Symphony No. 2, Op. 67

Text adapted by the composer from the poems of Walt Whitman.

Lowell Liebermann

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Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
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Quick Overview

Symphony No. 2, Op.67 was commissioned by Ford Lacy and Cece Smith for Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

The prospect of writing a Symphony to celebrate both the Centennial of the Dallas Symphony and the Millennium was an exciting but daunting one, especially when Andrew Litton communicated that he had in mind something along the scale of Mahler?s 8th or Walton?s ?Belshazzar?s Feast?. (In fact, after a while he took to referring to the project as ?Son of Belshazzar?). The requirements were for a Symphony of about 40 minutes duration, with chorus but no soloists, singing texts appropriate to the occasion, and which would utilize the hall?s magnificent organ as well as auxiliary brass in the choral balconies.

My first task was to find a suitable text. Many possibilities were discussed, and various suggestions made by those involved in the project were examined. One of Ford Lacy?s first suggestions was Whitman?s ?Song of Myself,? and Whitman was the poet I ended up settling on. There seemed to be something fitting in the choice of Whitman ? that most democratic of poets, whose opus is so resonant in its attempt to be all embracing ? that seemed fitting for the occasion. No single poem seemed exactly what I was looking for in its entirety, but there were many passages from many different poems, which served my perceived musical needs. Thus I crafted a text by selecting passages from various Whitman poems, a veritable ?Whitman Sampler? as more than one non-professional comic has since pointed out to me.

The first poem that caught my attention for this work was not actually ?Song of Myself,? but rather ?The Mystic Trumpeter,? whose eighth and final section is literally an ?ode to joy.? This became the final part of my text, though in a greatly abbreviated fashion. Once this selection was made, the other bits of text fell into place, and further decisions were made once composition was begun on the music. The final text includes lines from "Passage to India", "The Mystic Trumpeter", "Song of Myself", "Poets to Come", "Song of the Universal", "Proud Music of the Storm" and others.

I began sketching of the thematic material while in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy. Here, while sequestered for a month in a small stone studio on the hillside overlooking Lake Como, the opening thematic material of the Symphony was written. It is perhaps no coincidence that the tonal structure of the Symphony centers around e-flat, since the church bells which were rung every hour were in that key. (The actual sound of the bells became a conscious part of the second movement of my Trumpet Concerto, which was completed at Bellagio, to be premiered by the NY Philharmonic in May of 2000.) The majority of the 2nd Symphony, however, was written in the months following in New York and Dallas.

The Symphony is in one large movement, comprised of four sections heard without pause. The work?s opening theme, which features a descending semitone and the scalar rise of a perfect fifth is heard over a steady quintuplet ostinato. This theme is spun out with a combination of polyrhythms and changing meters which results in a subtle rhythmic fluidity. This material further serves to generate most of the thematic material in the Symphony. The chorus first enters with a section from Passage to India (?O vast Rondure, swimming in space, / Cover?d all over with visible power and beauty.?) An ecstatic climax leads directly into the Symphony?s second section, a sardonically mechanical march which was suggested by the following line from Children of Adam ?All is a procession, The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.? These words are not sung, but are quoted in the score at the beginning of this section. This section and the next form a darker core to the Symphony in contrast to its two outer sections. Two tunes from previous short works of mine were utilized in the march ? a trumpet tune taken from my ?Album for the Young? for piano (where it is called ?Marching off to War,?) and another tune from my Eight Pieces for Solo Bass Flute. After a fortissimo climax, the chorus enters (?Poets to come! Orators, singers, musicians to come!?) briefly changing the focus from a dark reflection on the past to a more optimistic reflection on the future to come. The Symphony?s last section begins with the an a capella chorale (?Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the Earth.?) This chorale returns later in the brass, superimposed over an exuberant fugal passage to the words O glad, exulting, culminating song. The Symphony ends with a return to material from its first section. On the last page of the Symphony are, again, some lines which are quoted in the score, but not set to music and serve as a final commentary from Whitman ? ?After the dazzle of day is gone, / Only the dark, dark night shows my eyes tot he stars; / After the clangour of organ majestic, or chorus, or perfect band, / Silent athwart my soul, moves the symphony true.?

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by Ford Lacy and Cece Smith for Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony
Composition Date 1999
Duration 00:45:00
Orchestration SATB Chorus; 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Cel. Org. Hp. Str.; opt. Brass Band: 3Tpt. 3Tbn.
Premiere February, 2000. Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Andrew Litton, Meyerson Hall, Dallas, Texas.

Details

I Moderato
II Tempo di marcia
III Largo
IV (L'istesso tempo)