Symphony No. 1 for Chamber Orchestra (1987) 20 mins
Dedicated to Celia Duffy
Fl, Alto fl, Ob, C.A., Cl in Bb, Bass Cl in Bb, Bsn, Contra bsn – 2 Horns in F, Tpt in C, Fluegelhorn, Tbne, Tuba – Timp, 3 Perc, Pfte, Celesta – Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Cello, D. Bass
My first symphony was conceptualised during the final months of 1986, and the first bar of music (symbolically) actually committed to paper on January 1st, 1987. The whole piece then took approximately two and a half months for me to compose.
The symphony is scored for a (percussion-heavy) chamber orchestra, and is a single-movement design that draws upon a number of techniques and theories (some of them contradictory in intent!) in which I was interested at the time.
In my opinion the control of motion is as important a factor in symphonic construction as tonal, harmonic and motivic development. In my second symphony I would set myself the task of composing each movement to a single metronome pulse, and achieving what feel like different tempos by the use of differing note values in each of the sections. At the time I composed the first symphony I was powerfully under the influence of Elliott Carter and employed his technique of ‘metric modulation’ through which different metronome pulses can evolve. In essence this means that one imposes an irrational note value (ie. 5 notes in the space of 4) and then evolves a new tempo by taking this irrational value and making it the basic rhythmic unit of the new tempo.
Having not long graduated from university, I was also interested in the different -isms to which I had been introduced during my studies. Therefore 12-note serialism rubs shoulders with aleatoric passages, the ‘scherzo’ section has an almost big-band swing to it (although even this is constructed from the basic 12-tone row), and most of the musicians, at some stage, are required to make sounds with their instruments in ways that were probably not envisaged by their manufacturers!
The basis of the symphony is the all-interval row which had been employed by Berg in his ‘Lyric Suite’. This is a careful arrangement of all twelve-tones of the chromatic scale so as to include all possible intervals from the minor second to the major seventh.
In its basic incarnation this has a beautifully balanced aspect in that the first 6 notes are all white notes on the piano, the next 5 are black, and the final one a return to white. At the opening of the symphony I disclose first only the opening six notes, so that there is a distinctly diatonic feel, despite the serial nature of the music’s construction.
The symphony as a whole, however, is not strictly serial. It is constructed in 15 sections. The introduction, scherzo and coda are serial. The remaining 12 sections each take an interval from the ‘all-interval row’, in the same order as they are disclosed in the row, and explore this interval.
The different sections are not discrete, and the whole singlemovement design has an arch-like structure that is not unrelated to sonata-form. Within this single arch, however, is embedded a structure that resembles the four movement structure of a traditional multi-movement symphony.
At its opening the music seems to appear as if from out of the ether. The desired effect is intended to be as if the music exists before it becomes audible, and we (the listeners) are gradually able to tune in to it. At the end it dissolves into nothing, closing with a note held by a single double bassist.
Above the closing notes I have inscribed the legend, ‘Elegia I.K.J.’ in memory of my paternal grandmother who died in 1986, although the work is dedicated to my friend Celia Duffy who was an inspirational tutor of mine during my music ‘A’ Level and degree, and remains one of my primary ‘sounding boards’ to this day!
Patrick Jonathan 13.3.07