(Re)View: Gunther Schuller - Chamber Symphony

(Re)View: Gunther Schuller - Chamber Symphony
1989, Associated Music Publishers
Gunther Schuller, musical polymath, leaves no timbral stone unturned in his Chamber Symphony of 1989. "I'm always fascinated by the infinite variety and possibilities of colors and textures within an ensemble," he shares. "I enjoy searching for and discovering the particular, idiomatic characteristics of a group of instruments. I’ve always been drawn to color and have a deep interest in translating it into music. Of course, the possibilities increase when writing for musicians ranging from flute to tuba, as opposed to a string quartet."

Schuller’s Chamber Symphony translates color into a soft introduction, followed by a first movement featuring solo passages for many instruments, then returning to the opening tone. In the second movement, the horn (Schuller's own instrument) enjoys a prominent solo theme, which develops until it is performed by the entire ensemble in unison. Schuller describes the third movement as opening with a "lively, bouncy scherzo-like motion, which undergoes various instrumental and rhythmic transformations." These changing color combinations run through most of the ensemble members. Then Schuller paints "an exact recapitulation of the first part of the movement. [It] is suddenly interrupted by slower broadly sustained chords, ending in a quiet cadence. The coda, returning to the bouncy scherzando motive, brings the piece to a brilliant and fortissimo close for the whole ensemble."

Schuller's inspirations come from a buffet of sources — with jazz occupying a special place. This work may not be jazz, but it has the energy and rhythmic urgency of a full-fledged jazz riff — complete with solos. And although the solos are written out for the players — the virtuosity and intensity required of the players has all the hallmarks, it not the impetus, of a real jazz "out" solo.
Chamber Symphony (1989)   14'
Premiere: Cleveland Chamber Symphony/Edwin London
16 April 1989; Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights, Shaker Heights, OH

In Three Movements:
I. Calmo-animando-calmo
II. Arioso
III. Vivo

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