By Lewis Spratlan | For Chamber Orchestra | 27′
Title: Chamber Symphony
Composer: Lewis Spratlan
Year Composed: 2018
Instrumentation: Chamber Orchestra (one musician per part)
Format: Full Score in C
Page Size: Letter
Catalog Number: OM0433
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From the composer:
As I approached my 80th birthday, I decided it was time for me to write a symphony, the dominant genre in Western instrumental music since at least the time of Haydn. I had written much orchestral music, including accompaniments to four operas and to solo instrumental concertos, as well as programmatic tone poems and dance music. But I hadn’t taken on the task of composing a multi-movement work that spanned a single unified idea. I was hesitant mainly because of the difficulty of getting a symphony orchestra to play it. Hence the notion of a symphony for chamber orchestra. Gil Rose and BMOP agreed to perform the piece, with the generous support of Amherst College.
Chamber Symphony falls within the boundaries of two distinct sonorities, one very low, the other very high, that open the first and fourth movements and that recur at key moments. One might think of them as the earth and the heavens, the boundaries of the territory where we live out our lives. The first movement, Moderato, is largely martial in character, led by the trumpet and its partner the alto saxophone. War seems, alas, to be a human preoccupation and a few battles break out here, relieved by a little waltz and a slow, soothing middle section featuring solos from the cello, French horn, and bassoon. The snare drum leads into a martial conclusion.
The slow second movement opens and closes with solo strings, mourners mourning (mesto). Winds join in and the strings answer with their music at a faster pace. (Yes, yes, we know.) A new texture, vibraphone and piano, appears with music that seems to console, transcending the prevailing misery. The brass take up the new tone and the whole ensemble proceeds to a triumphant, nearly hymn-like annunciation, perhaps of newfound peace. But memories of war intrude, and the movement subsides into renewed mourning.
Some respite occurs in the third movement, a very fast, chromatic, and maybe chaotic scherzetto. More or less clear tonality, based on E, appears in the form of a sarcastic, lead-footed, polka in the Trio.
The finale opens with the high/low, heaven/earth, sonorities that begin the symphony. It consists of a joyous, but not untroubled, dance that is interrupted several times by mysterious, enigmatic, slow music, mainly in the strings. This may be an intrusion of a wholly new way of thinking about how we manage life on earth, one marked by calm and containment––free of coveting, full of generosity. Two other interruptions to the dance appear, dominated by the piano, with an insistent quintuple rant that recalls the old, contentious way of doing things. The dance seems to win out, leaving us spinning in space between earth and heaven.
Chamber Symphony is in four movements:
III. Scherzetto: Presto
IV. Finale: Allegro
Premiere: On October 15, 2021 at Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College, MA by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), Gil Rose, conductor and music director.
Recording: Listen on Soundcloud.