Symphony No.3

on a purpose-selected tone row

Op.45

(i) Allegretto con anima (ii) Lento molto (iii) Presto molto (iv) Tempo II (v) Tempo I

Date Duration Listen
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13 September 2013 30'07" Realization (.MP3) Score (.PDF)
41.3 MB 1.73 MB


Well, the first paragraph following may be rightly considered a welter of pedantic nonsense, but subsequent paragraphs should contain some information of possible general interest.

This is not a symphony in five movements; it's a symphony in a single movement with five sections. You can tell, because the section headings are given in lower case Roman numerals, rather than upper case or cardinal numbers. ;p Also, because each of the successive new sections begins attacca, immediately upon conclusion of the preceding section. And because all five sections utilize the same time signature (this, actually, not so much to create unity in the composition, as simply to signal my dissatisfaction with 20th-century composers who apparently felt it de rigueur to continually swap time signatures in the midst of movements, as though they were actually changing anything other than arbitrary little abstract constructs within the passage of time).

The work is established on a mirror pattern, similar to Bartók's 4th and 5th quartets, with outer sections balancing one another across a uniquely focused middle section, much like a spiral galaxy revolving around the super-massive black hole at its galactic core. The analogy extends into the central section itself, where extremely dense and rapid masses of notes on both ends dance as though on the edge of an event horizon surrounding a seemingly frozen pianissimo at the very center of both the section, and the entire symphony. The balancing of the sections is so complete, that the tempos of the fourth and fifth sections exactly recapitulate those of the second and first, and the times needed to perform them are roughly identical. In the midst of all this furious mirroring and whatnot, it should perhaps be unnecessary to point out that there are no sonata-allegro constructs anywhere in this work.

Finally - and, to my mind, most interestingly - the harmonic basis used to construct this symphony is different than those of almost all my previous serial compositions. Typically, I have used arbitrary patterns of successive tonal centers closely mimicking common practice of the diatonic, and earlier, periods: a sonata-allegro movement based on the tonic-dominant-tonic relationship; a slow movement in the submediant, perhaps; a scherzo moving about capriciously among any other degrees of what might have been a diatonic scale formed above the original tonic; and a finale that generally slavishly returns to the tonic-dominant-tonic pattern in some fashion. For this work, I scrapped all that and used the tone row itself as the harmonic skeleton of the entire piece: the first section begins in C and moves through Bb and Gb to end in Ab; the second section is entirely in B; the central section begins, briefly, in B, continues through first Db, then D natural, concluding quickly in F; the fourth section continues entirely in F; and the finale moves through Eb, E, and A to its ultimate conclusion in G. The fascinating way the slow movements (and the beginning and ending of the Presto) oppose one another at the tritone, while the very beginning and very conclusion of the whole work expresses a perfect fifth, was not planned in any sense by the composer. It resulted from the arbitrary assignment of the various section lengths and the inherent qualities of the row itself, which - as always - was not invented by yours truly, but merely selected from the mass of all-possible rows for its general harmonic properties.

Having whined elsewhere recently about the hellish physical and psychological difficulties encountered during the five weeks spent fleshing out the skeleton of this piece, I will spare you the additional tedium here.


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