Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra

Lowell Liebermann

Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra

Op. 48

Recorded versions of this work

About this work

A colorful and melodic work, this concerto for flute is a haunting and beautiful work that is a major addition to a concerto combination used by Mozart.

Lowell Liebermann is especially noted for his music with a romantic sweep and tonal melody. Among his most successful works are his several featuring flute solos. The Flute Sonata and the Soliloquy for harp were immediately successful. After taking up the sonata, the superstar flutist James Galway asked Liebermann for an orchestral version of it. Liebermann responded by writing an original concerto for Galway.

Galway was also involved in the creation of this double concerto. He originated the request for the work, although the commission was made on behalf of harpist Hyun-Sun Na by a consortium of American orchestras: the Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Florida Philharmonic, and Minnesota Orchestra. It was the Minnesota organization that got the premiere, which was by Galway and harpist Kathy Kienzel.

With an important exception the orchestra is the same as in Mozart's double concerto: a small ensemble of two oboes, two horns, and strings. However, Liebermann also adds five additional pitched instruments, technically all in the percussion family. These are timpani, vibraphone, marimba, celesta, and piano. This group shares with the harp the quality of not being able to sustain a note; as soon as a tone on these instruments is sounded it begins to fall away in loudness. The flute soloist, on the other hand, shares with the other two winds and the strings the ability to hold a note at the same volume for at least a period of time.

Formally the piece does not at all resemble Mozart's concerto. It is in an unbroken 20-minute-long single movement. Liebermann says that it is in a "binary form whose harmonic and thematic material are derived from the work's opening accompanimental and melodic phrases." Liebermann builds the piece from alternating blocks of slower and faster treatments of the basic idea. The faster and the slower music, though deriving from the same harmonic and melodic idea, each take this main material in a different direction. The basic musical moods are mysterious and haunting versus forward moving and dramatic. The opening material introduces the pitched non-sustaining instruments as a distinct group. The shifting harmony of the slower music, with the chiming percussion choir, has an odd resemblance to the music of Alan Hovhaness or perhaps Charles Tomlinson Griffes. At the end the two musical streams merge: as when the flute continues to play the slower material while the harp and allied instruments continue in the rapid tempo. This seems to satisfy the haunted, lost quality of the slow music and the racing but unsatisfied feeling of the faster music, so the music subsides gracefully.