• Wilfred Josephs
  • Symphony No. 10 'Circadian Rhythms' (1985)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 3(2pic)3(2ca)3(bcl)3(cbn)/4331/timp.3perc/hp.pf[=cel]/str
  • 27 min

Programme Note

Wilfred Josephs: Circadian Rhythms, Op. 137

Circadian - from 'circa dies' - 'about a day' - relating to biological rhythms of around (but slightly greater than) a day. Circadian Rhythms depicts a complete day in life and, simultaneously, a complete life within that day. The three movements, which are not slavishly illustrative, are played without a break.

Animals in temperate climates are exposed to two dominant climatic rhythms, the alternation of night and day, and the annual alternation of winter and summer. For polar animals only the winter/summer cycle is relevant; tropical life is the reverse, with day/night the dominant rhythms. Since light and warmth contribute so largely to the maintenance of life, animals and plants are grossly affected by these external rhythms. Birds and man, depending heavily on vision, rest at night and are active by day. Many small herbivores, defenceless whilst feeding, retire to burrows by day and are active by night. Both groups continue to show a circadian alternation between activity and rest even when all indications of day and night are excluded. Since the period is usually slightly greater than a day (24 ½ to 26 hours) the timing of their activity periods drifts increasingly away from solar time in the outside world.

Many physiological events conform to Circadian Rhythms: activity, rest, temperature, secretions, parasitic attacks (such as malaria), actions of drugs, etc. More and more these are shown to be dependent on an internal clock, rather than the outside stimulus of, for example, day and night. This clock may be triggered off by the secretion of cortisol - linked with stress, with adrenaline and the 'fight-or-flight' mechanism, with the rapid eye movements of sleep, with the 'lowest ebb' of life force in the early hours of the morning when, often, dying people succumb.

1. Dies Natalis (Day of Birth)
The newborn infant has few circadian rhythms; these develop in due course after exposure to the alternation of night and day.

This movement in a general way depicts the birth and gradual development of these rhythmic patterns. The music itself, here, is partly the kind of music sometimes called minimal music (though I prefer to call it mesmeric music as it is certainly not 'minimal' in respect of the effort required to write it!) in which repetitive patterns are first set up and only gradually change, imperceptibly. This is the longest of the three movements (about 14 ½ minutes) and builds up into a strongly rhythmic and percussive movement with a quieter, slower ending. This in turn leads to…

2. Diem ex Die (From Day to Day)
This begins energetically with a striding tune based (as is much of the work) on earlier material and again builds up into a strongly rhythmic movement. At the height of the clamour the mood swiftly dissolves into a sunny and happy-go-lucky section which is marked 'jauntily'. This expression of the sheer joy of being alive becomes beset with more serious matters and, as in life itself, is suddenly cut off in its prime by the transition to…

3. Dies Aeterni Natalis (Heavenly Birthday)
The title of this final movement relates to a phrase said to have been much used by Bede, meaning 'dying-day'; it derives from Seneca's thought that 'the day you fear as your last is the birthday of your eternity.' This, the slowest movement of the work, slowly progresses towards a heavenly conclusion of peace and tranquillity with all passion spent.

Circadian Rhythms is dedicated 'for Vernon Handley, with affection and admiration'.
© Wilfred Josephs