George Walker: Concerto for Trombone
Composed in 1957, George Walker’s Trombone Concerto was one of the earliest of its kind for the modern trombone. The premiere took place in 1957 at a concert conducted by American composer, Howard Hanson. The concerto shows off Walker’s wide-range of inspirations, from Beethoven to some of the jazz greats.
Movement I – Allegro
The opening movement, and arguably the most dissonant of the three, begins with a jaunty orchestral introduction. The trombone replicates these ideas in its opening statement. Through the dissonance there is a sense of the blues that comes through from the soloist, although this comes in waves and isn’t always obvious.
The bold orchestral interludes trigger the trombone to begin the jaunty central section of the concerto. Walker writes big intervallic jumps for the soloist to show the versatility of the instrument. These jaunty themes are developed over the course of this opening movement, with Walker creating some intriguing textures to support the themes. As the intensity rises near the end of the movement, Walker pushes the soloist into its upper register so that it ends full of tension, with many questions still unanswered.
Movement II – Grave
The slow middle movement is monothematic and is notably less dissonant than the first. Throughout the course of the concerto the music becomes less dissonant that creates a really powerful message. The lyrical trombone line sits on sustained woodwind and strings and the movement puts more of a spotlight on the soloist. As it began, the second movement concludes quietly.
Movement III – Allegro
The syncopated finale movement opens with a proclamation from the soloist. This theme is then taken by the orchestra and developed. Intricate call and response figures plague this movement, with Walker essentially writing a fugue by the central section. The playful character of this movement paired with it being the least dissonant of all the movement creates a really open canvas for the finale. As with lots of finales of concertos, this one is also set in a loose Rondo form. The jaunty melody is developed with Walker making nuanced changes to the music. The concerto finishes with a syncopated figure between the soloist and orchestra before the final chord sounds.
Ⓒ Alex Burns