Symphony No.4


by David Matthews

chamber orchestra
Small Orchestra
1(=picc).2(II=ca).0.2 - 2000 - strings (65432)

Commissioned by the English Chamber Orchestra with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain

First Performance
28.5.91, Barbican Hall, London: English Chamber Orchestra/Mark Wigglesworth

Facsimile score 0-571-51602-5 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

Symphony no 4 op. 52

1. Light and flowing

2. Hard driving and rhythmic

3. Andante con moto

4. Fast tango, slightly manic

5. Adagio – Allegro vivace

This symphony was commissioned by the English Chamber Orchestra, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. In my first three symphonies, I explored different ways of fusing the traditional movements of the classical sonata into one. My Fourth Symphony is in some ways closer to the classical archetype: it is divided into movements, and scored for a small orchestra of flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings – one that Haydn often used. There are, however, five movements, not four, and two of them at least are somewhat unusual. The first movement’s unorthodox plan can be traced back to my experience several years ago of hearing a historical reconstruction of the first performance of Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame. The movements of the Mass appeared as islands of polyphony surrounded by plainsong: there were at least 10 minutes of plainsong before the Kyrie of the Mass began, so that the first chords had an astonishing impact, as if harmony had been discovered at that moment. I wondered if it might be possible to write a corresponding piece which was only a single melodic line until the end, when it would flower into harmony. My first movement doesn’t exactly do that, as it proved impracticable within an orchestral texture; nonetheless, true harmony does not appear until the end of the movement. There are seven sections: numbers 1, 3 and 5 develop a melodic line, which is passed between the strings, and becomes more elaborate and toccata-like. Only in section 1 is it totally unaccompanied; in sections 3 and 5 there is a drone in the bass. Sections 2, 4 and 6 present a mechanical polyphony of wind solos over a wide-spread pedal, which moves up from C and C sharp to E flat. These pedal notes persist into the following sections: C and C sharp becomes the drones for sections 3 and 5 respectively; while in the final, seventh section the opening melodic phrase of the Symphony is harmonised in E flat major. This theme appears in various guises in all the other movements. The second movement is a short, energetic scherzo, which is based on a movement from my String Trio of 1989, and was the first movement to be written. Then comes a slow movement in song form, scored for the strings alone plus the 1st horn which enters towards the end to restate the main melody. This is initially presented by solo violin over a repeating bass derived from the first movement’s opening phrase, and taken up at the end of the first section by solo viola. The middle section is a hushed fugato. The fourth movement replaces the classical minuet with a tango: it is disrupted by occasional extra beats, and at the end the predominant solo violin skitters off on a wild cadenza. There is a central trio, featuring the oboes. The final is the most classical in feeling: it is a sonata allegro with a slow introduction (based on the opening of the Symphony) which recurs after the development. The main material of the Allegro, with its prominent horn calls, is deliberately Haydnessque, and the tricks played with the conventions of sonata form are perhaps in his spirit: for example, a triple-bluff repeat of the exposition (it will repeat – no it won’t – yes it will – but is isn’t exact!). The recapitulation is dispensed with in favour of a coda, whose lusher harmonic textures complement the end of the first movement. The Symphony was composed between October 1989 and December 1990. It is dedicated to Quintin Ballardie.

© David Matthews

Licensing Information

News & Reviews

Revisiting two of David Matthews’s symphonies

What better way to celebrate a birthday than with old friends. David Matthews, who celebrates his 70th birthday this year, has been doing just that; 2013 has been filled with memorable performances by groups with whom Matthews has had long-standing associations. This October his symphonies take centre stage with both the English Chamber Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic revisiting symphonies that Matthews wrote for them. Read more

'Symphony No 4' reviews

'Beautiful, individual... Matthews is at his best when he's most unashamedly romantic' BBC Music Magazine 2003 Read more

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