This Symphony is dedicated to the memory of my wife, Raydia, who died in 2001, and is based on material from my song-cycle, In Despite of Death, a work that she had been closely associated with. The Symphony follows the emotional shape of the song-cycle, moving from struggle and resistance towards acceptance. The first movement is the most substantial, and near the beginning introduces a three-note figure (on horns and trumpet), which permeates the whole work. The three final movements – scherzo, slow march and epilogue – are played without a break.
The opening running chord is this work suggests the first day of spring with first the dawn opening to the promises of a beautiful spring day.
The work is in three movements – “morning”, “afternoon” and “evening”. The “morning” movement is in the form of a light-hearted dance suggestive of lambs in the field fill of the joy of living as they jump and play about in the green grass.
“Afternoon” gives the impression of a leisurely walk in the countryside. However this is interrupted with a short storm with thunder and rain following. This storm soon passes and the afternoon walk is resumed.
In the third movement, “Evening”, you will be aware of a gathering of the villagers to celebrate the coming of spring with an evening of dancing, laughter, merry-making and conversation.
In his 1974 collection ‘The lives of a Cell’, Lewis Thomas wrote a memorable essay devoted to the spectrum of sound made by all living creatures. He believes that as well as producing sounds in every possible way to send messages to their own kind, all creatures have the urge to make some kind of music. The rhythmic sounds emitted by all creatures might, Lewis suggests ‘be the recapitulation of something else – an earliest memory, a score for the transformation of inanimate random matter in chaos into the improbable ordered dance of living forms.’ It was this essay, together with my fascination in the rediscovery of the part of Auckland I knew as a young child, that have shaped this piece.
The basis of the piece is the twelve possible three-note groups which function to form molecular structures – harmonic, textural, gestural, melodic – some simple, some complex, often symmetrical. The piece could be regarded as part of a classical tradition, in that it focuses primarily on balance of pitch and orchestration rather than on gesture or programmatic elements, and places the instrumental writing well within the range of the instruments rather than exploiting their extremes.
The improbable ordered dance is in a single movement and begins with a ghostly chant-like melody over a drone; this recurs in different forms several times during the piece. A transition section based on transformed sounds of nocturnal birds leads to a metrically free ‘dawn chorus’. The following chorale-like passages and the rapid sections that follow are part of a restless upward-moving continuum which can never settle nor ever finish. The later sections of the piece recycle, combine and finally dissipate the earlier material.