ALWYN: Symphony No. 4 / Sinfonietta
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William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 4 Sinfonietta for String Orchestra
William Alwyn was born in Northampton on the 7thNovember 1905. He studied at the Royal Academy ofMusic in London, where, at the age of 21, he wasappointed Professor of Composition, a position whichhe held for nearly thirty years. Amongst his works arefive symphonies, concertos for flute, oboe, violin, andharp and two piano concertos, various descriptiveorchestral pieces, four operas and much chamber,instrumental and vocal music. In addition to this Alwyncontributed nearly two hundred scores for the cinema.
He began his career in this medium in 1936, writingmusic for documentaries. In 1941 he wrote his firstfeature length score for Penn of Pennsylvania. Othernotable film scores include the following: DesertVictory, The Way Ahead, The True Glory, Odd Man Out,The History Of Mr Polly, The Fallen Idol, The RockingHorse Winner, The Crimson Pirate, The Million PoundNote, The Winslow Boy, The Card, and A Night ToRemember. In recognition of his services to the filmmedium he was made a Fellow of the British FilmAcademy, the only composer ever to have received thishonour. His other appointments include serving aschairman for the Composers' Guild of Great Britain,which he had been instrumental in forming, in 1949,1950 and 1954. He was a Director of the MechanicalCopyright Protection Society, a Vice-President of theSociety for the Promotion of New Music (S.P.N.M.) andDirector of the Performing Rights Society. For manyyears he was one of the panel reading new scores for theBBC. The conductor, Sir John Barbirolli, championedhis first four symphonies and the First Symphony isdedicated to him.
Alwyn spent the last 25 years of his life inBlythbough, Suffolk, where, in those tranquilsurroundings, he concentrated on two operas, Juan, orthe Libertine and Miss Julie. In addition to chamber andvocal music, he composed his last major orchestralworks there, the Concerto Grosso No. 3, commissionedas a tribute to Sir Henry Wood on the centenary of hisbirth in 1964 and first performed at the LondonPromenade Concerts that year by the BBC SymphonyOrchestra conducted by the composer, the Sinfoniettafor String Orchestra in 1970 and the Symphony No. 5'Hydriotaphia' during 1972-73. In 1978 he was awardeda CBE in recognition of his services to music. When notwriting music he spent his time painting and writingpoetry and an autobiography entitled Winged Chariot.
He died on the 11th September 1985 just two monthsbefore his eightieth birthday.
Symphony No. 4, completed in 1959, forms theepilogue to Alwyn's projected cycle of four symphonieswhich he had begun in 1948, and had taken him a decadeto complete. Another symphony (No. 5, Hydriotaphia)was to follow in 1973, but is not connected in anywaywith the earlier works in this medium. A 'motto-theme'with the leaping interval of a seventh, which is firstintroduced at the beginning of the First Symphony andappears in various guises in all four works, reaches itsapotheosis in the final section of the Fourth. Thecomposer says the following of this work:\Scored for a normal classic orchestra, the FourthSymphony is cyclic in form; the thematic materialexposed in the first movement is subjected to constanttransformations and utilized in all three movements. Anunusual feature is that the Scherzo is the central andmost substantial movement. The work was firstperformed by Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra at a SirHenry Wood Promenade concert in 1959.
"It begins pianissimo with the simultaneousstatement of the two principal ideas, using the twelvesemitones divided into two groups - a woodwind threenoteascending figure founded on a D major scale withand added G sharp, while the basses and pizzicato cellosplay a slow counter-subject (F natural, B flat, C naturaland E flat) thus giving an impression of dual tonality -D major and B flat major - the two key centers of thewhole Symphony. The music slowly rises to a newlyrical subject sung by the whole orchestra which sinksto a quiet repetition on the strings. Gradually the tempoquickens with the bass subject stated chordally on thehorns followed by the D major subject on trombones andcellos. This builds with ever quickening pace to the firstorchestral climax at the Allegro. Now the lower stringsand drum maintain a throbbing rhythm while a newmelodic theme is heard on violins and oboe. Heralded bymuted trumpet fanfares this builds to a bigger climax,then, after a misterioso passage for divided strings themusic again hurries on to a return of the maestoso tempo- the brass blazing out a fortissimo motive against a longexpressive melody on the high strings and woodwind.
The movement slowly ebbs away with the drumpersistent to the end.
"The second movement is an extended Scherzo. Itplunges at once into a basic re-iterated rhythm on thenote D, then strings and woodwind clothe the rhythmwith a repeated D major scale passage while the trumpetinsist on the four-note B flat counter-subject. Scale,rhythm and counter-subject continue to dominate themovement until a further modification of the scalepassage is played as a lilting giocoso tune by the oboeagainst a strumming pizzicato accompaniment and softstaccato chords on the trombones. After furthertransformations a climax is reached then the musicsubsides on the rhythm now repeated on the note E flat.
A pause introduces the Trio section - a variant of theSymphony's opening motives quietly stated on theviolins and then on two bassoons and developed until adirect re-statement of the opening bars of the Symphonyleads back to a vigorous re-capitulation of the Scherzo.
The movement closes with the rhythm - furioso andfortissimo.
"After the relentless energy of the Scherzo, the lastmovement forms a calm epilogue. The violins sing aserene melody derived from the preceding ideas whichare now resolved into a theme and series of variationsbuilding to a climax when the basses pound out theScherzo rhythm. This dies again to the long-drawnmelody molto tranquillo on clarinet, horn and highviolins. The final climax is reached maestoso, and theSymphony ends with horns, trombones and drumstriumphantly proclaiming the four-note subject in Bflat."William Alwyn's Sinfonietta for String Orchestra,completed in February 1970, resulted as a commissionfrom the Arts Council of Great Britain, and had beenoriginally intended for the San Francisco SymphonyOrchestra which was due to give the first performanceduring its British tour the same year. The tour, however,never happened, so the first performance took place atthat year's Cheltenham Festival on 4th July given by theEnglish Chamber Orchestra. At the time of thecommission Alwyn was at work on his four-act operaJuan, or the Libertine, and saw the Sinfonietta aswelcome relief from that undertaking. Of the Sinfoniettathe composer says the following:"The Sinfonietta centres round a quotation from ActI of Alban Berg's opera Lulu, a phrase which hashaunted me since I heard it and studied the score. Butthis is not a 'twelve tone' piece, nor is it intended as atribute to Berg, though any composer who is honestacknowledges the debt he owes to genius. The reason forits inclusion is a personal one - a common bond ofadmiration for Berg shared with my friend, Dr MoscoCarner, who was much in my mind while I composedthe work, and to whom it is dedicated.
The first movement is alternately vigorous and lyric;the second is simplicity itself - muted and reflective (thebars from Lulu follow a short canonic passage for soloviolin, viola and cello); and the last movement, after abrief impetuous opening, develops into a complex fuguein varying tempi. All the fugal subjects derive frommaterial heard in the previous movements and theinterval of a major 7th is a characteristic feature. TheSinfonietta, culminating in a final