• John McCabe
  • Symphony 'Edward II' (1998)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

See also 'Dramatic Works'

  • 3(pic).3(ca).2+bcl.2+cbn4.3.2+btbn.1timp.3perchp.pf.celegtrstr
  • 38 min

Programme Note

1. Adagio-Allegro, poco pesante- Molto pesante- Moderato- Allegro vivo
2. Romanza: Lento espressivo- Andante- Lento espressivo
3. The Barons: Maestoso e deciso
4. Finale: Andante con moto- Andante, calmo- Adagio

The ballet Edward II was commissioned by Stuttgart Ballet, and first performed by them on 15 April 1995 at the Württemberg State Theatre, conducted by Davor Krnjak- the choreography was by David Bintley. The first performance in Britain was given by Birmingham Royal Ballet in the Hippodrome, Birmingham, on 9 October 1997, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The Symphony was completed in April 1997, and is in four movements, mainly taken straight from the ballet but placed in a different order. It seemed appropriate to derive a Symphony rather than a Suite, since the score was conceived almost as an epic symphonic work (with much close working of thematic and harmonic content) as well as a portrait of, in particular, Edward and his wife Isabella. They are both sympathetic, or at least understandable, tragic characters, and this work therefore emerges as a symphonic portrait of them and their struggles for self-fulfilment.

The first movement begins with the opening, depicting the funeral of Edward I, but then moves into the only section radically rewritten for the symphony, some quick music depicting the exuberance of the outdoor sports of which Edward II himself was particularly fond. This leads, as in the ballet, to a tightening of the dramatic tension with the appearance of Death, who stalks the battlefield of the ensuing Civil War.

The second movement, Romanza, is a pas de deux for Edward and his lover Gaveston, though with a central section interpolated from Act 2, counterparting this relationship with part of a pas de deux for Isabella with her lover, the rebellious baron Mortimer whose lust for power is ultimately a major force in Edward's downfall. The third movement is taken almost exactly from Act I, a Scherzo for (mostly) winds and percussion only entitled The Barons- in the ballet, it forms an angry conclave of barons determined to bring Edward down and, more especially, to rid the country of Gaveston. Their anger, and final determination to force a confrontation, leads to the Civil War.

The Finale comes from Act 2, after Isabella and Mortimer have led an invasion from France and overthrown the King. He languishes in wretched prison conditions, and is comforted by Lightborn, initially helping Edward to achieve an emotional sense of balance and acceptance of his lot. Lightborn then reveals himself to have been sent as Edward's assassin, and, after the King's death, Isabella and Mortimer have a violent, tortured pas de deux of lust and power, and the work ends with the funeral of Edward II (to the music of the opening) and a scene in which the young Edward III, still a teenager, sits on the throne of England. He has Isabella, his mother, exiled for her crimes, and Mortimer executed, and he now represents the future of the kingdom.

© Copyright 1999 by John McCabe

View Score