above: the cover for the RVW Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra
Written in 1954, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra is one of, if not the most important works in the Tuba repertoire. One of the reasons it is so important aside from the fact that it is a fantastic piece of music is that it is one of the first major works for solo Tuba and orchestra. In all honesty, the opening melody to the first movement should have been the song Tubby sang in Tubby the Tuba.
The work was premiered on June 13, 1954 by Philip Catelinet whom the piece was also written for. Philip Catelinet was the first chair Tubist in the London Symphony Orchestra. Philip wrote about the premiere in an article titled, "The Truth about the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto," ;
"Tuning was a problem. It appeared to me, in that hall, that I gave out a sound similar to that of a sick cow. It seemed to meet the approval of the conductor, and we were off. The first movement was not too comfortable. A lack of togetherness on my part, hopefully, was not noticeable to the audience. The cadenza came off, though I wasn't too satisfied with my intonation. There is little, if any, resonance in that hall, so your solo sound seems to stop at the end of the bell. The beautiful second movement was, to me, one of my best efforts. I didn't care if the audience, critics or anyone else, for that matter, disliked the tuba sound or not. I really enjoyed myself. The last movement rollicked along, musically sketchy, but somehow held together with the confidence coming from under-rehearsed orchestral players determined not to admit musical defeat under any circumstances. The applause seemed sincere enough; probably happy, along with me, that I had finally made a tuba concerto sufficiently plausible musically to be acceptable. Vaughan Williams came to the front of the stage and linked hands with Sir John Barbirolli and myself, and we took our bows of the audience."
The full article is linked at the end of the post.
Below is a recording of James Gourlay performing the first movement:
The formal title of the piece is Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra. This means that the piece was intended to be performed on either Eb or F Tuba. These are Bass Tubas. In the United States, the more common BBb and CC Tubas are Contra Bass Tubas. You can still perform the Concerto on BBb or CC Tuba, but it is more difficult to play the upper register passages, like the lyrical second movement.
As a "tip of the hat" the opening 5 notes are quoted briefly in the first movement of the Edward Gregson Tuba Concerto. The quote occurs two measures before rehearsal number seven in the score of the Gregson Tuba Concerto. You can see the Vaughan Williams on the left and the Gregson on the right:
There are MANY excellent recordings of this work. Nearly every Tubist who make recordings has recorded this piece. You can find one recording with the master himself, Arnold Jacobs by clicking on the album cover below:
If you get the opportunity, please go see Gene Pokorny, principal Tuba with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform the Ralph Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto on Thursday May 17th, 2012 at 8:00 PM (central time). Click on the picture of Gene Pokorny below for more details.