• Benjamin Frankel
  • Symphony No. 6 (1969)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 3(pic)3(ca)334331timp.perc.glock.xyl.vibhpstr
  • 34 min

Programme Note

It is widely accepted today that a young composer or conductor can exhibit skill both in concert hall and in the world of commercial music without a raising of eyebrows from either end of the spectrum. To Frankel's generation - he is in his early sixties - the situation remains still rather suspect, which may be why public performances in this country, as opposed to relatively frequent broadcasts, are only now becoming less of a rarity.

Serious composers of his generation were the first to be persuaded into the occasional outstanding film score, and many a film composer has felt himself equipped to produce concert works. But in the sheer quantity, quality and variety in both spheres, Frankel would be hard to match on either side of the Atlantic. From his work on the musicals of the thirties to the film scores of so many British films of the war and post war years one might mention The Man in the White Suit, So Long at the Fair, The Importance of Being Ernest, The Cardinal and Orders to Kill. At the same time his large output of varied instrumental and chamber music eventually included concertos for violin, for piano trio, and for viola and orchestra and, since 1958, a remarkable output of symphonies, the present work being the latest, first performed at a BBC concert in March this year, conducted by Denis Vaughan. A seventh is to appear in February 1970, commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra.

In this symphony, as in Frankel's orchestral music in general, the listener is spoken to with directness and urgency. The burden of the music is carried by the melodic lines, coloured with all the resources of the modern symphony orchestra which the composer handles with such consummate mastery. The very opening of the symphony shows how clearly this concern with melody has been integrated with 12 note serialism, and how it is possible to retain the emotional and some of the formal aspects of tonality without going against the thematic logic of the serial approach. Such matters are illustrated in the latter part of this note and are for reflection upon after the music has spoken in its own terms, and are not intended as an intellectual aid to understanding. If there is any difficulty during the performance it will more than likely be with the intensity and range of emotions that the music evokes. The listener should trust, and attempt to go with the music rather than follow any written description. However, as a rough guide to the sort of ground the music will cover, one could say that the opening Andante exploits passionate long winding melodies, predominantly string in timbre, at climactic moments carrying into striking sonorities on woodwind and brass. The sombre feeling of the end of this movement is continued in the harsh and dramatic sounds of the following Allegro, at the end of which, shadows of its earlier violence flit across the orchestra. For all its solemnity, the following Adagio seems to transfigure the emotions aroused by the previous movements and feels central to the work both in position and emotional significance. The elegant yet bizarre Intermezzo that follows is succeeded by the final movement, an Allegro/Adagio, in which contrasting moods and movement are juxtaposed in a way which disturbs, yet in the end brings balance, if not resolution, to the opposing elements.

The following more detailed consideration of the music is intended to indicate how the strength of the design matches the intensity of the emotional drama which the music has carried. If the abstract-looking pattern of the tone row and its inversion or reflection is compared with the opening of the symphony, the relation of design to the living texture of the music may to some extent be grasped. The violin line and its reflected answer in the cellos is even more explicit in the ensuing phrases, and as the music proceeds, not just the obvious 'themes', but the harmonies, countermelodies and accompanying figures - in fact the entire texture is drawn from the shapes contained in the long chain and its various mirror images.

The opening of the second and third movements - the Allegro with its harsh low wind chords and the Adagio with its slowly pulsating flutes and clarinets show how harmonies can arise from simultaneous sounding of notes that adjoin each other in the melodic pattern of the tone row.

The delicate percussion patterns of the Intermezzo support long, exposed, solo melodies in a sort of quick waltz times which, after a grotesque introduction, leads to a slower and intentionally drunken tuba solo (marked ubbriaco) which shows that the distance is not great from the tone row to the strains of O sole mio.

The final movement opens with the abrupt juxtaposition of a jagged 5/8 Allegro figure with Adagio sonorities, epitomising the drama of contrasts which characterises the entire movement.

At the end of the work, violent upheavals alternate with tranquillo passages, and in the final bars one finds the notes of the first tone row spelt in reverse, but now seeming as if viewed through the experience of all that has gone before.

© 1969 Buxton Orr

Discography