Symphony of Seasons

My Symphony No. 1 (“Symphony of Seasons”) was the result of an orchestral consortium commission by several American orchestras, led by The Louisville Orchestra (Uriel Segal, Music Director) in Louisville, Kentucky. I wish to express my gratitude to Louisville and Maestro Segal, as well as to all of the orchestras that were a part of the consortium. Composed between July 2000 and January 2002, Symphony No. 1 (“Symphony of Seasons”) has as its extra-musical stimulus excerpts from extended poems from The Seasons, by the eighteenth century British poet, James Thomson. Below, brief details about each movement follow the Thomson verse excerpts that inspired each of the four movements.

1. AUTUMN

CROWN’D with the Sickle, and the wheaten Sheaf,
While AUTUMN, nodding o’er the yellow Plain,
Comes jovial on; the Doric Reed once more,
Well pleas’d, I tune. What’er the wintry Frost
Nitrous prepar’d; the various-blossom’d Spring
Put in white Promise forth; and Summer-Suns
Concocted strong, rush boundless now to View,
Full, perfect all, and swell my glorious Theme…. (James Thomson)

AUTUMN begins with an exuberant brass and percussion fanfare, which soon leads to the first primary section of the movement. Like the fanfare, this section, marked “Joyous”, is highly rhythmic and its melodic material is first introduced by the strings and woodwinds. Maintaining the rhythmic energy of the first section, the second primary section of the piece is soon introduced, with its melodic materials first introduced by the brass, accompanied by the horns, harp, piano and percussion. Introduced in this section, and freely quoted throughout the remainder of the movement, are variants of Martin Rinckart’s 17th century hymn tune, Nun danket alle Gott. The Rinckart text originally paired with this tune, Now Thank We All Our God, was written during Germany’s Thirty Years War and is still sung there on national occasions of rejoicing and thanksgiving. In America it is one of the most popular hymns of thanksgiving surrounding Thanksgiving Day, which occurs during the season of autumn..The remainder of this movement alternates and develops the ideas introduced in these two primary sections. The opening fanfare idea returns to bring the movement to a thrilling close.

2. WINTER

SEE, WINTER comes, to rule the vary’d Year,
Sullen, and sad, with all his rising Train;
Vapours, and Clouds, and Storms. Be these my Theme,
These, that exalt the Soul to solemn Thought,
And heavenly Musing. Welcome, kindred Glooms!….(James Thomson)

A dark and solemn recurring harmonic progression – a chaconne – is heard in the strings throughout WINTER. The chaconne appears twelve times and is twelve measures in length, thus symbolizing the twelve months of the year. After the initial statement of the chaconne in the cellos and basses, the English horn enters with a melodic idea that develops throughout the movement. WINTER finds its form in three words from the third line of Thomson’s poem: Vapours, statements 1-3 and 11-12 of the chaconne; Clouds, statements 4-6 and 9-10 of the chaconne; and Storms the climactic 7- 8 statements of the chaconne.

3. SPRING

COME, gentle Spring, Etherial Mildness, come,
And from the Bosom of yon dropping Cloud,
While Music wakes around, veil’d in a Shower
Of shadowing Roses, on our Plains descend…..(James Thomson)

SPRING seeks to capture the delight and spontaneity of spring. An irregular accompanimental idea opens the movement and soon becomes more regular as it underpins an idea reminiscent of both the traditional third movement classical “scherzo” and the untraditional (to classical/romantic symphonic movements) “waltz.” Solo recitative-like woodwind colors first call forth the “gentle Spring” then develop, with a regular pulse of one, the main idea first brought forth by the woodwinds. Like a traditional scherzo movement, SPRING has a contrasting middle section. This middle section has the quality of a “pastorale”, though instead of the traditional 6/8 meter, this section alternates 6/8 and 5/8 meters. After this section builds to a climax, the opening section returns in festive, whirling scherzo/waltz fashion to bring SPRING to a close, perhaps symbolizing the fulfillment of Thomson’s words: “While Music wakes around,..”

4. SUMMER

FROM brightening Fields of Ether fair disclos’d,
Child of the Sun, refulgent SUMMER comes,
In pride of Youth, and felt thro’ Nature’s Depth:
He comes attended by the sultry Hours,
And ever-fanning Breezes, on his Way;
While, from his ardent Look, the turning SPRING
Averts her blushful Face; and Earth, and Skies,
All-smiling, to his hot Dominion leaves……(James Thomson)

Subtitled “Arias to Summer,” SUMMER slowly unfolds in the lush warmth of muted strings as they introduce the primary material of the movement. Woodwinds soon enter as the intensity of the section builds. A fast, contrasting middle section – marked “Very quick” (and hinted at in the first section) – soon emerges. As a pre-existing melody appears in AUTUMN, so too, here, pre-existing material is used. Most significant to this middle section is the 13th century rota, Sumer is icumen in. A four-part canon (with two ostinato voices), Sumer is icumen in was the most famous piece of secular music in 13th century Europe. A second pre-existing melody, the refrain from American George Evans’s 1902 popular song, In the Good Old Summertime, is heard as a counterpoint to Sumer is icumen in, first subtly stated in the high strings and, later, becoming more apparent. As both of these melodies continue to be heard, the strings brilliantly emerge to mark SUMMER’S third and final section with a full statement of the original idea that opened the movement, eventually dissolving into a soft and rich ending suggesting “the sultry Hours.”
Dan Locklair
January 2002
Winston-Salem, NC

Duration
1.AUTUMN = ca. 7’
2.WINTER = ca. 8’50”
3.SPRING = ca. 7’
4.SUMMER = ca. 7’45”
Total duration = ca. 30 minutes

Instrumentation 
Piccolo
Flutes 1,2
Oboes 1,2
English horn
Clarinets in B♭ 1,2
Bass clarinet in B♭
Bassoons 1,2
Horns in F 1,2,3,4
Trumpets in C 1,2,3
Trombones 1,2
Bass trombone
Tuba
Harp
Piano
Timpani (4 drums)
Percussion (3 players):
#1 –Large suspended cymbal, large tam-tam, wind machine (optional), glockenspiel, tambourine
#2 – Bass drum, triangle, vibraphone, crotales (one octave, C-C, struck and bowed), crash cymbals
#3 – Glockenspiel, xylophone, orchestral chimes, bell tree, large tam-tam

Strings

This work was funded in part by the Copying Assistance Program of the American Music Center.