- Concerto for Alto Trombone
now and then, whilst trawling for information,
I net some very peculiar fish. Take this
little gem: “[Albrechtsberger’s] concertos
for jew's harp have occasionally
made their way into the modern trumpet
repertoire.” Such a seemingly astonishing
fact surely deserved some elaboration, but
none was forthcoming. Only slightly more
germane is the oft-quoted, “His main claim
to fame was as Beethoven’s teacher”. I’m
sure Einstein’s maths master, whoever he
was, must have found that greatly reassuring.
Albrechtsberger’s real claim to fame, however,
was as a theorist, author of a treatise
on composition and three volumes on harmony,
a “back-room” influence that brought many
pupils - who happened to include Beethoven
- flocking to his door.
mere dusty academic, Albrechtsberger practised
what he preached. A Kapellmeister and organist
by trade, he wrote 300 sacred works and
450 instrumental works including symphonies,
concertos and some 240 fugues. His career
spanned the transition from Baroque to Classical,
a period when the simpler style galant
was in the ascendant. In promoting strict
counterpoint through his favoured Baroque
sonata da chiesa model, he exerted
a substantial if less than sensational influence
on the development of music as we know it.
than his own instrument, he wrote concertos
for harp and for trombone, neither of which
were exactly mainstream instruments and
- correct me if I’m wrong - both missing
from Vivaldi’s capacious canon. Considering
the awe with which commentators often
mention, say, Beethoven’s introduction of
the trombone into the symphony, Albrechtsberger
surely deserves rather better than obscurity
for being the first - or so it would appear!
- to introduce the trombone into the rather
more eminent rôle of concerto soloist.
the trombone’s big advantage was its ability
to play all the notes without “cheating”.
Hence, in its hey-day, the alto trombone’s
light-voiced agility made it top dog in
the brass choir. A ready, albeit rough-and-ready,
substitute for the horn and to some extent
the trumpet, it rapidly fell from grace
once valves came along: horns and trumpets
could now sneer, “Anything you can do, I
can do better”. Well, that is, anything
except slide - but in those days
nobody pulled any cheap stunts like that.
Recently of course it has found an entirely
new lease of life, as an “authentic” instrument.
concerto affects an air of sturdy geniality
that puts me in mind of William Boyce’s
music. Throughout the course of its three
movements - Allegro moderato, Andante,
Allegro moderato - Albrechtsberger
strikes a gentlemanly balance between his
own “strict counterpoint” and the flash
new “style galant”, and makes as
fine a case as you could wish for this “substitute
© Paul Serotsky
37, Mayfield Grove,
West Yorkshire HD6 4EE
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