• Robert Walker
  • Chamber Symphony No. 1 (1981)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 1(afl)111/0100/perc/pf/str
  • 23 min

Programme Note

Robert Walker: Chamber Symphony No. 1

At the time I was asked to write an orchestral work for the 1982 Greenwich Festival, I was immersed in preparing a BBC Radio programme on 'The Sonata'. I had been looking closely at the sonata principle employed by Mozart and Schubert and talking to Bernard Roberts about his thoughts on Beethoven. It struck me forcibly what a perfect shape it is. So I decided to tackle the small problem in the full knowledge that it had been done thousands of times before. Here are the random notes I initially wrote down before any notes appeared on manuscript.

First Movement
Improvisation - allegro vivo

1. The exposition of two groups of forces.
2. They must dance, parry, fence around each other's qualities.
3. They come together as two facts of the same thing. (Good and Evil in the same soul. How about Evil then Good?)

Second Movement
Presto ben ritmico

Before "Now" (1st Movement) was "This" Mozart naturally uses the subdominant - the key below. This movement to be written first; how do I know what "is" if I have not expounded what "Was?" Scherzo a much better solution than slow movement. 6/8 and 9/8 makes for an unsettling ambivalence, i.e. Chaos comes before Genesis.

Third Movement
Poco Adagio

Relief. If the second movement is fast, this should be slow and stately; a rest point, tuneful, a commanding respect for harmony. Not a minuet, though it's tempting. What about a Fugue?

Fourth Movement
Allegro ben ritmico

The summing-up. This I cannot understand until all the rest is complete. But last movements can easily be weak, a tired play-out (Haydn!) - so write this movement whilst on the others.

And that is the Chamber Symphony. It only remains to add that the whole symphony is made up of the elements that are heard i9n the slow introduction to the First Movement. This is done in the manner of an Indian Rag. There is a preparatory "warming-up" section (Alaap) where the principle notes of the Rag (and symphony) are laid before the listener in an improvisatory manner. First the flute, then bassoon and trumpets improvise round patterns of notes which later are developed into whole chord patterns and tunes. The string accompaniment to these improvisations are also seminal. The work lasts about 23 minutes