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Concerto Rhapsody "The Arch"

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James Stephenson

James Stephenson

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General Info

Year: 2014
Duration: c. 18:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Stephenson Music

Cost: Score and Parts - $300.00   |   Score Only - $60.00


Full Score
Solo Bass Trombone
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Euphonium (Bass Clef & Treble Clef)
String Bass (optional)

(percussion detail needed)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The form of this work follows closely to the historic construction of the Arch in St. Louis. Everything from range of the instrument, as well as sections of the work are modeled entirely after the architecture of the monument. Originally written for bass trombone and piano, this piece was commissioned by Gerry Pagano (St. Louis Symphony bass trombonist.) The wind ensemble version was commissioned by Grady McGrannahan/Drake University, as well as eight other universities and individuals.

- Program Note by publisher

The wind ensemble version was initiated by Grady McGrannahan. His father was to be resigning from wind ensemble directing in Reno after 25 years, and Grady wanted to surprise him with this special version as a tribute. I always enjoy being a part of musical projects that have added significance, so I am very honored to be a part of this.

On a musical level, getting the chance to score this work for large ensemble was a welcomed opportunity as well. I tend to hear my music in colors and textures anyway, so it was nice to have a chance to flesh things out and include the spectrum of the wind ensemble.

Many thanks to all who contributed so as to help this score become a reality. I know that bass trombone solo literature is somewhat limited. More than anything, I wanted to compose a piece that was musically satisfying, one that “just happened” to have a bass trombone as the feature instrument, rather than to compose a piece that showed off all of the “tricks” of one of the lower members of the brass family.

About the music:

In the fall of 2009, after having heard some of my music at Interlochen, St. Louis Symphony’s bass trombonist Gerry Pagano contacted me with the idea of writing a new sonata for him. It wasn’t until several months had passed that the piece got written (Gerry is a patient man!), but a phone conversation with him in early June 2010 sparked an immediate inspiration for the piece, and two weeks later the piece was done. Gerry had mentioned offhandedly that it would be nice to have a piece that would somehow represent where he lived and worked, so therefore…

The entire piece is one big Arch. (Wonder where I got that idea!!) I am big on symbolism in my music, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Almost every phrase is a miniature arch. They start low, rise up, and return almost to where they started. This happens in both the solo part and the piano part. Even just the opening six notes, the way the slur is written over it: it visually looks like an arch. And there’s more.

Here are some facts about the St. Louis Arch, and how they inspired me musically: It was designed by Eero Saarinen. If you take the ‘E’s and ‘A’s in his name, they inspired the very first phrase in the solo part. The piece does begin in A, though I kept it ambiguous on purpose – an effort to capture how anyone must feel when first designing and building a structure that large and permanent. Will this work? Will people ‘get it’? etc…

The outer width of the arch is 630 feet. The piece is 630 measures. The width of each base is 54 feet. You’ll notice that the opening section is 54 measures, and so is the last section. The first and last measures are also 5/4 bars, so as to further the symbolism. The dimension at the top of the Arch is 17 feet. So, the climactic section of this piece is 17 measures. I had to add one measure, however, and here’s why: The piece is very symmetric, so as to recognize the sections of the arch that were constructed. After the first 54 bar section, each successive section “on the way up” is 64, 64, 64 and 60 measures before finally arriving at the climactic 17 measure (+1) top. I had to add that one extra measure so that the total count of 630 could be divided evenly in two. That middle 17 measures throws that off unless I add one more. The optional high Bb for the soloist at the end of that section is the highest note in the piece. It’s not the EXACT middle of the piece – I had to take a little liberty there. After that climax, the sections repeat themselves, but in reverse: 60, 64, 64, 64 and the final 54. I found that this symmetry provided sonata-like options for repeating previously heard material.

Lastly, I read one small mention of the worries of the builders during the construction process. If even the smallest of errors occurred (even miscalculating by 1/128th of an inch on either side’s base), then the entire structure would fail to connect perfectly at the top. I symbolized this by adding two 1/128th rests near the beginning and end. Granted, the sonata’s existence won’t depend on those two small rests, but it was fun to further the connection musically. Also worth mentioning is that each successive section rises in both key-domain and in tempo on the way up (and the reverse on the way down, of course.) We start ambiguously in A, and very slowly. We then go (in both major and minor keys) to Bb, B, C and D until we very definitively arrive in Eb at the climax, which is about as far away from the opening key of A as possible – like the Arch. While climbing through the keys, we also increase the tempo (and meter) gradually, until arriving at the very fast 1/2 section. Generally speaking, the range of the music moves higher as we go up, and lower as we come down. It is important to note that all of the little games or tricks in the world won’t matter unless the musical creation is genuine and honest (and good!). I didn’t want it to be trite or kitsch, but a full musical statement that just happened to be supported by little mathematical facts created by the architect. I hope that the listener finds that my goals were successfully realized.

- Program Notes by composer

Commercial Discography

None discovered thus far.

Audio Links

State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Indiana University Wind Ensemble (Stephen W. Pratt, conductor; M. Dee Stewart, bass trombone) – 30 September 2015
  • Merit School of Music (Chicago) – Spring 2015

Works for Winds by this Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


None discovered thus far.