Symphony No. 1

"Songlines"

Peter Schickele

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

Quick Overview

As far as I can recall, I didn?t set out to write a ?world symphony,? but fairly early on, during the year or so it took to compose the piece, it became clear that the work would have a global provenance. Sometimes actual folk melodies are used - from North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia - and at other times the material is original, but the influence of non-classical European styles is strongly felt: Dixieland, gamelan, square dance fiddling, and Ivo Papasove and his Bulgarian Wedding Band, to name a few.

But there is no attempt to be methodical, either in the geographical distribution of the sources or in the evocation of different musical cultures; the various tunes and textures are simply grist for the mill of the composer?s imagination, and, at least to the composer, the result sounds more American than anything else.

Nevertheless, the feeling of wandering the world on songroads became strong as I worked on the piece, and after it was finished I searched for an evocative subtitle that would express that feeling. I had been reading Bruce Chatwin?s book on Australia, "The Songlines", and I came to see that, although the Symphony has no conscious connection with Australia and although I don?t pretend to have any sophisticated understanding of Australian aboriginal culture, the idea of a landscape being mapped out, being defined, by songs - songs that belong in part to one?s own territory and in part to neighboring territories (and in part to their neighboring territories) - I came to see that this was a good metaphor for my feeling about the Symphony. It?s not a museum filled with showcases containing exotic themes: it?s a musical walkabout by a composer who has always felt the need to open himself to the music he loves.

When I was a student at Swarthmore College, a mutual friend showed some of my music to Roy Harris, whose Third Symphony had made a deep impression on me. He expressed a willingness to take me on as a student, and for six weeks during the summer of 1954, I lived in his house in Pittsburgh and had a lesson every day, in exchange for helping with the care of his three kids. It was a perfect time for those lessons: at the age of 19 I had written a fair amount of music, but was unhappy with what I was currently composing, and I gave myself over completely to writing exercises according to his rules, which were as strict as those of traditional harmony but described, and therefore tended to produce, music that sounded very much like that of Roy Harris. The value of doing such exercises, it seems to me, is considerable, almost regardless of what harmonic style they express.

Harris was a composer with a singular voice, but he was not a facile musician, and he benefited enormously from the contribution of his wife, Johana Harris. She had been a wunderkind who before the age of ten gave piano recitals dressed as the young Mozart; she was a robust, natural musician and a lively presence in the family. She also had a strong Florence Nightingale streak in her, as I discovered when I came down with a serious illness while staying in the household.

It was an intense time, both musically and personally, and Roy and Lady Jo, as he called her, displayed generosity above and beyond the call of duty. Harris tended to think big, and when I left he said that if I played my cards right I?d be ?buried to a symphony orchestra.? That seems unlikely, but, having waited even longer than Brahms did to write a symphony, it seems extremely fitting that I dedicate it, with great gratitude, to the memory of Roy and Johana Harris.

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by John and June Hechinger.
Composition Date 1995
Duration 00:27:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(E-fl Cl. B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere September 19, 20, 21, 24, 1996. National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC.

Details

Mvt. I Journey (Moderately slow, moderately fast, bright)
Mvt. II Refrains (Moderately slow, calm)
Mvt. III Dance Music (Lively)