• John McCabe
  • Symphony No. 3 'Hommages' (1978)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 3(pic)333(cbn)4.3.2+btbn.1timp.3perchp.pf(cel)str
  • 24 min

Programme Note

1. Flessible
2. Adagio (Fantasia)
3. Moderato (Fugue-Variations)

The original impulse behind this symphony, which was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was a desire to pay homage to some of the composers to whose music I feel a special commitment, either as a composer or as a pianist. Needless to say, not all the composers who fall into this category are reflected in this work - the object, after all, is not to provide a pot-pourri of other composers' styles. In fact, only two composers are directly involved in the actual material of the work and play an important part in its development - Haydn and Nielsen. The former is represented by the slow movement of his String Quartet Op. 76, No. 6 (not, perhaps surprisingly, by a piano sonata), and Nielsen by some chords derived from his Piano Suite, Op. 45, a work that has long been a cherished part of my pianistic repertoire. The remaining references to other composers are matters merely of allusion or influence, which I readily acknowledge (the influence of Szymanowski on some of the textures, for instance) but of which I do not propose to compile a list.

I also wanted to write a work that, although in three movements, would be indivisible, something that I have done before but not, I think, in this particular way. The first movement is a free, fantasia-like treatment of an open sonata form in which much of the material is unique to this movement. Two elements heard at the start, however, are of crucial importance to the whole work - the lyrical theme 'switched on' at the start, which is closely related to the material of the Haydn Quartet, and the contrasted woodwind chords heard almost immediately after and derived from the Nielsen Suite. These latter chords feature throughout the work.

The actual slow movement overlaps with the first, and is, so to speak, a 'commentary' on the Haydn Quartet movement, which is played by one or other part of the orchestra while other instruments develop ideas taken from it or in some way 'analyse' the procedures at work in the Haydn. At the same time, the Haydn 'haunts' the music, like a ghost or echo from the past.

The finale, a combination of variation technique with the form of a fugue, grows imperceptibly out of the slow movement, with which it overlaps. As the music progresses, the tempo quickens gradually to lead to a final statement of the work's opening themes, affirming its relationship to the Haydn Quartet movement and the fugue subject. Underpinning the whole work is a rigorously observed scheme of key relationship, the basic tonality of the work being E.

© John McCabe

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