Five Limericks, Opus 53 by Neal Corwell

Instrumentation: woodwind quintet*
(* a euphonium may be substituted for the horn)
Copyright: 1998
Duration: ca. 15 minutes total, with individual movements ranging from 2 to 4 minutes.
Difficulty: IV
Publisher: Nicolai Music
Price: $20
Other Info: The work was commissioned by the Appalachian Wind Quintet, and premiered by them during a program at Sharpsburg, Maryland in December of 1998.


Five Limericks is a collection of musical miniatures that were written especially for members of the Appalachian Wind Quintet. The composer has known all the members of the ensemble for a few decades, so he decided to feature, and taunt, a different instrumentalist during each of the work’s five movements. Neal also penned five brief limericks, each directed toward the instrument or performer about to be featured. The derisive nature of these little ditties is of course all in good fun!

As one would expect, the music is humorous in intent. The first movement sets the tone, as far as lack of seriousness is concerned. As the soloist (the oboe) attempts to present his serious lyrical theme, he must endure many rude interruptions by the others, in particular the French Horn, and also hold the last note for an extraordinarily long time (the goal is to make him pass out). The second and fourth movements, “A Scherzo” and “Around and About” are built upon playful and jaunty melodic lines, and the central movement is serious, but only in a tongue-in-cheek way. The final movement, "A March”, features a return of the trite horn theme which plagued the oboe soloist during the first movement. One word of caution, you’ll have a difficult time staying in step during this one!

Although the music is rather silly, it is not devoid of structure or cohesiveness. All the thematic materials presented during the first movement are subsequently developed during the four movements that follow. The second movement is based on a clarinet fragment stated at the start of "A Solo". The flute's melodic line in the third movement is a retrograde statement of the oboe line heard in the first movement. The disjunct bassoon line which serves as the basis of "Around & About" is based on the oboe's opening material. And, as previously mentioned, the horn theme from the opening movement returns as the basis for the final movement.

During live performance, the composer suggests the limericks be read aloud before the start of each movement. These readings may be performed by one narrator, or by different members of the quintet. As another option, different limericks may be written and substituted for those penned by the composer. The bottom line is simply to be creative and have fun with it!

The limericks used for the premiere performance are as follows:

Five Limericks, by Neal Corwell

#1- A Solo
When preparing to play a big solo
he takes a deep breath for good air flow
and his face turns red
as if he may lose his head
while honking on that
Thing called an oboe

#2- A Scherzo
Please observe the long black stick
with smooth barrel and pads that click
though it's no joy to hear
(unless you've been drinking lots of beer)
it's amazingly agile and quick

#3- A Song
Only wonderful people play the flute.
They're often blonde and ALWAYS cute!
But whether short or tall
their egos are never small
My how they love hearing themselves toot

#4- Around & About
Observe the man playing the bassoon
His nimble playing will make you swoon
He is courteous and kind
but underneath you'll find
He's basically just a buffoon

#5- A March
We found ourselves in a real bind
because good horn players are hard to find
I mean, he's doing his best
no worse (really) than the rest
so in your assessment, please be kind