composition

Symphony No. 3, “Retrospective”

for Band

  • Genre
    Wind Ensemble
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Stephen Pratt
  • Year completed
    2005
  • Year revised
  • Timing
    20:00
  • Catalog number
    190
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Although my Symphony No. 3, “Retrospective,” is dedicated to, and focused on the lives and careers of two remarkable musicians, it explores in a musical fashion the larger issue of transitions—the passing down of art (and of other things) from one generation to the next. The immediate occasion that precipitated this work was the retirement of Ray Cramer, Director of Bands at Indiana University from 1982-2005. Mr. Cramer profoundly influenced and served the concert band world throughout his long career as conductor, clinician and music educator. With the appointment of Stephen Pratt to the position that Mr. Cramer held for 23 years, this idea of passing the baton, as it were, from one generation to the next became a kind of idée fixe for the present work, and inspired me to seek to write a work that would musically depict such a transition. With these things in mind, I personalized the work for its two dedicatees through a device that he has used in many of his past works, that of using the musical letters in a dedicatee’s name to generate melodic and harmonic material. Fortunately for the work at hand, both men have names that are conducive to such musical treatment. In the case of Ray Cramer, one may see the derivation of the motive D-C-A-E from Ray = re = D, followed by the three musical notes of his surname. In the case of Stephen Pratt, the motive E flat-E-B-E-A is derived with the help of German notation wherein E-flat is called “Es” or simply “S” and B natural is termed “H.” Together, these two names contain six different notes that can be made into a hexachord of D-C-A-E flat-E-B. Another way the composer has personalized the work for its two dedicatees is through rather extensive solo use of their respective instruments, the trombone for Mr. Cramer, and the flute for Mr. Pratt. The Symphony is comprised of three movements. The first, subtitled Reminiscences, is the most traditional movement of the symphony, and is the sort of piece that the composer guesses (without any actual knowledge) that Mr. Cramer must have conducted hundreds of times in his career—thus the subtitle. It is a rather vigorous movement in tripartite form, with the outer faster sections in a rather unconventional 5/4 meter. The slower middle section is contemplative in nature. The movement opens with a clear statement of the “Ray Cramer” motive, and this motive reappears throughout the movement in sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle ways. Another feature of this movement is a statement of the well-known hymn, Abide with Me. The insertion of this hymn, out of nowhere, is intended as a bit of a joke, since it is one of the standard tuning/warm-up exercises used by the Department of Bands at Indiana University (and elsewhere). It also seemed to the composer appropriate as an indication of the Christian faith that has sustained each of the dedicatees in his life’s work. The movement culminates in a vigorous and rousing conclusion with a firm reiteration of the Cramer motive. The second movement, subtitled Transition, is based on the “Stephen Pratt” motive throughout, my attempt to depict symbolically and musically the new generation represented by Mr. Pratt. This movement does not use the full wind ensemble, but is scored for woodwind quintet, saxophone quartet, brass quintet, tuned percussion quartet, as well as harp and piano. These smaller groups represent the standard—and non-standard—ensembles that each of these men has also worked with throughout his career. These ensembles are used largely in block fashion, with musical material bounced around from one group to another. This movement, as well as the third movement to a certain extent, is also tripartite in form (as this is the third symphony of its composer, one may assume some significance in this structure). Movement 2 also closes with a vigorous musical flourish, but quite abruptly, in keeping with its scherzo-like quality. The final movement is subtitled Reflections and is the slow movement of the symphony. Here for the first time the musical motives of each of the dedicatees are combined. The contemplative opening of this movement soon gives way to a rather hypnotic section featuring the solo trombone. The listener here may be a bit reminded of Ravel’s Bolero, although it was hardly the composer’s intention to write another work along these lines (indeed one Bolero, as fine a work as it is, is really all the world needs). This section leads into another one that increases in tempo and volume, eventually reaching a rather dramatic climax. At that point, the tempo reverts to that of the opening, and one hears a timpani duet by the two players who are placed far apart at the rear of the stage for spatial sonic effect. This timpani duet, eventually joined by the solo flute and trombone, is comprised solely of the notes of the Cramer-Pratt hexachord. After a reiteration of the hypnotic section, the solo trombonist plays phrases from Abide with Me, leaving the stage, and then continuing off stage, while the solo flute remains on stage. The symbolism intended by the composer ought to be obvious, and the work ends with the hexachord played pianissimo underneath the solo instruments. This work is therefore a very different Farewell Symphony from the one composed by Joseph Haydn, for this farewell is not a “goodbye,” but an affirmation of the old English sentiment, “Fare Thee Well.”

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