Pop Corn Concerto
by Karl-Heinz Koper

        Karl-Heinz Koper was born on May 13, 1927, in Hannover, Germany.  He composed the Pop Corn Concerto for French horn and small orchestra, in 1972.  It was premiered the following year in Baden-Baden.  The Pop Corn Concerto is scored for percussion (vibraphone and drums), piano, electric bass, and strings, in addition to the solo French horn.
        Karl-Heinz Koper has led a distinguished career as a composer in the region of his native Hannover, where he studied at the Akademie fur Musik und Theater.  Following his graduation he was involved principally in composition and music direction for theatrical productions, but in 1960 he turned his attention primarily towards writing concert works.  The best known of his works are concertos, particularly for mid-range instruments which are not otherwise endowed with a richness of concerto repertoire.
        These include his Fakturen for four bassoons and orchestra (1968); Der Schwan von Pesaro ("The Swan of Pesaro"), a Rossini-inspired concerto for English horn and orchestra (composed in 1979, and doubtless a sort of pun on Sibelius' The Swan of Tuonela, which also places the spotlight on the English horn); and the Concerto Tricolore for English horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, and orchestra (1974).
        These titles only begin to suggest the pleasure Koper takes in the light-hearted; they pale next to the names of such of his compositions as Bavariationen: eine bayerische Burleske ("A Bavarian Burlesque"), Wits for Wood, or - most certainly - Pop Corn Concerto.  Some of his pieces were written expressly for younger listeners and school audiences, who (Koper has said) "immediately sense the spirit of a concert.  They can observe the playing of the musicians, glimpse the manner in which various instruments are grouped and used, the coordination of the conductor and the ensemble, the significance of the composer's signals for dynamics and rhythmic details, and last but not least, they can gauge how successfully the soloist contributes to the whole."
        "The title of this concerto," says Koper of his Pop Corn Concerto, "has a double meaning.  The Italian word for horn is corno.  This leads to "Pophorn" as a verbal neighbor of the universally loved popcorn."  It comes as no surprise that jazz elements are prominent in the Pop Corn Concerto; the idiom is especially welcome for hornists, since the French horn is rarely used in jazz contexts.  The work's three movements unroll according to the classical plan of fast - slow - fast (Moderato - Andante - Allegro), and themes are similarly worked out along the lines of traditional concertos.  A straightforward theme of strongly articulated eighth-notes (with a triplet ornament in the middle) dominates the first movement; its flatted intervals of the fourth and seventh (the so-called "blue note") define the modality of jazz.  The same theme rules over the slow movement, though elongated and given a far more elegiac cast.  The tune is further transformed in the finale, but now it is subsumed into a musical landscape of more aggressive, syncopated rhythms.