My Capriccio was written in 1960 in response to the need in those early years for a “serious” literature for some of the “underdog” instruments of the orchestra, in this instance the tuba. More specifically it was written for (and is dedicated to) Harvey Phillips, who as a performer, a teacher, a commissioner of works for his instrument, and as a spokesman for the “rights” of the tuba has contributed more valiantly than anyone else I can think of. Capriccio was premiered in 1963 in Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill Hall) on a pioneering series of contemporary music concerts initiated by Gunther Schuller, called Twentieth Century Innovators, with Harvey Phillips as soloist, Gunther Schuller conducting.
In the program notes for the premiere concert, I wrote:
Though modest in intentions, the work is uncompromising in
Outlook, making no unnecessary concessions to the largely
Assumed or imagined limitations of the tuba. It presents the
Soloist with challenges which are musical as much as they are
Technical, and as such the Capriccio undoubt4dly can look
Forward to a restful, undisturbed and unperformed future.
This somewhat somber prediction did in fact not come true, for the work has had a fair number of performances over the last three decades.
The Capriccio is for tuba and chamber orchestra with a small string section of eight violins, three cellos, and two bases (no violas). It is in three movements, the first of which consists of a somewhat lyrical introduction, followed by an Allegro in which the tuba displays its agility in exchanging lively rhythmic patterns and melodic fragments with the orchestra.
The second movement is basically a variation movement. An opening statement is used as a sort of “refrain” which recurs several times throughout the movement in slightly altered forms, and which, in turn, leads the music in different directions, always returning eventually to the “refrain” idea.
The last movement, though brief, is set in a very slow tempo, almost suspended in time. The sustained elements in the strings serve as a backdrop against which reminiscences from the two previous movements are placed.
In general, I have tried to show that the tuba is not relegated to the few stereotypes associate with it and that, on the contrary, its range of expression, of colors, of sonorities, and its technical capacities are virtually unlimited.