French horn player Bill Paulick has had a special affinity for Richard Strauss' "Concerto for Horn" since he was a high school student in Whittier, Calif., in the mid-1960s. Three years after he first picked up the horn, it was the first piece he chose for a solo.
"I listened to some Mozart, but the thing that really caught my attention in the first place was Schumann's 'Concert Piece for Four Horns (and Orchestra in F Major),'" said Paulick, owner of Juneau Brass & Woodwinds. "I heard that and I was hooked, but you can't play that on one horn. I had to search for one that would meet the demands of my instructor."
Strauss (1864-1949) began writing the concerto for his father (Franz, a principal horn player in the Munich court opera) in 1882 when he was a student at Munich University. He completed the work in 1883.
"It was written early in his career, and it's a piece that's very unlike Strauss in a lot of ways," Paulick said. "The third movement sounds Mozartian, and the first and second sound almost Mendelssohnian. It's not like he robbed ideas, but his stylistic similarities are notable.
"It's quite fast, it's fairly acrobatic, and it's just atypical of what you normally hear in horn playing, which is large and sonorous horn-call sort of things," he said.
"It mixes up Strauss and what's usually known as Mozart - a kind of joke playing. Mozart wrote concertos for a good friend of his to see if his friend could play them. Back in those days, they didn't have valves for French horns.
"In the days of the Strauss concerto they had valves, but this is a style that's very reminiscent of the Mozart concertos. It goes a lot higher. It goes a lot faster. That's what caught my eye."
In his mid-20s, Strauss fell under the influence of composer and poet Alexander Ritter, and followed in the new vein of dramatic movement pioneered by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, according to www.classical.net.
Strauss began telling stories through music in the fine art of tone poems. His two greatest operas, "Don Juan" (1889) and "Der Rosenkavalier" (1910), are examples.
Paulick will play a personal tone poem Saturday. A good friend of his, Barbara Murphy, the wife of a high school friend, Don Murphy, died Monday evening in San Jose, Calif., after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Paulick met Barbara Murphy when he was in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and was the best man at the Murphys' wedding. He is dedicating this performance to her.
"She was a real fighter, and it's not surprising to me that she lasted these 12 months," Paulick said. "She saw her son through some very important times in his life.
"If you think of the first movement as her life, it's very heroic," he said. "She did great things. She was the spiritual leader for her family in San Jose. We watched them develop as a couple - their high spots, low spots, comedy, sadness.
"The piece segues without break into the second movement, which is very sad, kind of far away, and it ends on a note (E-flat) that is very final sounding.
"The third movement, the Mozartian one, is happy again. The family lives on and things are not quite the same, but life goes on. You have to make the best of all encounters."
The performance begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. A concert conversation precedes the show at 7.
Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and online at www.juneau.com/symphony. Advanced ticket prices are $18 general admission, $13 for students and seniors, and $10 for children. At the door, tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors, and $10 for children. Extra parking is available across the high school sky bridge, which crosses Egan Drive. For more information, visit www.juneau.com/symphony or call the Symphony office at 586-HORN (4676).
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