You are on page 1of 4

Contemporary Music Review

Vol. 23, No. 3/4, September/December 2004, pp. 149 – 151

What Awaits the Tuba-Player in
Harmonica?
Klaus Burger (translated by Dan Albertson)

My brief entry is on this concerto for a neglected orchestral instrument, the tuba. In lighthearted but meaningful terms, I try to show readers how incredibly difficult the soloist’s
part in this piece is.
Keywords: Extended Techniques; Tuba
First, the soloist must allow himself a large range from subcontra A flat to G’’ and be
nimble enough to play as quickly as possible at any moment. Singing and playing at
the same time is likewise an assumption that this piece makes; all of this must be
done at the highest level of proficiency.
Here a tuba-player encounters demands of a completely new sort: by playing the
tuba, courses of movement, air sounds, finger movements, etc. are necessary, and
every aspect associated with these demands is explored by Lachenmann. It is as
though he has taken subconscious actions and transformed them into the driving
forces behind the piece. To do this is an ungodly complex task (Figure 1 shows one of
the easier moments).
If I were a student motorist receiving instruction about Harmonica from
Lachenmann’s perspective, I would be told:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

Minimum speed limit: 70 mph.
For each oncoming black vehicle: lower the seat three notches.
For each oncoming red vehicle: raise the seat as far as possible.
For each mile marker whose number is divisible by 17: honk a syncopated
rhythm.
For each car that has been passed: open and close the glove compartment.
For each outmoded car seen: flicker the lights, with increasingly longer
frequencies.
For each bridge: search for a new radio station and sing an aria against that
music. . .
. . .and do all of this at the same time . . . with accelerando, crescendo, subito. . .

ISSN 0749-4467 (print)/ISSN 1477-2256 (online) ª 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/0749446042000293529

150

K. Burger (trans. D. Albertson)

Figure 1 Harmonica, p. 84, mm. 546 – 551. # 1983, Breitkopf & Ha¨rtel, Wiesbaden.

Contemporary Music Review

151

Personally, I was able to learn this piece so well only because I had so much time!
After nearly a year, I finally mustered enough courage to attempt the piece in public;
however, it took more than two additional years before I had the opportunity to do
so. I overcame the rhythmic complexities by using a click variation on a multitrack
tape recorder, which included all bar and tempo changes that I had recorded. I
practiced and practiced in this quasi-real, hardcore situation.
In the end, my performance received a very good recording, which both
Lachenmann and the conductor Hans Zender considered to be the definitive
performance. I would happily play it again!