Symphony No. 1

This youthful work was composed in 1959-60 and was presented as the composer’s doctoral thesis for his Ph.D. degree. The first movement was substantially revised four years later. The middle two movements of the work are often excerpted to form a separate composition, Chaconne and Burlesque, and the piece received a large number of performances, in both its complete and excerpted form, during the years following its creation.

The tempo marking of the first movement is Andante con moto, rather than the usual Allegro. The movement is built essentially from the four-note motive which opens the piece (F—E-D-E) with a characteristic dotted rhythm. After a brief introduction, the broad first theme appears in full orchestra. A second theme rises and falls to explore ever-higher pitches and ever-wider intervals. A reflective third theme rounds out the thematic material and leads to the development section, which is at first even more reflective and subdued as it seeks to find new meanings and relationships in the first two themes and—always—the principal motive. This leads eventually to a quickening of the rhythm and dynamic tension which erupts twice into a brief allegro. A quiet passage in the trombones and winds ushers in a violin figure which ascends to what seems to be a plateau of serenity and calm—but it is torn by a tragic declamation in the brasses and left finally in the somber basses. But this leads, slowly at first, then more surely and excitedly back to the music of the opening, which is proclaimed this time even more sonorously than before. Gradually, however, the music itself calms until finally a procession of trios brings the movement to a quiet close.

The second movement takes the mood of the preceding ending as its point of departure. A Chaconne, it is built, of course, on a recurring harmonic pattern, in this case eight bars long. Gradually more freedom is allowed the pattern as it repeats itself and as the music around it changes. The repetitions become increasingly more complex until a climax is reached, after which the music works its way to a peaceful conclusion.

The third movement, a Burlesque, abruptly breaks in and states its somewhat jaunty main theme, followed by a brief development. This leads into a lyrical second subject, sung by the clarinet over string and muted brass accompaniment. After hints of the main theme, a third section appears, quite grave, which seemingly threatens to turn an otherwise pleasant—if not downright humorous—piece into a serious expostulation, until all of a sudden the percussion section pricks that balloon and sets the piece again on its jaunty way. Unison horns outlining the diminished triad add a measure of excitement to the ending.

The Finale—as did the second from the first—also takes the mood of the previous movement as its point of departure. A rondo-like movement, it is cast in arch form (A-B-C-B-A). The first theme is headlong in its impetus; the second, a little march whose triadic construction is reminiscent of the first movement, and the third—the core of the movement—is a lyrical cantabile section in which the orchestra unashamedly sings. The march theme returns and serves as a retransition to the first theme, this time commented upon by two brief string recitatives. And this time there is no stopping it as it propels itself toward the final chord.

Program Notes by Samuel Jones