VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ralph, Concerto for Oboe and Strings
Minuet and Musette
Vaughan Williams started to compose his oboe concerto in 1943, immediately after the Fifth Symphony, and it was completed in 1944. His friend and biographer Michael Kennedy wrote that ‘a discarded scherzo from the symphony was turned into part of the oboe concerto’, and he described it as a ‘satellite work’ to the symphony. It was written for the oboist Léon Goossens and the premiere was planned for the 1944 Proms. That concert was cancelled due to the risk of flying-bombs over London and Goossens gave the first performance in Liverpool on 30 September 1944.
The bucolic first movement – an unconventional rondo – is marked Allegro moderato and it uses both the oboe’s spiky agility and its lyrical capabilities, with short cadenzas near the start and finish. In his book on Vaughan Williams, Frank Howes noted that the Minuet and Musette was ‘wayward in its key scheme’ and described the whole movement as ‘pseudo-classical’ in character. The central ‘Musette’ section is based on drones, played by the oboe. Headed ‘Finale (Scherzo)’, the last movement is predominantly very fast, but perhaps the highlight of the whole Concerto is the slower central section, the soloist musing over richly-harmonised string chords, before a return of the fast material and a quiet, sustained close.
© Nigel Simeone