Overture for a City

Composed in 1964, this work was commissioned by the Saginaw Symphony Womens Association to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Saginaw Symphony, of which the composer was then its music director, and received its premiere by that orchestra on October 29, 1964, with the composer conducting. Though written for a specific city, the overture possesses a universality transcending its origin. A sunny, extroverted piece, its excitement and lyricism have brought it many repeat performances by orchestras all over the country.

One might sense in this music a contest between an open, optimistic point of view (as exemplified by the opening flourish and a soaring, idealistic second theme) and a more closed, guarded outlook (the restrictive intervals of the first theme). This of course is what makes the work’s premise universal, for in our institutions and within ourselves we all struggle with these naturally opposing forces, one which says it can’t be done and the other which says yes it can. The listener can tell, judging from the way the music ends, which of these outlooks the composer sees as ultimately having to prevail.

The work opens with a resolute introductory figure, built from fourths, which is used prominently throughout the piece. This leads quickly to the first theme, based on a characteristic melodic turn which emphasizes stepwise, restricted motion. A vaulting second theme then appears, announced by the trumpet, constantly alternating rhythms of two and three. The development section opens with a fugue on the stepwise motive; it culminates with a passionate advancement of the lyrical second theme’s point of view, which is twice interrupted by the fugal motive. The lyrical theme has its say, however, and builds to an intense climax, which finally melts into the recapitulation. The first theme is presented now, however, as a humorous little march. The lyrical theme is soon reached, sung this time by the strings, with a backdrop of chirping woodwinds and punctuating brasses. The coda combines the opening flourish with the stepwise motive, and strong brass chords bring the work to a triumphant conclusion.

Program Notes by Samuel Jones