Concerto for Horn and Orchestra by John Williams


INSTRUMENTATION: Horn and Orchestra
PUBLISHER: 2003, Marjer Publishing distributed by the Hal Leonard Corporation
COST: ~$20.00
Movement 1: Angelus — 113 measures, approx. 5m45s
Movement 2: Battle of the Trees — 94 measures, approx. 2m15s
Movement 3: Pastorale — 44 measures, attacca
Movement 4: The Hunt — 247 measures, approx. 8m45s
Movement 5: Nocturne — 132 measures, approx. 8m00s
SPOTIFY: Karl Pituch, John Williams Horn Concerto
iTUNES: Karl Pituch, John Williams Horn Concerto
GRADE/DIFFICULTY (1 easy, 6 very difficult): 6
EXTENDED TECHNIQUES: Straight Mute, Echo Horn, Hand Stopping (+), Trills, Glisses
RANGE (horn pitch):
MUSC 5036 - 2021C.Horn Annotated Bibs - Johnston38
The notes below are John Williams thoughts on his Concerto for Horn and Orchestra (from the program notes for the Chicago World Premiere) combined with the thoughts of music critic, Daniel Barkley.

Mr. Williams: “When I’ve tried to analyze my lifelong love of the french horn, I’ve had to conclude that it’s mainly because of the horn’s capacity to stir memories of antiquity. The very sound of the french horn conjures images stored in the collective psyche. It’s an instrument that invites us to ‘dream backward to the ancient time.’ Most cultures have had some form of horn in their histories. We remember the ram’s horn Shofar, calling us to battle or prayer . . . or the conch, “fabled shell instrument of the Titans,” or one can imagine the huge Viking horns that must have struck terror in the hamlets of northern Europe as the great ships were brought into the estuaries to begin their attacks. The horn stirs memories of fearful things, of powerful things, of noble and beautiful things!

In the first movement or section of my concerto, I begin with the distant pealing of the ‘Angelus Bell’, while the horn joins in, sending calls and signals to complete the picture.” Mr. Barkley asserts that the mood here is sombre, ancient, and has a certain martial tint – the War Requiem of Britten is brought to mind. Speaking of Britten, much of the arpeggio-based horn writing in this first movement is strongly reminiscent of “Blow, Bugle, Blow” from Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. An evocative, novel way to start a concerto.

Mr. Williams: “This is followed by ‘The Battle of the Trees’, suggested by the famous Celtic poem of that name, which describes groves of trees transforming themselves into warriors and led in battle by the brave oak. The horn enters the fray, as the percussion section creates sounds of trunks, branches, and twigs all colliding in the struggle. Nostalgia has been described as ‘laundered memory’ but our modern horn and oboe possess the power to produce it truly.” Mr. Barkley feels that this is a mini-concerto for percussion and horn, with the vast resources of the percussion section driving the horn to more and more frenzied responses. Williams uses the wooden percussion to illustrate the battle, and we are reminded of some of the more hectic battle scenes from his film scores here.

Mr. Williams: “They conjoin to ‘dream backward’ of a pristine glen in the third movement, ‘Pastorale’. In ‘The Hunt’, the horn plays its traditional role, getting the blood up, exhilarating the spirit and animating the chase.” Mr. Barkley postulates that in the “Pastorale”, the horn gets its first chance to show off its expressive side, although the tender mood doesn’t last long (who’s surprised?) The hunt music disturbs the calm earlier than expected, and we’re treated to some energetic and exciting material. Williams uses the horn throughout this concerto in ways which “stir memories of antiquity” – in this case, the traditional character of the hunting horn is evoked. The movement ends with a cadenza and a final hunting cry. It’s especially “The Hunt” and “The Battle of the Trees” which make us realize why the concerto’s dedicatee Dale Clevenger at first thought the piece was too difficult to be played.

Mr. Williams: “Finally in ‘Nocturne’, the day’s end grants repose and a simple song is offered.” Here, Mr. Barkley’s thoughts with “Nocturne” offer a lengthy song for the horn with an expressive, sometimes pained accompaniment. This movement, like most of the five, has a broad feeling of a ternary structure, with a contrasting middle section. The song-like outer sections here surround a more active, passionate outpouring.

Mr. Williams: “With each movement title I’ve included a poetic quote, none of which is medieval, but simply chosen from writers that I’ve enjoyed, and in the music I have not deliberately adhered to, or purposely avoided, the modalities and grammar of medievalism. Instead I’ve written freely and with a sense of privilege and joy at working with the legendary horn player Dale Clevenger, who for so many years has been an inspiration to lovers and students, myself included, of the french horn.”