Symphony No. 2 in c-sharp

 

I: Slow and somewhat freely

II: Expansive

III: Very fast

IV: Quite Slow - Fast

 

score

 

This symphony had its genesis in thematic material taken from an earlier work. When I first began seriously studying composition I wrote a piece of music for a mixed chamber ensemble comprised my eight classmates. I was then quite taken with Barberís Essays for orchestra, and the idea of writing several modest pieces which could stand alone but might also be played together as a larger work appealed to me. When I began, I called the pieces "sketches," but as they grew I became more ambitious. They slowly lost their independence, and evolved into the movements of a cyclic chamber symphony. My control of complex forms was still quite rudimentary and the very compelling thematic material that emerged was insufficient to completely mask this clumsiness. I hope that with this orchestral symphony based on the earlier idea I might bring the material to you in a more polished form; as a more complete and disciplined composition.

The initial germ of the piece was a deceptively simple diatonic motive that I played at the piano with my right hand against a descending chromatic motive played with my left. You will hear this when the strings first enter. The diatonic motive begins with the notes A, B-sharp, C-sharp, and G-sharp. It sounds like a skip up, followed by a tiny step up, and lastly a skip down to a point just below the first pitch. The first skip that you hear rises from the flat sixth scale degree of the minor mode to the raised seventh in an interval called the augmented second. While composers generally avoid it, the resolution of its upper and lower members to C-sharp and G-sharp respectively creates a certain tension that permeates the entire piece.

The second movement is considerably slower and much more songlike. Two new themes serve as its building blocks. The first of these bears some resemblance to certain modal hymnody. The simplicity of the melody is also suggestive of a more pastoral atmosphere. The scene grows darker with the quicker, more martial second theme, but the movement ends with the relaxed first theme. On the whole, this movement is probably the point of greatest repose in the musical span. Where the first movement often feels ill at ease, this slow second movement has what I hope is a comfortable, almost graceful quality.

In the third movement I began to draw the preceding ideas together. It is a quick scherzo, according to the Beethovenian model. Like the second movement it uses two distinct ideas, but these we have heard before. The brass introduction is reminiscent of the opening fanfare. The first theme is heavily dependent on the very first motives of the piece and serves to further develop them. An episode draws in material from the first theme of the second movement. The lighter middle section, or trio, recalls the simplicity of the second movement but uses material from the tenser parts in the middle of the first movement.

The finale seeks to resolve the growing conflicts from the earlier movements. First, and perhaps most obviously it brings back C-sharp minor. Second, and somewhat more subtly, it unites all the thematic material, placing everything in a single matrix, allowing all of the motives to grow organically into one another. Lastly, and perhaps most subtly, it serves to resolve tempi, particularly those of the first movement. Where the piece begins almost grindingly slowly, the body of the final movement bursts suddenly from its introduction into a very quick tempo. The heavy foreboding motives of the first movement become agitated, or perhaps even frightened. It serves as a manic foil to the opening depression.

Though I have since restored the chamber work from which much of the material is drawn to it its original working title, Four Sketches, it has always been my aspiration to write symphonies. For as long as I can recall the symphonic form has spoken to me in a way unlike any other. I find its textures, variations, and development seductive. So perhaps the naive title, Chamber Symphony, was a paean of my desire. The original piece fell short of my aspirations, and so I stripped it of its titular dignity. In this new labor I hope that I have justified the arrogance a bit more fully. The original work was dedicated to my mother and my first composition teacher. In recomposing the piece, I should also like to rededicate it. (This is a rather unusual measure, but I feel it is justified. Though they share some material, the second symphony has grown quite different from the chamber work where it found its origin.) Were it not for the constant loyalty that Kelly Lasiter showed the original piece, insisting in spite of all arguments to the contrary that it was still her favorite among my works, I might have abandoned it.

 

To Kelly, for her love, fierce loyalty, and patience.

 

Monogram