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Symphony No. 1 "Letters from the Front"

for orchestra, soprano solo and narrator

Year:  2016   ·  Duration:  29m 40s

Year:  2016
Duration:  29m 40s


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The structure of this work is somewhat different from that of traditional symphonies, and uses the "Golden Ratio" as a means of determining the movement length with the first around 6', the second around 9' and the third and longest movement around 15'.

The first movement is largely rhythmic and violent, depicting panic and chaos. The periods of repose suggest nostalgia and memories of a world at peace. These are but fleeting and are constantly ripped asunder by the ever-present violence and chaos of a world at war. George Butterworth's beautiful song "Is My Team Ploughing" from Songs of a Shropshire Lad is quoted in this movement and is especially poignant as Butterworth was killed on the Somme in 1916 at the age of 31.

Emptiness and grief describe the atmosphere of the 2nd movement. The narrator's text quotes directly from letters written by my great-grandfather, Arthur Major to his children. He was killed in the 3rd battle of Passchendaele in 1917. The soprano text is a Latin translation of the line "My heart is so shattered, I don't know where it is broken or not", from a WWI soldier.

The third movement combines violence, fear, confusion, beauty and exultation. The narration texts are from soldiers' letters and journal entries of soldiers of many different nationalities, written from Gallipoli, Belgium and France. No matter the side, the sentiments are the same. They all speak of horror, fear and a desire for peace. The Wilfred Owen poem "Arms and the Boy" that runs throughout this movement speaks of the unnaturalness of giving deadly arms to boys.

-- Michael Williams --

Commissioned note

Commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for the WWI commemorations

Contents note

I. agitato
II. adagio lontano e tranquillo
III. agitato