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What Is a Percussion Concerto?

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  • Written By: Judith Smith Sullivan
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Images By: n/a, Michael Flippo
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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A percussion concerto is a piece of music played by a solo percussionist and a supporting musical group. The musical group may be quite small, like a quintet, or as large as an orchestra. There are many types of percussion concertos, based on percussion instruments and genre of music.

Professionals, students, and amateurs alike perform concertos. It is more common for a concerto to take place in a concert setting, since the musical form typically requires a group of musicians in addition to the soloist. In some cases, however, concertos are assigned to students simply for their educational value, and the piece is not performed with a group. These are usually adaptations of the original concerto, designed for performance without the group or with piano accompaniment only.

The classic concerto is typically organized into three movements, or pieces of music. Usually the tempos vary, with the first and last piece being upbeat and the middle piece slower. Often a cadenza, or grand solo, is played at the end of the first or last movement.

Percussion concertos are a relatively new form of music. Before the 20th century, concertos were typically played by pianists, string, brass, or woodwind players. Modern influences inspired composers to adapt classical forms, like the symphony and concerto, into modern musical pieces. Sometimes composers added additional movements and employed unusual instruments, like percussion. Even so, violin and piano concertos continue to be the most popular.

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Although sometimes called a percussion instrument, a concerto that features the piano is not typically called a percussion concerto. A percussion instrument is any instrument that strikes a surface to produce sound, and the piano uses felt lined hammers to strike its strings to produce musical tones. If a piano is used in a concerto, however, the concerto is called a piano concerto.

Usually, a concerto is named after the instrument and the key. For instance, "Marimba Concerto in G". Some concertos use more than one featured instrument, like a drum set and additional percussion. Although mallet instruments are popular solo instruments for a percussion concerto, there are pieces written for timpani, snare drum, and wood blocks as well. Almost any percussion instrument can be used in a concerto.

A number of world famous composers have written a percussion concerto or a piece in which percussion in the main instrument. Bela Bartok, John Cage, Benjamin Britten, Phillip Glass, Igor Stravinsky and many others have produced major works of percussion literature. The variety of instruments available make percussion concertos one of the most varied styles of music collected under one name.

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