This concertante for tuba and orchestra, composed in mid-late 2013, was initially inspired by my love of the noble solo instrument that is usually confined to roaring or brooding at the bottom of the brass section, plus admiration for some outstanding players of it when a rare moment of exposure reveals, as well as sheer power, their powers of cantabile and eloquence. (So as not to incur rivalry my orchestration omits trombones but all four horns are present, extending the same family tone-colour into higher registers. A pair of trumpets add the edge and brilliance that the tuba doesn’t command.)
Perhaps the piece should be called a scena: its more immediate inspiration is the tale familiar from Ovid and other antique poets, then taken up by painters throughout the ages, of Jupiter's lustful hankering for the beautiful nymph Europa: his wooing her in the form of a bull, his plunging off with her into the turbulent ocean, his having his wicked way and gratifying her, willing or unwilling, and thus the foundation of the continent born of his incontinence.
The piece follows this scenario closely (the soloist is of course the Bull/God – priapic, magnificent, irresistible). I - Allegro tumultuoso sets a mood of tense expectation, issuing in the tuba's declamatory entry. Yet this "concerto exposition" already shows his potentially gentle, winning nature too. II - Canzonetta & pastorale concentrates wholly upon this. With gently lilting lyricism, accompanied only by strings, Jupiter woos. III - Toccata brings action, violence, violation, building up to IV - Quasi una Cadenza, wherein the soloist/bull/God bellows and heaves into his fulfilment. This is followed by a rapid subsidence into V, a pastorale reprise: aggression appeased, tenderness is still more eloquent (on just the same material) in post-coital comfort than when wooing. In VI - Vista, Europa, too, acquiesces in and embraces her destiny: the once-furious Bull now metamorphoses into the Woman herself. Finally VII - Vista is a solemn hymnic apotheosis of the fruitful terrain born of the enforced conjunction: Europe shimmers into a futurity glowing with Hope.
Robin Holloway, July 2015
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer.
Although this work is described as a Concertante for tuba and orchestra, it is certainly demanding for the soloist, requiring all his contrasting powers of bombast and lyricism. The composer has suggested that the piece may be the first of a series of works based on Ovid’s Metamophoses. The music is continuous, though built up from seven short sections: an urgent and angry opening, a rustic Canzonetta and Pastorale, a lively and ever-shifting Toccata, a section entitled Quasi una Cadenza, which is as much a showpiece for the orchestra as for the tuba soloist, a brief return of the Pastorale, and finally two calm and reflective sections, Vista and Vision, during which the music of the Canzonetta returns.
Repertoire Note by Peter Marchbank
"Europa & the Bull is both unusual and alluring… Based on the mythological tale of Jupiter’s obsession with the nymph Europa – and the birth of the European continent, which results from their union, the score is cast in seven short movements… the soloist makes a restless, brooding entrance; the music becomes increasingly agitated as Jupiter transforms himself into a bull. This is the music of conquest... With the introduction of a Pastorale movement, the score becomes unabashedly seductive; most of us have never heard a tuba in love, and it was captivating. The work ends with an effusion of shimmering strings."
“…though Holloway’s writing is fairly rampant in parts, he makes expansive room for exploration of the lyrical, even seductive qualities that give the instrument a certain nobility... the profound, singing quality achievable from this very large yet surprisingly expressive horn.”