Europa & the Bull

Robin Holloway (1943)

Europa & the Bull 2014


This concertante for tuba and orchestra, composed in mid-late 2013, was initially inspired by my love of the noble solo instrument that is usually confined to roaring or brooding at the bottom of the brass section, plus admiration for some outstanding players of it when a rare moment of exposure reveals, as well as sheer power, their powers of cantabile and eloquence. (So as not to incur rivalry my orchestration omits trombones but all four horns are present, extending the same family tone-colour into higher registers. A pair of trumpets add the edge and brilliance that the tuba doesn’t command.)

Perhaps the piece should be called a scena: its more immediate inspiration is the tale familiar from Ovid and other antique poets, then taken up by painters throughout the ages, of Jupiter's lustful hankering for the beautiful nymph Europa: his wooing her in the form of a bull, his plunging off with her into the turbulent ocean, his having his wicked way and gratifying her, willing or unwilling, and thus the foundation of the continent born of his incontinence.

The piece follows this scenario closely (the soloist is of course the Bull/God – priapic, magnificent, irresistible). I - Allegro tumultuoso sets a mood of tense expectation, issuing in the tuba's declamatory entry. Yet this "concerto exposition" already shows his potentially gentle, winning nature too. II - Canzonetta & pastorale concentrates wholly upon this. With gently lilting lyricism, accompanied only by strings, Jupiter woos. III - Toccata brings action, violence, violation, building up to IV - Quasi una Cadenza, wherein the soloist/bull/God bellows and heaves into his fulfilment. This is followed by a rapid subsidence into V, a pastorale reprise: aggression appeased, tenderness is still more eloquent (on just the same material) in post-coital comfort than when wooing. In VI - Vista, Europa, too, acquiesces in and embraces her destiny: the once-furious Bull now metamorphoses into the Woman herself. Finally VII - Vista is a solemn hymnic apotheosis of the fruitful terrain born of the enforced conjunction: Europe shimmers into a futurity glowing with Hope.

Robin Holloway, July 2015

8.10.15 Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool: Robin Haggart, tuba / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Manze
23/24.3.17 Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, USA: Jeffrey Anderson, tuba / San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas
2nd doubling piccolo
2nd cor anglais
2nd doubling bass clarinet
2nd contrabassoon