Symphony No. 2

Donald Harris

Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The first movement of my second symphony is subtitled Kaleidoscope. The title may as well refer to the entire work. The materials introduced at the outset continually change, as in a kaleidoscope. The common description of a kaleidoscope refers to an instrument in which changing patterns or sequences of objects are viewed through a prism. Seeing the patterns change as the kaleidoscope in shaken up or rotated has intrigued everyone at one time or other. So, too, the motifs, harmonies, rhythms or colors of my symphony can be seen (or heard) as resulting from a musical shaking up. Everything that happens as the piece unfolds thoguth its second, third and fourth movements can be traced in some form or other to something in the first movement.

Almost five decades separate my first symphony, completed in 1963, from the second, completed in 2011, but there is a good deal more than time that distinguishes one from the other. The rist, entitled Symphony in Two Movements, was a conscious attempt to contrast two rather complementary movements, written in a compact style with little repetition, each of which contained references to a four movement structure. Not so with the second, a fully developed, deliberate attempt to compose a traditional four movement, large-scale symphonic form in which repetition plays an important structural role. I had Mahler in mind, no doubt. His works rejuvenated the form and stretched the boundaries. The scale and scope of his symphonies provided good models to follow. Mahler?s symphonies are monumental as are several of Beethoven, but a host of composers, Tchaikovsky, Brahms Sibelius, Berlioz, Caesar Franck, to name a few, have breathed new life into the symphony without departing from classical models. It was this great tradition that inspired me.

My Second Symphony was composed over a five-year period, 2006-2-11. Kaleidoscope, the first movement, was initially conceived as a stand-alone piece. The Upper Arlington Community Orchestra, Olev Viro, music director, performed an eralier version in 2008. Work on the remaining meovements, Arioso, Grave, and Tarantella, was interrupted for the better part of a year when I was severely injured in a fall. These three movements all date from the end of my convalescence. The instrumentation is marked by an extended use of percussion, used sparingly in the first movement and not at all in the second and third. It does not come forth full blast until the fourth movement, Tarantella, which calls for the use of fourteen different percussion instruemtns (snare durm, bass drum, claves, cymbals, brake drum, temple blocks, tam-tam, whistle, tom-toms, wood blocks, tubular bells, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone) plus timpani and harp.

Even thoug the instrumentation is large, particularly the woodwinds, calling for three flutes (the third doubling Piccolo), two oboes, English horn, four clarinets (including bass and E-flat), two bassooons and contrabassoon, as well as the large assemblage of percussion, there is frequently a chamber orchestra feel to the symphony, especially in the second movement, Arioso, which is soloistic in character.

The third mvoement, Grave, is the most intense. It features predominantly the string in very dense textures, initially divisi into twelve parts, six in the violins, two each in the violas, celli, and double basses, reducing itself to ten as the movement unfolds and the thick textures disintegrate. As much as Arioso showcases soloists, Grave pits the tutti brass and wind sections against the warmth of the strings. Though ending quietly, the symphony reaches its climax in this movement. Following a grouping of extremely ould chords, extending throughout the orchestra, top to bottom, Tarantella, which follows, is an upbeat 6/8 movements, totally different from anything heard before, a lively antidote to the stark intensity of Grave. It provides a quasi-classical ending to the notion of a rour-movement symphony that characteristically concludes with an up-tempo, spirited allegro vivace, akin to ending on a happy note.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Composition Date 2006-11
Duration 00:38:00
Orchestration 3(3rd dbl. Picc.) 3(E.H.) 4(E-flat, B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.
Premiere April 12th, 13th, 2012. Columbus Symphony, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor; The Ohio Theatre, Columbus, OH.


I. Kaleidoscope
II. Arioso
III. Grave
IV. Tarantella