What Is a Trombone Concerto?

The trombone is a brass instrument with a tenor or bass range that uses a slide to extend the length of the tube and lower the pitch of a note. A trombone concerto is a three- or four-movement musical work in which a solo trombone player collaborates with an orchestra initiating a musical dialogue or playing in contrast to the other instruments. Trombones were used in works composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel during the Baroque Period, but the trombone was first used as a solo instrument in concertos Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Leopold Mozart, and Johann Michael Haydn, Joseph Haydn’s brother. Some Romantic composers used the trombone concerto to express themselves in the nineteenth century, and composers like Christopher Rouse continued to use it in the twenty-first century.

Classical Period Concerto for Alto Trombone and Orchestra Johann Georg Albrechtsberger is still popular among trombonists in the early twenty-first century. Albrechtsberger was a master of musical theory who taught Beethoven counterpoint and used his knowledge of the subject in his compositions. When compared to trumpets and horns of the time, the trombone was a relatively agile instrument, and Albrechtsberger saw its potential as a solo instrument. In 1764, Johann Michael Haydn composed a trombone concerto, which is actually a collection of movements from a divertimento. In the same period, Leopold Mozart composed a trombone concerto, which is actually a collection of movements taken from a serenade written for a variety of soloists.

Ferdinand David’s Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra, written in 1837 and still popular today, is an example of a trombone concerto from the Romantic Period. Later, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed a trombone concerto for military band. Trombonist Eugene Reiche composed concertos for the trombone at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The Concerto No. 2 in A for Trombone and Piano was among them, and it remained in trombonists’ repertoire well into the twentieth century.

As individual composers imposed their own interpretations on the form in the twentieth century, the trombone concerto took on more varied forms. Nathaniel Shilkret composed a three-movement Concerto for Trombone in 1943 for well-known musician Tommy Dorsey. With a classical first movement, a blues-style second movement, and a boogie-woogie third movement, this musical work can be described as a cross-over between classical and jazz. Christopher Rouse, on the other hand, dedicated a trombone concerto to Leonard Bernstein’s memory in 1991. This was a much darker work, consisting of two adagio movements separated a scherzo, with a funeral march as the finale.