• 3(3pic)33(bcl)3/4331/timp.perc.glock.xyl.vib/hp/str
  • 30 min

Programme Note

It has always seemed obligatory to 'place' Frankel by first naming the impressive list of music for the theatre, radio, TV and above all, for a vast number of feature films, which he has written in a long and distinguished career. Concurrently with all this there had at first been a steady output of chamber music and songs though very little orchestral music. A certain reticence of manner, quite different from the often brilliant extroversion of his commercial work, characterised much of this music. In general it seemed easier to pay respect to the craftsmanship than to take trouble to know the creative personality and generate the enthusiasm - and the performances - that the music deserved. The Violin Concerto of 1951 made a slight dent in that impression and, more recently, the Fifth String Quartet. The latter has been recorded and the former, at last, is about to be.

However, it is in relation to his recent remarkable output of symphonies, dating from as recently as 1958, that a fresh perspective on Frankel seems due. (The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Groves gave the first public performance of his Symphony No. 6 on 25 November 1969). It is not only the eight symphonies, but also the two concertos, one for viola, and a triple concerto (the Serenata Concertante) as well as numerous chamber, vocal and chamber orchestral works written within the same period that demand balanced assessment. In addition, between the present work, which is dedicated to Charles Groves, and the Symphony No. 7 completed last year, he has written a full-length opera based on John Whiting's 'Marching Song' to a libretto by Hans Keller.

Though he has been unable to find a literary allusion to epitomise the general tone of this Symphony, the composer has nevertheless given some indication of the ideas lying behind the individual movements - for Frankel's music is always passionately 'about' something.

Since his recent heart attacks, he has become an obsessive taker of gentle peripatetic exercise - and the image he invokes in connection with the first movement is of a solitary, but compassionately involved observer, walking about a city and contemplating with sadness and affection all that goes on around him. This seems perfectly caught by the long and contemplative melody for upper strings with which the movement opens. The movement is predominantly slow and against the thread of this melodic line, which runs throughout the entire movement, various dramatic interjections impinge. For example, the short semitonal fragment bursts out with brutal intensity towards the end of the movement, it is succinctly commented upon and the movement ends with a strangely quizzical 'amen'.

The second movement concerns 'the objective contemplation of motion' - and opens with forward-pressing staccato quavers stating, in unison, its basic material. This scherzo-like movement has no trio, but comment on the ever proliferating ideas is made by a curious and lugubrious falling phrase on the tuba, a favourite instrument of Frankel's used often in the oddest and least obvious of contexts. In his Symphony No. 6 this ungainly instrument seemed to poke fun at the whole idea of serial composition, so important to Frankel in all his recent work, by turning the tone-row into a drunken version of 'O sole mio'. Here the self-mockery is gentler but no less personal as he wryly observes the idea of himself wryly observing the world around him. The 'objective' contemplation seems honoured more in the breach than in the observance. As it proceeds, the music gathers momentum into a very fast Presto which breaks up at its climax, leading to a return of the opening, softer and more fragmentary in condensed recapitulation. The movement gathers force, exploiting a timpani version of the opening figure until its impetus is held, as if frozen, in the final chord.

The third movement has been subtitled Reflections on a Christmas Eve. By this the composer means to direct our attention to 'the fruit that ripens every year but is never plucked'. Listening one Christmas Eve to Italian television with its impressive seasonal celebrations, both sacred and secular, he recalls the impact of the announcer's words at the stroke of midnight - 'é nato'. Each year there is the ever-renewed offer of Christian rebirth - man's gaze flickers and is caught for a moment, only to turn back once again fixed on the old paths. It is not only the actual bells of the opening but the whole orchestral texture that seems to chime throughout this movement of solemn and tender beauty. As the opening bell sounds return, they lead into a gentle lullaby on violas; a soft chorale on the brass leads into a brief and passionate peroration before the movement finally chimes itself into silence.

That the final movement is one of positive assertion is clear from its bold opening, marked spirito d'una marcia; a multiplicity of thematic material is extracted from the opening bars (as with all the movements) but here the two three-note themes of trumpet and trombones respectively deserve special mention as they are clearly declaimed, especially towards the climax of the movement. The forceful opening drives towards a broad contrapuntal combination of the total theme in canon with itself and with its backwards version on the whole orchestra. This slows into a solemn statement on the brass and percussion of another contrapuntal combination of the theme with its mirror forms; the effect here is more like a chorale and the theme could be described as having arrived once more in its tonic key (strictly, at its original pitch level). The opening march tempo returns with a brief recapitulation leading to a long impressive dialogue for strings alone (again a contrapuntal combination, first in two and then in four parts) until the opening march figures return in ever more direct form. In the penultimate slowing down, the solo trumpet leads from a lyrical version of the inverted theme back into the main tempo and into the firm and brilliant ending, which homes onto a chord implying the directness of the key of C - but for an important qualification. A flutter-tongued E-flat on the horns has appeared, forcing its way, as the minor third, against the surrounding optimism of the closing bars. The questioning is there, but for Frankel this is yea-saying music indeed and bodes well for the fruitfulness of the creative period in which he now finds himself.

From the examples quoted it should be possible without diagrammatic aid to discern the series on which the first two movements are based, also the ones used in the other movements. This in itself underlines how Frankel is increasingly able to find unforcedly musical ways of announcing in clearly comprehensible form the special thematic features of his tone-row at the outset of a movement. The lay listener - and indeed many an expert - will find it difficult to believe that Frankel's application of this technique is as strict, in some senses more strict, then Schoenberg's. The formal designs are also beginning to appear 'truer' to the tone-row, rather in the sense that Boulez prefers the manifestation of this aspect of design in Webern.

Perhaps even more important is the rapprochement which Frankel is establishing between serialism and tonality, nowhere more strikingly than in the finale of this Symphony. For all the obviously traditional style of his language and the supposedly extinct form of the present work, I suggest that we have here not only a significant contribution to the musical literature, but also a technical contribution of great originality and of considerable potential significance.

© 1971 Buxton Orr

Listen

Symphony No. 8, Op. 53: I. Moderato grave
Symphony No. 8, Op. 53: II. Allegro assai
Symphony No. 8, Op. 53: III. Adagio
Symphony No. 8, Op. 53: IV. Allegro moderato

Discography