proportions. In the last movement a single trumpet is used soloistically with the French horn.

I. Rumination. The opening section is characterized by a series of harmonic structures which form the tonal background for the gradual quiet emergence of the horn and the eventual establishment of its identity. Basically, the tempo of the movement is slow. As the horn develops its materials the timpani enter, first quietly, then more assertively. The development of the music is continuous and leads to a climax followed by a return to the quiet of the opening.

II. Renewal. This movement, the most complex of the three, begins without pause. The opening music, scored for woodwinds, strings, and piano, is fast and light. Soon, contrasting music is introduced by the three trumpets playing in block harmonic formation as the other instruments continue extensions of the original material. The trumpets then have a brief flurry of independence. The pages that follow continue the momentum of the opening in various guises with the horn supplying the principal interest. There is a contrasting middle section, mostly in three-time, which begins with the horn and gradually is taken over by other sections of the orchestra. An extended orchestral tutti leads to a climax and a reminder of the characteristic chords heard in the opening of "Rumination". The music once again returns to quiet. There is a reprise of the middle section?s ?waltz? them by cellos and oboes, against which the woodwinds refer to the movement?s opening music. The combined diverse elements culminate in a short, slow, quiet section with the solo horn reminiscing with the three muted trumpets. Their diminishing sounds give way to a fast final orchestral tutti with full orchestral chords held against the rhythm of the timpani, which gets slower and softer until it finally becomes inaudible as the final movement begins without pause.

III. Remembrance. Along with harmonies in the muted strings, the solo horn sounds the principal theme with a solo bassoon providing a doleful counterpart. Echoes of the theme are heard first in a solo oboe, then in the flutes and clarinets, while the horn continues to comment. The melody in the horn continues with the violins now taking up the contrasting lines. A tranquil passage ensues where the horn sounds underneath characteristic harmonies. At the conclusion of this section a solo clarinet takes up the theme and is answered by a solo flute. The horn reappears and is joined by a solo trumpet to further the movement?s expressive purpose. A triadic chorale leads to the last section where, over muted strings, the horn makes its final statement. The work ends quietly on a plain major chord.

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Additional Information

Commission Commission Information: New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Composition Date 1979
Duration 00:24:00
Orchestration Solo Hn.; 3 2 3 2 - 0 3 0 0; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere January 24, 1980, Philip F. Myers, French horn, New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta, conductor