1st Movement (Listen to the first movement here)
As with all my previous symphonies, the opening bars contain the essence of the work. The struggle is evident from the sinuous counterpoint and and dotted rhythms of the first few measures. The ensuing allegro maestoso is a driven affair containing a powerful tutti that has a sweeping melody, accompanied by a rhythmic counterpoint in the woodwind. The second group of themes is no less urgent and it too erupts in conquering mood, blazing out a confident melody in the strings, followed a bar later by an imitation in the horns. After a surprise modulation to G major, the music is temporarily calm. However, the tension builds and it isn't long before there is another defiant outburst. Eventually the music settles down for a longer stretch of reflective tranquility. The recapitulation is yet another outcry of anguish but it too subsides and the music follows its natural course towards the end of the movement. A coda of two halves closes out the eventful first movement.
2nd Movement (Listen to the second movement here)
Characterised by a solo cello, the first eleven bars spin out a melody which is taken up by the orchestral strings. (Part of the solo cello melody becomes part of the rondo theme in the last movement). There is a secondary theme in G major presented by the oboe at a slightly faster tempo. The central section of the movement is much more eventful, bursting onto the scene from the outset. There are some raucous interjections from the trumpets which create false relations with the rest of the orchestra. The music gathers pace and the full force of the orchestra is felt as the music approaches a colossal cadence into the key of C. There is now some respite from all this upheaval as two of the motifs from the solo cellists's melody are explored simultaneously by the woodwind whilst a slow, crotchet, harmonic pulse is provided by the strings. After one more climax the music wends its way back to the opening idea of the movement. The recapitulation is slightly modified to ensure that the music returns to the original key of the movement. The solo cello has the last word.
3rd Movement (Listen to the third movement here)
The third movement is a summation of all that has gone before, both thematically and programmatically. It is a reassertion of self-determination, an exorcism of the circular thoughts that have driven my illness and a reality check on the effectiveness of religion. Shakespeare's 'Fear no more the heat of the Sun' presents death as a practical release from everyday worries. Rather than a defeat, it is a triumph over death.
The structure of the first half of this movement is a Rondo: A,B,A,C,A. The rondo theme itself has the outline melodic shape of the opening theme of the first movement and it also contains an important melodic cell from the solo cellist's theme from the slow movement. When the choir enters for the first time it is with a motif that was introduced in the bars leading up to their a cappella opening statement. Whilst the poem (a song from Cymbeline) is to a large extent through composed, the words 'come to dust' are always set to the same four note falling motif. Much of the text is set to melodic shapes and ideas introduced earlier in the movement. e.g. 'Thou thy worldly task hast done' is set to the transition theme between A and B. 'Home art gone and ta'en thy wages' comes from C, as does 'Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney sweepers etc.' and 'Fear no more the lightning flash'. The last stanza 'No exorciser harm thee' is intoned over a fragmented version of the opening bars of the first movement, over a tonic pedal. The choir sings almost totally a cappella (bar one bassoon) the words 'Quiet consumation have; And renowned be thy grave' before the ritornello theme that introduced the choir winds the music up into a triumphant finale. The last words from the choir are: 'Fear no more, And renowned be thy grave'. During the pandemic I felt a particular urgency to complete this work. It was finished on the 16th April 2020.
Words by William Shakespeare
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.