Meeting the Challenge of the John Williams Concerto!

Posted By on January 10, 2008

About one year ago, a young horn player here in Luxembourg came by for a lesson. He said he had exams coming up and was going to play the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra by John Williams; and could I help him with it. Now although I had read all about this new and challenging work for horn and orchestra, I had not yet seen the music and had certainly never heard it. Needless to say, I could not work in much detail with the lad. So I procured the music, pushed the cap forward atop my head and got to work on it. I was going to learn this new and masterful addition to our repertoire.

But hold on a minute. This Concerto for Horn and Orchestra by Mr. Williams is really hard! One does not simply read it off the page. Furthermore, one does not even learn the first movement after a week of practicing. And the second movement (there are five) is MUCH more difficult.

So last May, I had lunch with Mr. Philip Myers and among other interesting topics, we discussed the Williams Concerto. Practically speaking, if a performance of the work is your goal, there seem to be a lot of pros and cons. The horn part itself is not the only difficult bit. The piano reduction is enormously challenging and I hear the orchestra accompaniment is pretty tough as well. And you know, a lot of busy professional horn players simply do not have the time to dedicate to such a daunting project.

Wait right there. All great artistic achievement demands time, patience and dedication. It is the nature of the fine arts. When it comes to composing great music, John Williams certainly has a spectacular track record, one of the best of our time! Should I not therefore trust his artistry and do my utmost to learn this work, knowing that it will indeed be worth it, and that it will count as one of the most important horn concertos of the age?

Enter the Christmas holidays. Yupee! Lots of time off and nothing pressing that I need to practice. So I once again brought out the 5-movement opus and labored through it, bar by bar. And I am pleased to report that it is coming along swimmingly. At least the first three movements are. I think I could even say that if I were to be asked to perform these three movements next week, I could probably pull it off. And I can certainly teach it now!

The Concerto for Horn and Orchestra by John Williams was commissioned by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund for the Chicago Symphony and was premiered by Dale Clevenger. It has five movements each entitled:

1. Angelus- “Far Far Away, Like Bells, At Evening Pealing”
2. Battle of the Trees- Swift Oak…Stout Guardian of the Door”
3. Pastorale- “There Came a Day at Summer`s Full”
4. The Hunt- “The Hart Loves the High Wood”
5. Nocturne- “The Crimson Day Withdraws”

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