• Carl Vine
  • Symphony No. 2 (1987)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 2+pic.2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4.3.2+btbn.1/timp.4perc/hp.cel/str
  • 20 min

Programme Note

This work is written in a single movement made up of five contrasting sections, beginning with a passage of great rhythmic momentum. Restless ostinati in the lower strings and woodwinds seem to try to break free from the spell of the 'D' which is the central tonal focus of the work. A characteristic theme soon appears high above this texture - in long notes, it is simple and diatonic, luminously scored for high strings doubled by piccolo. The pitches used here are crucial to the work's development, particularly the G and B flat which we hear often. Other instruments take up these floating phrases, travelling in pairs : flute doubles muted trumpet, piccolo subtly brightens the solo horn, while tension builds with the progressive addition of overlapping ostinati throughout the orchestra.

This tension is released with the arrival of a new 'paragraph', characteristic of Vine's style : a 12/8 ostinato for harp (now centring on C sharp) stabilises the continuing scurrying motives from the opening, while the oboe announces a new, simple, stepwise melody. Again the section explores the potential tension, albeit genially, between groupings of two and three, and comes to a moment of repose in E major before the violent outburst of the second section. At this point we hear one of the rare appearances of automobile brake drums and suspension springs in symphonic music. The arresting chords give way to a passage built on rising scalar figures which eventually leads to another passage where a harp ostinato (this time supporting themes related to those heard above the opening texture) inaugurates another gathering of texture before a return to the chords which open the section.

The third section contains a greater diversity of material, with numerous short motives flying about in a transparent orchestral texture. The fourth section corresponds to a traditional slow movement, where various instruments are given extensive lyrical solos (beginning, for instance, with the cello). A short bridge passage, where the cor anglais recalls the opening melody, leads into an extraordinarily lush flowering of the texture : here is the crystal of the work, and in a sense its climax because it is here that the work recapitulates much of its earlier material, but in a concentrated form which focuses our perception of the relationships between seemingly disparate rhythmic passages. Having made these connections, the piece ends in a short fast coda, based on entirely new material.