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What Is a Marimba Concerto?

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  • Written By: Judith Smith Sullivan
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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A marimba concerto is a piece of music which is written or transcribed for marimba solo accompanied by an orchestra or band. The marimba is the primary performing instrument of the piece, with the orchestra or band providing musical support. The concerto form usually has several movements and requires a great deal of artistic and technical skill from the soloist. The marimba is a very young instrument as far as classical performance is concerned. Although the marimba has been part of African cultures for many centuries, it was not considered a legitimate solo performing instrument in Western cultures until the early 20th century.

Typically, a concerto has at least three movements, or separate musical pieces, usually alternating from fast to a slow and back to a fast tempo. Classical and baroque concertos have very specific requirements for both the internal structure of the movements and the overall organization of the movements themselves. Twentieth century and modern concertos have much more freedom and may have more than three movements and a different organization of tempos. The statement of the subject, or main musical theme, is also not required, and there may be no discernible tune, especially in concertos which use atonality.

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Due to the versatility of the marimba, a wide variety of music can be played in a marimba concerto. The marimba can be played with two or more mallets, allowing for chords as well as single note runs in the instrument. This gives the composer a great deal of freedom in the construction of a marimba concerto, limited only by the voicing of the instrument. Usually, a full sized marimba has four to five octaves.

The tone of the marimba is often dependent on the type of mallet used. A soft mallet, wrapped in yarn or fabric will produce a round, smooth sound. A hard rubber mallet will produce a sharper, more piercing sound. Since the marimba is made of rosewood, metal mallets could cause damage to the instrument and is not used.

A marimba concerto may be a transcription of a concerto written for a different instrument or a composition written specifically for marimba. Since the marimba has a wide voice range as well as the capacity to have multiple notes played simultaneously, most concertos can be transcribed for marimba. A marimba concerto written specifically for marimba may draw out more specific technical aspects of the marimba than another concerto, showcasing the instrument's full potential as a solo instrument.

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