• Lennox Berkeley
  • Symphony No. 3 in One Movement (1969)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the 1969 Cheltenham Festival of Music (25th Anniversary)

  • 3(pic).2+ca.2.2+cbn4331timp.perchpstr
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Lennox Berkeley: Symphony No.3

Berkeley's Third Symphony was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival and first performed there in 1969 by the Orchestre National of France conducted by Jean Martinon. Unlike Berkeley's earlier symphonies, which were extensive four- movement canvases in the classic tradition, No.3 is a fairly short but very taut piece of writing which also extends his recent tendency to be a little more extrovert in terms of scoring; it is, in fact, a fairly logical conclusion to the period that produced first the one-act opera Castaway and then the massive (in Berkeley terms) Magnificat which employed choir, large orchestra and organ. Tonight's
requirements are somewhat more humble - just the full symphony orchestra. One of the main problems in writing a single-movement work is that of form. A piece of this kind cannot consist of unrelated sections even if the music is continuous; it must not sound like three or four movements strung together. In this case, though a fast- slow-fast pattern is used the structure of a single movement is maintained. This has been achieved by keeping the material monothematic; all three sections are derived from the opening motif, and nothing new is introduced that is not a development of it.
The symphony is based on a six-note idea: the triads of D minor and B major. The opening is a statement of this, and in the following quite heavily-scored passage the orchestra tussles and argues over it in a restless and agitated manner. A calmer period is reached when the three flutes and three muted trumpets open a more sustained passage, but even this is swallowed up by a return to the obsessive restlessness of the opening. This uneasiness is of course partially due to the conflict of the major and minor triads - the F sharp fighting with the F natural. At the end of the first section a ritenuto and diminuendo lead into an unexpected and rich- sounding chord of B major, above which the melodic part has come to rest on a G sharp. We are now unmistakably in the slow section - a contrapuntal melodic arrangement of the six-note motif in 3/2 - the accompaniment being drawn from the other six notes that go to make up the twelve-note row; but though here and elsewhere in the work serial technique has been used the music remains fundamentally tonal.
If the beginning of the slow section was unmistakable, the start of the final one could not conceivably be missed. Suddenly the lyrical line is shattered by two huge interpolations by the full orchestra. A fanfare-like passage by the brass then triggers off a tremendous scurrying of semiquavers in the strings. These two easily- recognisable features of the scoring appear constantly in this last section as a sort of generator from which the music derives its energy. It is interesting to note the possible influence of Bartok here, the string writing producing an effect that recalls the last movement of the Concerto for Orchestra. A recapitulation of the theme in a slightly altered version (here it is in triple time as opposed to the original statement in common time) forms a coda. The fact that the last chord is a resolution of the conflict between the triads brings a feeling of finality and completion.

Michael Berkeley

Discography

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