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Concerto Grosso for Woodwind Quartet and Wind Orchestra

Concerto Grosso for Woodwind Quartet
and Wind Orchestra
Heitor Villa-Lobos
C. F. Peters
Duration: 12 minutes
Reviewed by Vince Corozine

this work is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet in Bb, and bassoon soli.
piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 4 clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet (optional), 2 or 3 bassoons, contrabassoon.  6 horns, 3 trumpets in Bb, trumpet in C, 4 trombones, 2 bass trombones, tuba, contrabass (optional), timpani, 4 percussion which includes xylophone, tom-tom, bass drum, 3 temple blocks, tambourine, triangle, suspended cymbal, tamtam, xocahlo, reco-reco, celesta, and harp.

According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music a concerto grosso is defined as “an important type of baroque concerto characterized by a small group of solos instruments, called concertino or principale, against the full orchestra, called concerto, tutti, or ripieni…They contain suite-like movements that show relatively little contrast between the concertino and the concerto.”

This composition has a three-movement scheme: I. Allegro non troppo in 4/4 time
II. Allegretto scherzando in ¾ time.  III. Andante in ¾ time, with a finale Fugato section that is brilliantly written and scored.

This piece is a technically challenging piece suitable for mature bands.  The woodwinds are required to play in their extended ranges. The woodwind quintet  demanding parts employ the instrument’s extreme range including trills and runs of thirty-second notes at ten per beat.

The composer employs the compositional technique of imitation throughout with elided phrases for smooth joins.

I.                    Allegro non troppo begins a solid start by the ensemble with quarter-note triplet in the brass combined with sixteenth note scale passages in the woodwinds.  This three vs. two feeling continues for most of the movement.

Themes are cleverly tossed about between instruments; while pedal-points  commonly occur in the flute and timpani.  Most rhythmic motives are stated and developed by appearing in other instruments.  The technique of contrary motion is employed with great skill. Virtuoso playing for the woodwind quartet immediately precedes the quiet ending of the first movement.

II.  Allegretto scherzando is a  dignified but impish melody. It is reminiscent of the melodies one would expect to hear in an English folk song. The composer cleverly phrases the eight measure period-themes in motives of 3 +3+2.  This motive development continues for most of the movement.   This asymmetrical feeling is skillfully handled throughout the movement.  The woodwind quartet, with horns, tambourine and triangle begin the movement.
A variation on the theme follows the first statement of the theme. Theme two is immediately stated along with the first statement with theme one.  This produces a very effective back and forth bantering of the theme.

Finally, divided horns take up the theme as the woodwinds “chirp” playing an eighth note pattern.   The result is a superb contrast of the musical lines and a warm, radiant sonority.

The composer employs the compositional technique of hemiola where the 3/4 phrases now sound as though they are written in 4/4 meter. The 3/4 phrasing continues until eighty note triplets take over producing a striking legato effect.

III. Andante  makes use of imitation, beginning with a fast-moving
passage assigned to a solo clarinet. There are three more statements of the theme in the oboe, flute and finally the bassoon. Each statement of the theme begins higher than the previous statement, beginning with F, G, A and Bb respectively.  Following this, pedal-points begin appearing in the flute, harp and celesta.

Villa Lobos seems to favor transposing his themes up a whole or half-step, as
he does near the end of the composition, beginning with the starting notes  Bb, C, D and

Eb.  His use of polytonal effects is very effective.

A  fugato section begins in the woodwind quartet immediately followed by imitation in the trumpet at the fifth. The horns pick up the theme starting on the root, and lastly the lower-sounding instruments shape the theme on the fifth.  This imitative theme is tossed from one section to another and followed by an inversion of the theme and again in its regular form concurrently.

This momentum effectively builds to an extended virtuoso-like cadenza measures stated by solo bassoon.  The piece ends on an unexpected fortissimo quarter note.

This composition is a challenging piece for any wind ensemble. The ranges are inclusive for the woodwinds and virtuoso-like playing is demanded by the solo quartet parts. The horns and other brass are in a comfortable tessitura, although the trumpets are expected to play very fast staccato passages with verve and precision. Some trombone parts are written in tenor clef.

The asymmetric phrasing, unusual combinations of instrumental combinations, –                and the development of the themes makes this a challenging, but extremely musical piece to perform.  The sonorities are brilliant-sounding, expertly scored and well worth the effort expended.

Vince Corozine Music , Author of “Arranging Music for the Real World” by Mel Bay Publications

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