Symphony No. 1, 'Prometheus'
2012-13, rev. 2014. Published by Maecenas Music. Duration 38' approx.
The second movement is available separately and can be performed as an individual concert item.
CD Recording - available NOW
ASC Records - Prima Facie label - PFNSCD002
First performance - August 2013, Harpenden Public Halls, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire Wind Sinfonia, cond. Mark Eager
Recording made April 2014 at The Clarendon Muse, Watford, by the above performers
"A first-class piece of very enjoyable music from its slightly dark and sombre opening notes through its four movements of rhythmic, sometimes spiky action to a delightful final movement with its tremendous ending."
"...a wonderful and colourful piece."
"...[the piece] deserves a bright future...Symphony No. 1 was a truly outstanding and mature work."
Piccolo, Flutes 1 & 2, one 1st Flute doubling Alto Flute
3 Oboes, 3rd doubling English Horn
E flat Clarinet, Clarinets 1, 2, 3, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet (and/or Contra-alto Clarinet)
2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon
Alto Saxophones 1 & 2 (one 1st doubling Soprano Saxophone), Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone*
4 Trumpets, one 1st doubling Trumpet in E flat
3 Trombones (3=bass)
String Bass, doubling Bass Guitar
Timpani (3 drums), doubling Castanets
Timpani 2 (3 drums, incl. piccolo timp.), played by Percussion 3
Percussion (5 players): 3 Bell Plates (Eb2, F2, Bb2)**, Crotales (2 8ves), Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Marimba (4.3 8ve, with bow), Tubular Bells, Bass Tubular Bell in Bb3, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Piccolo Snare Drum, Tenor Drum, 2 Tambourines, 5 Triangles (normal to large in size), 4 Pair Cymbals (16", 18", 18/20", 20+"), Suspended Cymbal, 2nd Suspended Cymbal ad lib., Sizzle Cymbal, China Cymbal (lge, can be doubled), Splash Cymbal (6"), Tam-tam, Bell Tree, Cowbell, Whip, Woodblock, 2 Anvils (lge), 4 Ratchets (2 normal, 1 large Football Rattle, 1 large Box Ratchet), Thunder Machine (or 2nd bass drum laid flat; do not use a thunder sheet)
*The bass saxophone is ad lib. throughout the work. Solos and any exposed passages are cross-cued in other instruments' parts. However, it is strongly advised to obtain one for performances on account of its unique tone colour.
**The bell plates can be substituted with either Tuned Thai Gongs or MIDI mallet controllers using samples of bells, appropriately amplified.
In the final closing bars of the piece, the bell plates may be doubled by a sixth percussionist playing extra bell plates or bass tubular bells which sound an octave higher
This symphony began as pure music; it did not tell a story, nor was that my original intention. A work I was planning to compose after the symphony - a tone poem for wind band on the subject of the well-known story of Prometheus - was making virtually no progress, until I realised that the symphony in fact had some parallels with the story. The symphony is therefore not an exact description of the entire story, but rather a commentary on certain parts of it. The main source of inspiration comes from two poems: Byron's Prometheus and Shelley's epic drama Prometheus Unbound.
From a musical and structural point of view the symphony owes much to English symphonists such as Walton and Elgar but also Bax, a composer whose developmental style I empathised with strongly. The first movement - the longest of the four - takes the final lines of Shelley's dramatic poem as a starting point:
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, is to be good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.
The movement begins in the depths with a long bass saxophone solo, supported by low brass and percussion, which then winds itself up into an extended passage of fast music. A lyrical melody then appears on clarinets, perhaps depicting Prometheus' apparent kindness and sympathy towards mankind. The fast music returns, only more agitated this time, working up to an aggressive climax then leading to a furious coda: Zeus is angry at Promethus for the theft of fire and his giving it to man.
The second movement is a wild scherzo. Shelley again provides the text:
Obscurely through my brain,
Sweep awful thoughts, rapid and thick. I feel
Faint, like one mingled in entwining love;
Yet 'tis not pleasure.
Dreams and the light imaginings of men,
And all that faith creates or love desires,
Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous shapes.
The music is frantic and insistent. This may suggest man's misuse of Prometheus' gift and a certain loss of control. The energy in the music does not let up, even in the quieter central section, and then concludes with even more wild abandon.
The third movement is a slow rhapsody, with a section of Byron's poem being the catalyst:
A silent suffering, and intense;
All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.
Much of the calm and emotive music here stems from fragments of melody heard in the first movement. Soprano saxophone and alto flute feature frequently, showing the solitary and abandoned Prometheus. The music builds towards a big climax which includes a thunder machine, suggesting Zeus chastising Prometheus chained to the rocks for eternity as punishment for his crime.
The fourth movement is a combination of a loose description of not only a scene from Shelley's poem but also elements of the Greek playwright Aeschylus' sequel to his original play Prometheus Bound. In Aeschylus' play, which only ever existed in a fragmentary state, Heracles kills the eagle that was sent to torture Prometheus and frees him. This leads to a reconciliation with Zeus before order is restored. The movement is a bright colourful march in rondo form; music from the first movement then returns triumphantly at the end of the symphony.
Directs to VIDEOS page for YouTube playlist of the complete 2014 recording.
First few pages of Score can be viewed online at Maecenas Music's website.
Publication available now!