• William Thomas McKinley
  • Symphony No. 1 (1977)

  • Margun Music (World)
  • 3444/4221/perc/hp.pf/str
  • 10 min

Programme Note

Composer note:
The Symphony No. 1 in One Movement was begun in 1976 shortly after the premiere of my Concertino for Orchestra during the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in August of that year. After the performance, the sound of the orchestra would not leave my imagination. It was an inner necessity that I continue to compose in the orchestral medium. And since the Concertino is a work of relatively brief duration, lasting approximately eight minutes, I wanted to expand the musical thoughts and ideas I discovered upon first hearing it. The earliest inspiration for the First Symphony thus began with an intensely Romantic impulse. In fact, all of my symphonic works and orchestral concerti strive to achieve a dramatic expansion as well as elaborate tonal connections with musical elements found in the marvelously fertile symphonic achievements of the mid-late 19th and very early 20th centuries.

The reasons are well-known and evident why many contemporary composers do not compose for the orchestra. But I have never been discouraged by these reasons. The marvel of the entire orchestral organism, cosmic in potential, has been the source of my personal commitment and life’s work in trying to create the largest body of orchestral compositions that my imaginative spirit will dictate.

The First Symphony is a continuous and cyclic structure. Many movements, transformations of energy and mood are contained within the single movement. Perhaps one may view it is a novel without chapters. Call to mind the temporal flow that exists in each of our personal, private, and public lives – the overlapping episodes, the dramatic counter play, the contrapuntal order and even at times disorder – all the continuous and developmental themes, motifs, and human juxtapositions, and, most important, those few precious “moments” when all rings TRUE in each of our psychic minds and spirits – the epiphanies of self-enlightenment and inner progress. My Symphony hopes to embrace the listener in this way – to transcend a purely technical world and to communicate universal passions and qualities of feeling and mind which we all share, and which I believe we can all hear. The Symphony should manifest as a dream-awakening – a diary of the composer’s fantasy and intuition, private, and yet to be shared by all.

No one will deny that the work has a contemporary “surface”. We are children of our times and is that not as it should be? I would not argue that most contemporary music lacks universal depth, power, and the intense singing that is manifest in the great works which have remained in the symphonic literature. We must constantly search to find this universal quality and personal voice which, if found, would yield to all of a psychic power and strength that is not merely “novel” and “contemporary.” This power could unite both past and present with a profoundly significant force.

But perhaps the Symphony in One Movement is fundamentally, but not simplistically, a diary of my relationship – and in the listener’s relationship – to its internal dramatic content. And this relationship must be subliminal, spiritual, intuitive and psychical, seeking the Divine. Recall the divinity that Brahms so often spoke of, the moment of blind fury within the creative psyche of Beethoven, the creative labor in the life’s work Bach, the feverish creative fire that would at times possess the musical and creative thoughts of Schoenberg, Berlioz, and Mozart. The common factor which binds them all and the common element to be found in great creative achievement, with rare exception, is fundamentally related to the power of intuition and psychic guidance. These are divine elements – divine patterns and principles. If each of us were able to witness the essence of these elements, we would in our own way and in our own time attain greatness.

It is my hope that listeners will allow this Symphony to openly embrace their ears and hearts, enabling them to honestly experience the power of a musical communication that humbly attempts to reveal a meditative and psychic experience. And after one has allowed the content of the Symphony into the vibrations of personal experience and consciousness, a perception of new textures and orchestrational combinations, as well as the use of the orchestra as a total organism, will be revealed.

The connection to an expansion of late 19th and early 20th century tonality, the continual evolution, transformation and dissolution of motivic elements, the unrestricted interplay of improvisatory, fantasia-like rhythmic gestures and arabesques, and the aural conception of the orchestra as a potentially cosmic-sonic force with infinitely variable musical colors and timbral possibilities – all of these elements have been interwoven to cause a totally dramatic and powerful, kaleidoscopic effect. But ultimately, it is my primary desire to communicate an atmosphere of musical joy and innocence which can be perceived by all.

-- William Thomas McKinley
(on the occasion of the premiere of Symphony No. 1 in One Movement)