Symphony No 2


by David Matthews

Full Orchestra
3(III=picc).3(III=ca).3(II+III=bcl).3(III=cbsn) - 4331- timp(2) - perc(3): 4 tam-t/BD/3 tom-t/TD/bongos/4 susp.cym/glsp/vib/mar/xyl/3 bells/crot - cel - harp - strings (ideally
First Performance
13.5.82, St John's Smith Square, London: Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Rattle

Score 0-571-50810-3 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes
I wrote my second Symphony between June 1976 and June 1977, and revised it extensively over the next two years. Some of the material was adapted from a discarded large-scale work for chorus and orchestra that I wrote in the early 1970s: the opening melody was in fact sketched in May 1971. Apart from deciding that the music should be continuous, I had two other formal ideas from the start. The first was that the beginning and end should be musically identical, and in between there would be a gradual acceleration over a long span from very slow to as fast as possible. The second was to divide the orchestra into its separate components- wind, brass, strings, pitched and unpitched percussion - and let each dominate one section of the piece. I drew up the following scheme: A. Introduction 3 mins Predominant instrumentation: tutti (without perc) B. 3 mins unpitched percussion C. Adagio 6 mins strings D. Sonata allegro 6 mins brass E. 3 mins pitched percussion F. Scherzo 6 mins wind G. Epilogue 3 mins tutti (with perc) ______ 30 mins As I composed the symphony this strictly symmetrical plan became somewhat less rigid, but essentially I adhered to it: the piece does last approximately half an hour, and the proportions of the sections are roughly those of the plan. As can be seen, the traditional movements of the symphony – sonata allegro, adagio and scherzo – are all present, though not arranged in the traditional order, or treated in an orthodox manner. While I’ve no wish to lay down the law for others, for me a symphony must have such a wide range of contrasting musics, including genuinely fast music, in order to justify its title, and there must also be a tonal element; without the dimension of tonality a work cannot, from my point of view, be a real symphony. Certain extra-musical ideas also contributed to the making of the symphony. I adapted for it the schematic programme I had worked out for the choral and orchestral work, Ad Lucem. So the introduction – essentially a long melodic line for the bassoons – was to represent a state of innocence; while the Epilogue, which recapitulates the opening melody, now loud instead of soft and played by horns, then by trumpet, symbolised rebirth. The remainder of the symphony was to chart the progress from innocence to experience – beginning with a ‘fall’ (section B), which I conceived as ‘subterranean’ music – by means of a continuous process of growth, an accumulation of energy, and a sense of upward movement from darkness to light. This crude symbolism should not be taken too literally; in any case, like the formal scheme, it became modified as I wrote the piece and the music developed in all kinds of unexpected ways. These the listener may experience for himself without further commentary from me; the only additional detail I should like to point out is that the 3-note bell figure (a G major triad) which pervades the Epilogue was based on some actual church bells I used to hear during Sunday morning walks on Shotover Hill in Oxford, where much of the symphony was written. David Matthews

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News & Reviews

'Symphony No 2' review

'… a score almost every page of which glows with an ingenious and felt musicality, and in which, all too unusually these days, its basic idea – a finely wrought melody for bassoon - is also its most personal and memorable invention' Sunday Telegraph (Bayan Northcott), 16 May 1982 Read more

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