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Concerto Dystonia

Concerto Dystonia

for Horn and Orchestra (Also a horn and piano version)


Concerto Dystonia is a programmatic-horn concerto comprised of four movements. The large scale work comes in two forms: the first is composed for solo horn and full orchestra while the second is for horn and piano.


Concerto Dystonia chronicles the physical and emotional ailments of a musician that suffers from task-specific focal dystonia. Focal Dystonia is a repetitive motion disorder in which muscles have involuntary movements and spasms caused by a shutdown in the neural pathways of the brain. One could easily describe it as a hardware failure in the brain. Embouchure dystonia affects the mouth or embouchure of brass and woodwinds players, in which symptomatic muscle spasms of the mouth, tongue, or face plague the performer. Hand dystonia may affect string players like violinists or guitar instrumentalists, making performance impossible. Piano players face the symptoms of having their fingers curl involuntarily. Overall, the experience is personally diabolical and usually leads to the end of a career. Furthermore, sufferers can also experience emotional declines and even depression. Focal dystonia has no specific cure and has only a few successful full or partial recoveries. The composer himself has not yet found a solution.


Thomas Joseph himself has experienced embouchure dystonia as a horn player and has composed the piece to share the experience, provide hope for sufferers, make the condition more known as well as encourage the search for new solutions.




The four movements provide a chronological journey about the experience.


The first movement, “Pride and Virtuosity” describes a horn player with a bold and in-your-face representation of the instrument. It requires great skill of the performer and exemplifies the abilities and persona of a great professional musician. It's also meant to appear very effortless. William Vermeulen is a horn player that is known for his bold disposition and and aggressive high horn playing. The opening requires four rips to written high-Cs and was actually inspired with his image in mind. It is also based on an instructional exercise by David Wick, principal horn of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. The movement is full of jazz-like characteristics and harmonies, syncopated rhythms, and even some subtle allusions to difficult horn repertoire.


The second movement, “Declination and Lamentation” describes the emotional trauma and the sneaky manifestation of the focal dystonia symptoms. The hornist begins with a beautiful dark solo that slowly begins to unravel into trepidation. The soloist must use techniques to emulate what a hornist with dystonia sounds like. In this case, the composer is a sufferer himself and uses his experience to notate effects like half muting, rapid vibratos and other means to emulate the sounds.


“Diligence and Recovery” is the third movement and is also very slow. It actually describes some methodology given by David Vining-- a professional trombonist and recoverer from focal dystonia himself. The movement demonstrates an extreme amount of patience for the performer an listener, and describes the nuances in long tones, breath control, immense concentration, and diligence of the recoverer to create new neural pathways. Recovery for dystonia is a difficult and imprecise methodology, but basic principles are prevalent in the movement.


The last movement, “Hope and Humility” describes a hopeful outcome and full recovery from the condition. The movement itself is much more reserved, humble, yet still virtuosic. It is more lyrical than the very syncopated first movement, but still borrows some elements and stylings of the first. The movement overall is meant to be beautiful, lyrical, and fun. It is loosely inspired by the horn concerti by Strauss.