RTC-66: 1987 Concerto for Viola

Commission: [Canada Council?] – written for Rivka Golani
Length: 25 min.
Completion: September 1986 – March 1987
Premiere: 1988-05-24/25, Rivka Golani, viola, OSM, Charles Dutoit (cond.)
Other: 1991-01-11/12, Rivka Golani, WSO, Bramwell Tovey (cond.)
Publication: CMC
Recording: CBC Live recording of 1991 WSO concert

Robert Turner notes for an interview:

1.) In 1985 I was commissioned by CBC Radio to write a chamber work for mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin, violist Rivka Golani and pianist William Aide to be performed during its season at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. After the performance, Ms. Golani asked me to write a solo work, but I suggested a concerto – to which she agreed, if an orchestra could be found to perform the work. As the result of canvassing a number of Canadian orchestra, the Montreal Symphony under Charles Dutoit agreed to premiere the concert in 1988. The second part of your question is covered in Nos. 4 + 6.

2.) Its unique tone quality, particularly in the low register, its sonorous effectiveness in multiple stopping (even to the point of roughness1) and less usual, its highest register – a range brilliantly exploited by Ms. Golani and partly due to the construction of her instrument.

3.) Besides those noted in (2) – there are harmonies, pizzicato, sul ponticello, sul tasto, muting, carious types of bowing. Within traditional playing practices, no technical limitations were imposed. No avant-garde techniques or graphic notation were used as they are not a part of my aesthetic.

4.) I was not influenced technically or musically by any particular work or works, but did peruse the scores of certain composers who have written words featuring solo viola – Stamitz, Mozart. Berlios, Vaughan Wiliams, Bax, Walton, Hindemith, Britten Bartok and Shostakovich.

5.) While the work as a whole is scored for full orchestra, the solo viola is usually heard against a background (accompaniment) of strings and /or woodwinds, or other reduced combinations. A couple of reviewers have criticized the work for its “swamping” of the solo part, but the overall balance between viola and orchestra is perfectly audible and satisfactory so far as Ms. Golani and I are concerned. There are only two places where the viola is briefly and intentionally overwhelmed by the orchestra (p. 18 and pp. 83-84, 87-88).

6.) The writing of the viola part was to a very great extent influenced and inspired by the personal style of playing – fiery, passionate, vigorous, as well as lyrical and delicate. Sometimes described as a flamboyant performer, her playing is always well controlled, both technically and rhythmically, and exhibits a beautiful tone quality through the wide range of her instrument.

7.) No other violists have yet taken up the concerto since the expiry of Ms. Golani’s 3-year performance rights to the work.

8.) All my music is based on tonality (or a tonal centre) whether the scalar (melodic) material is tonal, modal or atonal. This, in turn, greatly affects the harmonic structure, which can be traditional, polychordal, twelve-tone, depending on the musical context or expressive intent. All these means are employed in the concert. The first movement might be characterized as a polytonal (but centred on G), the second tonal (on F0 and the third atonal (on D).

9.) In the interest of balance between soloist and orchestra, only double wind and double brass were used, in addition to the timpani, harp, celesta and piano.

10.) The first movement is in Sonata Form (Ex –Dev – Recap) with the solo cadenza concluding the development section (b 67-117); the second movement is in song form (ABA), with a solo cadenza concluding the A section and the B section having the character and faster tempo of a scherzo; the last movement is a theme and variations, with the soloist’s exposition of the theme constituting this movement’s cadenz (the three cadenzas move to the fore, as it were, as the three movements progress).

Most of the above and other facts can be found in the note prefacing the score, I might just add that the opening, open 5th for viola is meant to stand for Golani’s initials (D – being “Re” in Sol-fa). This ties in with the tonalities of the 1st movement.

The Concerto was composed between September 1986 and March 1987. It was written for Rivka Golani. The orchestration includes woodwinds and brass in pairs, timpani, percussion, celesta, harp and strings.

The first movement is based on the 12-tone row of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935); the row appears in its basic arpeggiated shape at two places (in the middle and again at the end – “lontano”) but is used mainly for its harmonic potential. A descending and ascending scalic third in the Introduction appears throughout the concerto. The main section is in sonata form, with a vigorous ‘A’ theme in double-stopping for the soloists, and a lyrical ‘B’ theme first stated by the orchestra. Both themes are then developed and recapitulated.

The more tonal slow movement (in f minor) is in ternary form, with a scherzo-like middle section (in D-Flat). The whole movement is a musical reflection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ autumnal poem “Spring and Fall” (‘Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?’).

The last movement – Theme and Variations – is built on an original 12-tone row. The Theme (in ABA form) is the “Monody” movement for solo viola from the composer’s Suite in Homage to Melville (1966). The six variations are grouped in a tripartite arrangement (fast – slow – fast). The last variation serves as a kind of Coda, juxtaposing the ‘B’ section of its Theme with the principal themes of the two previous movements.

There are cadenzas in all three movements, the third being the “Theme” for the variations. The writing for the solo viola is virtuosic, but employs only traditional techniques.


24, 25 May, 1988. Orchestre symphonique de Montreal