Symphony No. 2 ‘DEBS’ (2005) 50 mins

The inspiration for this came from many places, but particularly his family. Each movement is based on the personality of his immediate family – his wife Debbie, daughter Leela, and sons Rohan and Kiran.

“I listened to your symphony and was most impressed. It’s very powerful.”    Richard ‘Tony’ Arnell

As part of the premiere of his second symphony, he gave a question and answer session with the audience. This was an insight into not only his symphony, but his general style and vision behind all his music.

Below are Patrick’s programme notes he wrote for the premiere in Arizona, USA.

Extract from middle of Movement 1

Extract from end of Movement 1

The chief executive of an orchestra once remarked to me that the piece of mine we’d been discussing seemed ‘deeply personal’ to me. I nodded politely, while inside trying to fathom how it was possible to compose music that wasn’t deeply personal.

Okay, there are jobs that a composer does for money: music for film, theatre, radio, etc. But, when I compose something for the concert platform – something that I hope has some ambition for longevity that bears my name, of course it is a deeply personal statement. There is such a fund of great music, both regularly played and neglected, in existence that there seems to be little point in bringing more into the world unless impelled by a need from within to express something that needs to be expressed.

Thus, my Second Symphony is deeply personal, but, I would argue, not self-indulgent. It is in one sense a traditional symphony: tonal and formal. It does, however, have a ‘hidden programme’ that is hinted at by it’s subtitle: ‘DEBS’. The symphony is dedicated to my wife, Debbie, who I call Debs. From this fact grew the most important structural aspects of this work:

  1. that it would be in progressive tonality;
  2. that it would have four movements;
  3. that these movements would have tonal centres derived from this subtitle: D E Bb Eb.

It is the conflict of these opening and closing tonalities – D and Eb – physically adjacent but, in just about every other sense, almost as distant from each other as can be, that gave birth to the cacophonous quasi-polytonal opening. In the Sonata form movement that follows, if the modulations are not strictly traditional, this is because they are related to and prefigure the tonal centres we are to visit later in the symphony: the essence of progressive tonality.

In the finale you will notice a very extended, still, pensive central section. This music, in the centre of this movement in Eb, ritualistically revisits the keys of Bb, E and D, thus providing a retrograde recapitulation of the tonal scheme of the preceding three movements. As I’ve said, the work is dedicated to my wife, and the ‘hidden programme’ concerns her and my three children.

As the conductor, Warren Cohen, commented, it is – in a sense – a domestic symphony! My oldest child is a daughter, Leela, and my younger two are boys, Rohan and Kiran. In this symphony I have melodic themes that, in my mind and heart, are related to these members of my family.

The wildly impetuous main theme of the first movement is Debbie’s theme. This is apt. The name Deborah is derived from Hebrew and means a busy bee. My wife is a whirlwind of energy.

The beautiful theme of the second (slow) movement is Leela’s theme. Every father is biased, but – I have to say – not even the most beautiful melodic theme in the world could come close to matching the beauty of my daughter!

The third movement is a scherzo with multiple trios. The theme of the first trio represents Rohan, the second Kiran. For a third trio these themes combine, swapping position from top to bottom as though the boys are rough and tumbling, as they often do.

The still centre of the finale, mentioned before, is my theme. Another structural feature is that the work is, in a way, a piece of two halves. The tonality of the first half is heading sharpward, that of the second favouring the flats. The first two movements are ‘feminine’, the second two ‘masculine’. This division made explicit by the way in which the opening of the second movement echoes and recasts the cadence of the first; and the opening of the finale echoes and recasts the close of the third.

The final important structural aspect of the symphony is the way in which, as a composer, I have handled time. Each of the movements is a study of different rates of movement, but each actually has a single metronome marking for its entire length. All of the different rates of movement can be felt against a single, controlling, underlying pulse. The true art of composition, though, is the ability to communicate. By attempting to create, in turn, the most thrilling, energetic, thoughtful, heartfelt, poised, beautiful, texturally varied, contrapuntal music I am capable of at this point in my life, I hope that an ‘innocent listener’, ie. one who has no knowledge of ‘hidden programmes’, tonal schemes or any of the other things mentioned above will be moved by the honesty and drama of this piece.