Symphonic Modules Five

for Orchestra

John Downey

Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The title of this large work was not chosen casually. It represents both my fifth work for large orchestra as well as a somewhat novel construction in five sections which I designate as modules in preference to the more conventional term, movements. The modular concept motivating the organization of this composition was rather special in that I aimed at creating five separate entitles that have the potential of separate existence, and which have certain characteristics of interchangeability when presented as a totality. The order of the modules may be interchanged, but when presented in the suggested succession, it contributes to an entity that goes much beyond what the existence of each module might achieve independently.

I. "Domes ? Purple". Flowing, and yet quite still. The first module starts from a high A-flat and slowly spins its way down unfolding a chord (or more exactly, a harmonic aggregate) that will prove to germinal as a building concept to the entire work. A kind of introspective somberness permeates the opening, hence the associated color, purple. Like a sky-scape, shifting changes slide their way across this musical sky, through microtones and glissandi. Dramatic and serene moods are encountered, but a feeling of movement is always suggested, accompanied by a strong sense of spatiality as the very widely spread sonorities of the module create a feeling of depth and three dimensionality. The form is one of continuous unfolding, with no notion of actual recapitulation. At the same time, small building blocks are reshuffled continuously, creating a strong sense of unity. Toward the end of this module, a short melodic fragment is heard, ?like some long-forgotten, but just recently remembered spiritual or folk tune. The module terminates with a rather quixotic comment on the origins of this melodic fragment, while an ambiguous tritone is resonated between predominant low E-flats in the basses and a high single A on the antique cymbal.

II. "Cylinders ? Emerald." Fast and Furious. Starting with running passages in both strings and woodwinds, the strings quickly take on the dominant role. After a rather tumultuous opening, the strings begin hammering out a decidedly frenetic rhythmic figure that becomes more and more accentuated by chordal groupings that grow in density as the module rolls and spins like some fast rotating cylinders splashing upon and spinning off glistening emerald sea water. The spinning cylindrical musical figures are made to modulate progressively upwards towards distinct pitch plateaus representing various stages of frequency intensity. Interceding woodwinds, harp, celesta, triangle, double bass, and timpani bring this motion to a stop as all of the first-chair string players commence, one after another, to utter rhapsodic dialogues with subdued accompaniments?An aleatoric passage gives way to a recurrence of the cylindrical spinning rhythmic section whose emerald greenness is now filtered by the muted sounds of the strings.

III. "Spheres ? Yellow." Slow and Intense. This Third Module is the only one associated with a pure color and is the module richest in content. From its slow beginning we soon hear emerging successions of chords which through sheer reiteration emphasize their structural importance. Nothing actually recurs sectionally ? form unravels itself simply as an unfolding of musical events. A few aleatoric passages characterize, with respect to temporality, the free, rather loose play with time permeating this module. Like spheres floating or suspended in space while maintaining their own inner balance and unique position with respect to their universe, the musical shape of this module is kept in balance in a similar suspended floating manner. A short melodic fragment on the sel rod chimes is followed by strong gestures in the woodwinds and brass, leading to some strong pedal points leads to several ?heroic? statements by horns and trumpets. A few rubato flourishes in the woodwinds and strings introduce a quasi-chorale (?With all the power of your soul..?) in the brass, marked: ?With great religious solemnity?? A ?crescendo of monumental proportions? precipitates a series of furious trills and tremolos in woodwinds and strings. First desk strings then reverse this dynamic trend with a brief contrapuntal interlude, marked Innocently. This module concludes with muted strings, harp, celesta, and a note on the antique cymbal. The brief passage bears the message: ?Hushed?like a distant dream?Magically soft?Morendo.?

IV. "Parallelograms ? Aqua". Swift and Swirling. This module covers the greatest number of pages of score, but paradoxically takes the least amount of actual time in performance. Its rhythmic groupings are irregular, but the musical cells are grouped in such a way that their irregularity recurs regularly ? hence the analogy with the geometric planar figure with which this module is associated. Although the metric indication is 5/4 is kept constant throughout this module, each measure is characterized by cross accents, which keep the whole at a syncopated level throughout. The strings are dominant, but in contrast to the Second Module, they start muted, and are scaled to greater dynamic levels as the music unfolds. The percussion section uses an unusual instrument (for the first time, to my knowledge, in a large symphonic work) that I call an ?oriental random dragon drum.? Its unusual percussive sounds begin approximately midway through the module. It is later combined with tambourine, maracas and bongo drums.

V. "Trapezoids ? Orange". Introspective and Reflective. Emphasizing timbre more than any other of the other modules, this final section shares certain melodic elements with the First Module. It ends quietly with a single A natural on the antique cymbal, but this time over a rich harmonic density supported by a very low A-flat in the bass, approximately 40 minutes away from the initial A-flat in the upper strings with which the entire work began.

In keeping with the modular concept motivating my present organizational principle, the five modules might be presented in reverse order with a most interesting and certainly different cumulative effect of the whole. Different combinations of the presentation will evoke hopefully other imaginative renditions, bearing in mind this novel modular approach.

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Additional Information

Commission Commission Information: Milwaukee Symphony Women's League
Composition Date 1972
Duration 00:43:00
Orchestration 5 3 4 3 - 6 4 4 1; Timp. 5Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere 15 April, 1972. Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor.