Ronald Corp

Conductor & Composer

Symphony No. 1

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Programme Notes

The first sketches for the Symphony were made in the autumn of 2007 while on a working trip to Santiago de Compostela.  Like many composers before me, I was in awe of the symphony as a form of musical expression.  Maybe it was the writing of my First and Second String Quartets – No. 1 ‘The Bustard’, premiered at the Wigmore Hall by the Maggini Quartet in 2008, and the second, completed in 2009 – that unlocked the self-created barrier.

I was certain that my First Symphony was to be in one movement.  I have long admired Roy Harris’s Third Symphony, and have particularly enjoyed its rugged intellectual musical argument.  I recognise that as I listen to that work I always have a sense that I am embarking on a significant musical journey.  The opening notes create an impression of some great adventure, and at the conclusion there is a real sense of a journey accomplished and a lasting memory of a great musical experience, all achieved in a one-movement stretch.  This image of ‘journey’ informed my thinking about my First Symphony, and I wanted to begin with dark and brooding musical passages that would lead the listener through a series of episodes or movements into the glorious light of a major key finale.  Harris’s Third Symphony falls into three sections; mine obeys a four-movement form in one continuous framework.

The first section (movement) was sketched in Spain, and during the weeks that followed I travelled on my musical journey through a slow movement of (sometimes) Mahlerian intensity into a half-frivolous, half-restless Scherzo.  Rather subconsciously the opening rising scale of three notes with which the Symphony begins started to pervade all of the musical ideas, and it became clear that the Symphony was growing organically from the opening phrases.  The slow movement melody rises from the three-note motif, as does the main theme of the Scherzo.  This rising musical figure also suggested that I might incorporate music from the opening pages into each of the subsequent sections to provide pillars of support and continuity.  The slow movement almost exactly quotes the opening of the Symphony (now quietly), but in the scherzo the opening rising scale passage makes its appearance with scherzo material juxtaposed above it in the quick tempo of that movement.

So, I had arrived at my finale and knew it was to be the moment when light would burst in.  This was to be music in a major key, and all of the brooding, rising motifs would be swept away by the brightness of a new sound-world.  I then realised that from the very beginning I had been travelling towards musical material that already existed, music I had composed for my choral work, Mary’s Song – a setting of the Magnificat with interpolated texts.  The joyous ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ music (material that also makes an appearance in the final exuberant passages of ‘Amens’) informed the final passages of the Symphony.  Again there is a rising three-note motif, but this time it is energetic and jubilant.  Just as the brooding opening material found its way into the previous sections, so now the opening music – and for good measure the scherzo material, too – makes a final appearance in this finale.  As that darker music gives way, the timpani player adds a final burst of rhythmic colour while cymbals and tam-tam help reinforce a sense of homecoming and a journey fulfilled.

© Ronald Corp, 2009