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Symphony in One Movement

for orchestra
Ausgabe: Aufführungsmaterial



My Symphony in One Movement was begun in Boston, in April 1969, and completed in New Haven, Connecticut, in February 1970. It was commissioned by the New Philharmonia Orchestra for its visit to the World Fair at Osaka. It is scored for normal large symphony orchestra.

The insiration or first idea of this work was a single image: a descent into lower regions and, possibly a corresponding ascent. By this, I mean quite graphically, a going down; each instrument of he orchestra moving from the highest to the lowest pitch level available to it and to silence…. My Symphony has a subject, a melody for solo viola.

From it are derived various sections, respectively in two, three, and four parts. The elaborate orchestration, involving heterophonic treatment of individual parts and a polyphony of instrumental colour, transforms these textures. Together they make an exposition culminating in a melodic but not rhythmic transformation of the original melody, the beginning of which is used cyclically throughout the work and especially n the final pages of it.

The next section is a kind of development, characterised by recitatives for various instrumental groupings in contrasting tempi. The high point is reached and marked by "whooping" horns and the sound of bells. Now comes the previously mentioned descent, from high to low in a measured tread. The tempo remains constant, but each "step" of the descent is shorter in time than the previous; so an acceleration to a silence, to be maintained only so long as the impact and presence of the previous remains.

The middle part of the work is faster and has some characteristics of a scherzo. It is based on a variant of the original melody.

It starts at the exact point (the same chord) reached at the end of the descent and is characterised by upward movement. Although there is in the work no symmetrical "ascent", the movement of each of the three sections is upward, the third being a kind of inversion of the first. The whole leads to a second high point of the composition: a chorale in the high strings counterpointed by a kind of distorted march.

By means of rhythmic modulation the music is brought back to the tempo of the beginning for a final development and coda. It is based on various harmonisations and resolutions of the original material.

Why all this talk of descents and ascents? Apart from whatever feeling we have for archetypal images (and the rather conscious use of them makes this of dubious significance) this preoccupation is part of a more general concern with an idea of opposites. Each invention implies an opposite and each style achieved by a composer or an epoch leads to the apparent contradiction of the next. My musical ideas come to me in the form of positives and implied negatives - whether in purely technical terms: aspects of tempi and duration, loudness and softness - the very construction of the twelve-tone row; or in the more general ideas of a piece or in the very concept of strict and free. For the strict and the free ways of dealing with musical ideas complement each other and both might in some way be present in any composition. The recognition of both the physical and the spiritual oppositions offers a clue to the real subject matter and meaning of musical form. It is a setting up, consciously and otherwise, of many such pairs of opposites and the filling in of the areas between them. A recognition of these dualities explains the use of the title: "Symphony in One Movement".

Alexander Goehr


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Weitere Informationen

Symphony in One Movement
for orchestra
Schott Music
1969 (1981)
op. 29
29 ′
19. Mai 1970 · London (UK)
Royal Festival Hall
Musikalische Leitung: Edward Downes · New Philharmonia Orchestra

Commissioned by the New Philharmonia Orchestra

Technische Details

LSL 1861-01




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