"Flutey and the Beast"

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:15 am

My friend Jeff is a music ed major at California Baptist University and a tuba player, and his senior tuba recital is coming up next spring. On one recent evening out to dinner with him and his wife, he half-joked that if I wrote a piece for him, he would play it for his recital–better yet, write a piece for tuba and flute, and he and his wife could play it (she is, obviously, a flutist). I laughed at the idea of writing a duet for flute and tuba, but it was such a compelling challenge that I had to take it.

I tried to think of some inspiration that would make such a duet work musically, and the best thing I hit on was a sort of “beauty and the beast” idea, with each instrument playing one of the roles (I’ll leave you to guess which is which). I ran with it, and completed the rough draft of the piece a few weeks ago.

It starts with a (probably over-)dramatic introduction, followed by the beast’s theme, a gruff and angry set of fourths and octaves in the mid-to-low range of the tuba. There is a brief glimmer of the beast’s longing to be, well, not so beastly, a tender midrange melody, but it is quickly interrupted by the gruffness. The flute’s “beauty” character tries to interject here and there but is also interrupted, although she gets in a few echoes of the longing idea. Finally she plays her own beauty theme, by herself: much more tonal and sweet-sounding, based on ascending fourths and thirds, but is outspoken by the beast when she’s finished. The middle section is the softening of the beast, as he slowly but surely is won over by the beauty, until finally he consents to play his longing theme accompanied in harmony by the flute (similar to the Vox Balaenae principle, though not quite as dramatic), and even plays her theme down in his low range. The flute takes over with one last triumphant restatement of the beauty theme, with the tuba playing a bass line. The introduction returns, slightly modified, as the conclusion.

It’s a little ridiculous, musically speaking, but pretty comical. And if you know the story behind it, I think it makes sense when you hear it (although it might not make as much musical sense if you didn’t know the story). I went over to Jeff’s house the other day and he and his wife read through the piece a few times, and it went off rather well. It’s strange; I thought the musical colors of the two instruments would clash, but they actually blend surprisingly well, and the timbre of the flute is able to cut through the tuba’s sound to be heard (although I’m sure at forte or fortissimo dynamic levels the flute wouldn’t stand a chance). I’m going to make some revisions to the piece, but I’m excited at how it’s turning out thus far.



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    Courtney on 07.15.2008

    I LOVE this idea! So funny and brilliant. Can’t wait to hear it.

    Also, I have a music question for you, but I’m having trouble remembering what it is, so I’ll have to get back to you.



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