My Symphony No. 2 “America” unabashedly celebrates America: “The Land of the Free”. Begun in May of 2015, this three-movement composition was completed in July of 2016 and is scored for a large triple-wind symphony orchestra. Approximately 22 minutes in length, each movement is a reflection upon a holiday that is at the heart of America: 1.Independence Day; 2. Memorial Day; 3. Thanksgiving Day. A single, well-known melody associated with the essence of each of these American holidays is heard in each movement.
Because of the immediacy with which I think listeners will experience Symphony No. 2 “America”, an overly technical program note about the compositional process of the piece seems out of place. Thus, my musical notes for this piece are direct and brief.
- Independence Day. A modified sonata form, this movement of approximately eight minutes in length is as full of energy and excitement as is the freedom-marking holiday it reflects. After an opening fanfare-like idea begins the exposition, the rollicking first theme is heard. Marked by great energy, this first theme (although not related in a rhythmical way) is based on the 1882 melody, MATERNA, by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903). Since 1910 this stirring melody has been joined with the beloved 1893 poem by Katherine Lee Bates (1859 -1929), America the Beautiful (a patriotic hymn felt by many to be the unofficial national anthem of the United States of America). Soon, a soft and lyrical second theme, based on the harmony of MATERNA, emerges. After a repeat of the exposition, a brief development section ensues, which eventually leads to the recapitulation. A coda, with the opening fanfare-like idea in dialogue, returns to end this celebratory first movement.
- Memorial Day. Cast in bar form (AAB – the form of The Star-Spangled Banner) and approximately six minutes in length, the simple 24-note triadic melody, Taps, is the basis of this serene movement. A military bugle call dating from the 19th century, Taps has had a long and colorful history. It is thought to be the work of Union Army Brigadier General, Daniel Adams Butterfield (1831-1901). Although used over many decades as a functional “Extinguish Lights” piece within the military, the haunting melody of Taps has become a poignant, reassuring presence at many funerals and memorial services. Near the conclusion of this second movement, the complete Taps is heard played by an off-stage trumpet. It should be noted that the Taps melody also appears in the first and final movements, thus making Symphony No. 2 cyclic in design.
- Thanksgiving Day. A rondo form by design, this festive eight-minute movement celebrates America’s Thanksgiving Day. Long associated with the Pilgrims’ plight of religious persecution, the well-known 16th century folk melody, now known as KREMSER, and text that make up the popular hymn on which this movement is based, is actually of Dutch origin. The text associated with the KREMSER tune was written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius as Wilt heden nu treden to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. However, the presence of this hymn in American hymnals since 1903, as well as its appearances at ecumenical services for America’s school children over the years, has made We Gather Together the quintessential American Thanksgiving hymn. How appropriate, too, that Symphony No. 2 “America” should conclude with a movement based on a “melting pot” hymn long associated with a nation whose very heritage is that of a “melting pot”! Symbolizing that, portions of the America the Beautiful tune, MATERNA, superimposed on KREMSER (along brief hints of Taps), are heard together in the extended chorale-like coda section near the end of the serene conclusion of the movement.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Symphony No. 2 “America” is scored for:
English Horn (F)
2 Clarinets (B-flat)
Bass Clarinet (B-flat)
4 Horns (F)
3 Trumpets (C)
Percussion (3 players):
1- Chimes, Crotales (one octave – mallets and bowed), Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Vibraphone
2- Tom Toms (4), Bell Tree, Crash Cymbals, Triangle, Glockenspiel, Vibraphone, Bass Drum,
3- Large Suspended Cymbal, Large Tam-Tam, Tom Toms (4)
1. Independence Day = ca. 8 minutes
2. Memorial Day = ca. 6 minutes
3. Thanksgiving Day = ca. 8 minutes
Total duration of Symphony No. 2 “America” = ca. 22 minutes