• Kenneth Leighton
  • Symphony No. 1 (1964)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2(pic)2(ca)234331timp.2percstr
  • 26 min

Programme Note

Kenneth Leighton: Symphony, Op. 42

Lento ma non troppo
Allegro molto ed impetuoso
Molto adagio e sostenuto

Composed during 1963 and 1964, the work won first prize (in an entry of eight works) in the 1965 City of Trieste international competition for a new symphonic work. The first performance took place in May, 1966 in the Giuseppe Verdi Theatre in Trieste under the directorship of Aldo Ceccato. The symphony was repeated later in the year in Milan as part of the inaugural concert of the first 'Salone Internazionale della musica di Milano', again under Ceccato. There have also been two broadcasts of the work in Italy. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society gave the first British performance of the symphony on 17th October 1967.

On reflection, the symphony appears to follow an emotional pattern similar to that of several previous works. The first movement sets a mood of strong, even desperate protest; the middle movement (a Scherzo) loosens the reins and in a spirit of rebellion seeks an affirmative answer by sheer force of will; the final slow movement aims at resignation, almost gives way to despair, and in the end leaves only a question mark.

In exterior shape the first movement moves almost in a straight line, by means of constant variation and development from a few small melodic and rhythmic cells. The shape of the opening horn phrase dominates the first movement and also reappears in the Scherzo. This grows into a soft fugal opening paragraph, and a second section begins with string tremolandi introducing what might be called the second melodic cell. The string tremolandi build up to a minor climax with a brass entry, and a third melodic and rhythmic germ.

The paragraph which follows is much more extended and uses all three motives to create a slow increase of tension. At the climax the tempo returns to largo and motives (a) and (b) are combined. The descent from this climax to a somewhat fragmentary close is quite rapid. A fourth element of importance throughout the work is the minor third and major third relationship, which appears very frequently indeed in the bass.

The second movement is an extended Scherzo in three-time. Apart from the leaping theme at the opening, the rest of the material is derived from the four basic motives.

The final movement, with its long melodic lines, exploits for the first time the motive of the earlier brass entry. The opening idea, in two-part counterpoint, is immediately inverted on high strings. There follows an extended woodwind melody, first on solo bassoon, later on oboe and flute, and finally on high violins.

A new section begins with a more 'majorish' tune, a development of the second melodic cell, on the cor anglais. This is later taken over by cellos and violas and grows into a full orchestral statement in which several elements are combined. Of particular importance is the rhythmic shape quaver, dotted quaver/semi-quaver, crotchet.

The final section highlights the string tone and is in the manner of a slow march. In the final bars the alternating major and minor thirds persist, the final question mark being present in the major thirds, not the minor.

© Kenneth Leighton

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