Symphony

Hugh Aitken

Rental
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

As the deadline approached for me to submit program notes, I faced the fact that I really preferred not to write any at all. If the heard piece doesn?t tell the listeners all they need to know, it seems to me this must be the fault of the music. And have we not all labored through dense paragraphs which might be appropriate in a text on musical analysis but from which the gentle music lover should be spared?

Of course there are some bare facts concerning the piece that may interest you. I finished it at 10:20 a.m. on Thursday, March 12, 1998. The sky was overcast but to me it seemed quite sunny. It?s hard to say precisely when I began it, but it took me about 11 months. (I?d appreciate your not telling me about Mozart writing his last three symphonies in six weeks.) The writing of it, as almost always, presented a good number of difficulties but it was, on the whole, a joyful task because Maestro Schwarz had agreed to program it even before he had seen a note. I have, under inner compulsion, written more than a few pieces without such a commitment, some of which will still remain unperformed. Believe me, it is much easier and quite exhilarating to begin writing a vigorous, difficult passage for orchestra when you know that a conductor like Gerard Schwarz and performers like the Seattle Symphony are going to rehearse and play it.

The irregular and tricky rhythms in the second movement were derived from improvisations by the South Indian drummer Palgat Raghu. It?s not that I had any desire to sound exotic, but while preparing to teach a course in Asian music, I became captivated by Indian music in particular. The rhythmic intricacies are far beyond anything in our classical music with the exception of some 20th-century works in which the composers have devised staggering rhythmic complexities by mathematical means ? fascinating on paper but likely to sound pointless.

Indian musicians, on the other hand, have no notation and learn everything by rote. Starting from heard and felt patterns, they and their audience can hear what goes on in their pieces. I fear, however, that Raghu may not like everything he hears in this movement, because here and there I have tried to wed some ?50s pop-tune harmonies with his rhythms. (The only harmony in Indian music is a drone on the first and fifth steps of the scale.) Some of you may even recognize a certain tune.

The first movement is straightforward, and I hope it says what it has to say in a vigorous and clear manner. I thought the relaxed third movement would be welcomed by the audience (and the players!) after the highly active second. The final movement requires one bit of explanation about the two short, improvisatory-sounding, dream-like passages in the introduction: The uncoordinated melodic fragments you hear are all from earlier pieces of mine, going back as far as 1948. Make of them what you will. When these recollections are out of the way, we proceed with variations on a short, sturdy tune I?m glad I came up with.

I want to express my gratitude to Gordon and Lillian Hardy of New York City for their generous support in the preparation of performance materials. And to my wife, Laura Isabel Tapia (the librettist of my opera "Felipe", as yet unperformed in its entirety), for putting up with my mood swings.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony.
Composition Date 1998
Duration 00:26:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Str.
Premiere April 8, 1999. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor.