The Tuba Concerto, once held to be no more than the last eccentricity of an aged composer but now regarded as a classic within its genre, was premièred in 1954 by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli; the soloist was Philip Catelinet, the composer’s nephew. Vaughan Williams wrote that his concerto was closer to Bach than to the Second Viennese School despite the elaborate cadenzas that end the first and last movements. The music, he main- tained, was rather self-evident and did not require verbose explanations.
The first movement, Prelude, takes the form of a scherzo and contains virtuosic passages for the soloist. The second, Romanza, is lyrical and tender, and here the tuba presents a haunting melody. It appears that the composer took great pains to discover and make the most of the instrument’s lyrical capabilities. The Finale, Rondo alla Tedesca, is a sprightly piece, possibly inspired by the Op.79 sonata and Op.130 string quartet by Beethoven. The cadenza,just before the end, demands the greatest virtuosity from the player. With the tuba surrounded by the strings – which seem to be dancing around the soloist – it is as if we are witnessing an instrumental portrayal of the blundering Falstaff amid the fairies.