Symphony No. 2

for Solo Soprano and Orchestra

Richard Wernick

Duration: 00:21:00
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The score of my Second Symphony bears the inscription ?Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and dedicated to the memory of its late executive director, Stephen Sell, 1941-1989.?

Steve and I first met in 1982, when the Philadelphia Orchestra performed "Visions of Terror and Wonder". We found that we had much in common: humor, large doses of cynicism, the inability to suffer fools easily, and above all a passionate love of music. But it was during the years from 1983 until his death in 1989 that we became truly close friends. In my capacity as Consultant for Contemporary Music I developed a special professional and personal relationship with Steve. Those were heady days. All of us?Riccardo Muti, Bernard Jacobson, Joe Kluger, Judy (then Karp) Kurnick and I?found ourselves in a constant flurry of ideas for fresh and innovative projects, with Steve somehow articulating the things we were thinking before we even realized we were thinking them. He was a man of keen vision who was eminently practical and pragmatic. He could take ideas and make them work, no mean feat.

Even during the final stages of his illness Steve talked about and planned for the future. It was not easy sitting with him, and discussing things we both knew he would never see. It was not until much later that I realized he had the capacity to see our future as his past, and that those very ideas would become a permanent legacy?for the Orchestra, for his friends, and for music.

When I was asked to compose a piece in his memory I was extremely moved, and accepted immediately. As appropriate possibilities were discussed it became clear that this should be a vocal piece, and that the singer should be Sylvia McNair, an associate and friend of Steve?s for many years who had sung the ?Et incarnatus est? from Mozart?s "Mass in C minor" at Steve?s Memorial Celebration here in the Academy of Music.

The question then became that of text, always an agony for me. The idea gradually emerged that perhaps the most appropriate words could be found in the actual program of the Memorial Celebration held in the Academy Ballroom in June 1989; words either written or spoken by Steve?s family, friends and colleagues. His wife, Gianne Conard, obtained for me a copy of the tribute book, along with a tape of the service itself. Together we began to put together a working text. Some of the material was too personal or impractical, but eventually things came into focus. In his spoken tribute Steve and Gianne?s friend Jeff Lindtner read a passage from a book by an author who was unfamiliar to me. But it was unbearably beautiful. And it took only a relatively modest bit of research to discover that it was from the diary of Hannah Senesh, a very young Jewish-Hungarian poetess who had escaped to Palestine during World War II, only to voluntarily return to Hungary as an Allied agent where she was captured and executed by the Nazis. The 50th anniversary of her death was just recently observed; she was 23 years old.

The Senesh text is set in an English translation of the original Hebrew. Its vivid and penetrating image of the stars led inevitably to the incorporation into the text of the last line of Riccardo Muti?s tribute, which is also the last line of Dante?s "Commedia". This line is set in both the original Italian and in my English translation. At times the two texts are sung separately; at other times they are interwoven.

The Symphony is cast in two movements. The first is a large orchestral ?scherzo??loud, rhythmic and painted with broad strokes. The main sections of the movement are contrasted with music that is somewhat more contemplative and lyrical. The second movement, ?Verses for Steve,? is a setting for voice and orchestra of the text described above. The vocal sections are introduced and the re-introduced by instrumental music that functions in much the same way as the old-fashioned recitative. In these ?recitative? sections (as well as in the slower sections of the first movement) I have introduced snippets form the Academy of Music bell signal. I wrote the new bell signal several years ago when Steve could no longer stand what he referred to as the ?doorbell chimes, and since this Symphony is for him and is being premiered in the Academy of Music, it all seemed to tie together rather nicely. The defining musical material of the Symphony is the falling three-note figure to which the soloist?s first three words (?there are stars??) are set. This was the first music committed to paper, and the entire piece is built outward and inward from that gesture.

The Symphony is dedicated to the memory of Steve Sell; but is also offered with love to Steve?s family and friends, and to the Philadelphia Orchestra which was his extended family.

Additional Information

Orchestration Solo Sop.; 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.


I. Scherzo
II. Verses for Steve