Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra

By Ralph Vaughan-Williams
Composed in 1954

Written in 1954, this short 3-movement work was Vaughan Williams’ last concerto.

It is a compact work, with 2 modernistic outside movements surrounding a slow movement. It begins with a vigorous opening built around rising and falling scale-like passages. This is followed by a second theme (a little reminiscent of Hindemith in style), and a third, folk song-like theme.

The second movement harks back to Vaughan Williams’ earlier melodious and dreamy style. Orchestra and soloist both take part, weaving in and out of the musical fabric; the tuba’s sonorous capabilities are on full display in the scale-based theme followed by baroque-like ornamentation.

The concluding Finale is a rollicking “German rondo” (“Rondo alla Tedesca”), with a robust main theme first played by the tuba and echoed by the orchestra; the second theme is harmonically more adventurous, with a plaintive, almost urgent feel to it. After successive, ever more frenetic renditions of the 2 themes, the concerto ends in a furious dash.

The first and third movements both contain substantial solo cadenzas displaying the tuba’s range and versatility.