Symphony in D Major
Steadfastly rooted in the classical symphonic tradition, yet with a contemporary tonality that speaks to todays audiences, Patricia Long composed her Symphony in D Major during what she describes as a rite of passage through one of the most turbulent and trying years of my life. One would expect a turbulent and discordant work to emerge from a composer writing during a very troubled time. But overall, this symphony reflects conflict resolved rather than conflict in progress.
The strong element of tension and release found throughout all four movements of this work is most pronounced in Movements I and II. The third and fourth movements are very lyrical and serene by comparison, indicating a yearned-for resolution that resided in the mind of this composer if not in the chaotic circumstances that surrounded her. Her nevertheless disciplined work on this symphony was, as she later remarked, a safe harbor where, for at least a short time every day of that awful year, I dropped anchor during the storm. This must be why the first two movements evoke the image of a stalwart ship sailing a perilous sea and the last two movements carry this metaphorical ship, weary but unharmed, into pacific waters and a triumphant return home.
SCORE EXCERPTS (PDF)
AUDIO (MIDI REALIZATION)
MOVEMENTS I AND II: A BRIEF ANALYSIS
The entire orchestra introduces Movement I with a bold and ascending fanfare of ten bars, at the end of which a solo Horn in F emerges to state the opening theme, a plaintive one in the Aeolian mode and suggestive of a lonely ship at sea. Supported essentially by pedal tones in the lower strings, the horn is soon joined by a trumpet in unison. Following this sparsely orchestrated exposition, the strings and woodwinds re-enter with a hymn-like interlude (later to become a second theme) leading gracefully into a fughetta initiated by the strings section only. The fughetta is where the development of this movement really begins, finally becoming full-blown with new thematic material in ascendance and all instruments participating. While the first half of this development goes through several key changes, a beautifully simple triadic melody flows through the undercurrent of skillfully executed harmonic instability. Seamlessly, the movement builds and moves forward to culminate in a restatement of both themes converging in a broadly optimistic finale.
Movement II, scored for strings and brass only, opens darkly in C minor with the lower strings. Setting the stage almost ominously, the upper strings enter (violas first, then first and second violins) with an unexpectedly accented rhythm in 5/4 time. This rhythmic pattern then merges into 6/4 time for one measure, making a smooth transition to 3/2 time at the same tempo. The next 14-bar passage in C major suggests, within the context of the previous opening material, a metaphorical dance with danger. Returning in measure 39 to 5/4 for eight bars, this section of Movement II cadences at the end of an almost imperceptible shift to three additional bars of 6/4 time. Ritarding to a long fermata, what follows is a complete change in rhythm, tempo, and dynamics (louder, faster, and more syncopated) and the only inner-voice dissonances to be found in this entire symphony. New thematic material abruptly takes over, a forcefully defiant theme carried out by strings and brass, alternating between 7/8 and 8/8 time and dissonant tonality so rapidly shifting that the key of C# minor (with many accidentals) was almost arbitrarily assigned. This driving middle section of Movement II rises to a climactic ending at measure 81, where release from all the tension occurs through an intricate chord progression leading to an accentuated dominant seventh chord of C minor (the original key), a dramatic decrescendo, and an unexpected return of the original theme. The pacing, now in 4/4 time, becomes broader, and soon a beautiful melodic line above the early theme rings out. A series of smooth modulations to related keys lifts this lyrical melody until the key of E-flat major is reached to conclude the movement with a soaring and harmonious chorus of strings and brass.