Symphony No 5

(1999)

by David Matthews

Description
chamber orchestra, or full orchestra
Duration
22
Genres
Full Orchestra, Small Orchestra
Instrumentation
2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2.2 – 2210 – perc(1): tamb/susp.cym/ch.cym/tam-t/BD – harp – strings Expanded orchestration: 2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2.2 – 4220 – perc(1): tamb/susp.cym/ch.cym/tam-t/BD – harp – strings
Commission

Commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia with funds from the Arts Council of England and Eastern Arts Board.

First Performance
17.8.99, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall: Britten Sinfonia/Nicholas Cleobury
Availability

Score of chamber orchestra version 0-5671-52377-3 and score of full orchestra version 0-571-56854-8 (fp) on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes
1. Allegro energico 2. Presto con fuoco 3. Adagio 4. Molto vivace The first piece I composed was a symphony, and I have been obsessed with the form--which was well defined by Hans Keller as "the large-scale integration of contrasts"--ever since. But perhaps because I hadn't written one for eight years, and because of intermittent doubts about the continuing validity of the form at the end of this century, I experienced unusual difficulties in starting this Fifth Symphony. In October 1998, I arrived at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where I had a five-week residency, with one bar in my head and virtually nothing else. But as soon as I entered my studio in that paradisal place--the same cabin in the woods in which Copland had written {italic on}Billy the Kid{italic} in 1938--ideas began to flow, and I was able to draft over half the piece during my few weeks there. My original plan for a two-movement piece, fast/slow, changed while I was writing the symphony and I ended up, for the first time in my life, with the traditional four movements, though the finale is brief--an expanded coda to the slow movement. The first movement is probably the closest to the classical archetype that I have written, although it is not a strict sonata movement: its form is more statement--expanded counter-statement--coda, a formal idea I have borrowed from the first movement of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. Its momentum is sustained throughout, and its energy hardly ever relaxes. The scherzo second movement steps up the energy level still further; but in contrast to the first movement's positive energy, this scherzo negates: its tonality is centred on A flat, a tritone away from the first movement's D, and its dark, restless mood is emphasized by a relentless bass drum. The scherzo's shape parallels that of the first movement, and like the first movement its coda is founded on a pedal point, with its solo bass drum ending matching the first movement's solo timpani. The slow movement is, perhaps inevitably, elegaic in tone, beginning with a broad song for the violins over bitonal repeated chords. In contrast there is a gentler theme on the violas, separated from the first section by a dissonant canonic trumpet fanfare, which returns, this time on muted trumpets and horns, to end the movement over a sustained E minor chord on muted strings. This chord leads into the finale, whose origin was a piano duet that my then wife Jean Hasse and I wrote jointly as a 70th birthday present for our composer friend Peter Sculthorpe. Jean wrote the bass, and I the tune on top. I used the first few bars to open the finale, then both the tune and the bass idea develop in other directions. The mood is brightly energetic, and the symphony ends with a sustained passage which incorporates ideas from its opening, with a brief return to the initial tempo. The Symphony was originally composed for the Britten Sinfonia, who gave the first performance at the 1999 BBC Promenade Concerts. Soon afterwards I made an arrangement for a slightly expanded orchestra, with four horns instead of two and two trombones instead of one. It is this version that is receiving its first performance tonight. Symphony No. 5 was commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia with funds from the Arts Council of England and Eastern Arts Board. David Matthews

Licensing Information

News & Reviews

'Symphony No 5' reviews

'Are there still symphonies for the writing? The crisis of confidence among composers is not dissimilar to that of those who dare to paint on canvas. Is the medium still valid? Can it still speak? David Matthews continues to prove that it is, and it can, and persuaded us of the fact in the world premiere of his Fifth Symphony... When he escaped, Thoreau-like, to bosky New England, the creative sap began to rise and the Proms heard a substantial new work. The two qualities that give the music of Read more

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