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Symphonies 6 and 7 were composed during 2010 and 2011 respectively; each is a little over 20 minutes long and in a single span with several contrasting subsections. Separating these on the CD is “Night Voyage,” a shorter orchestral piece. In these performances I am once again conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom I worked on Symphonies 3, 4 and 5.
I had just moved house when I commenced the 6th – it was a big event in my life about which I felt totally optimistic, and I felt excited about composing something generally less tortured than some of the music in the much larger 5th, but it still has its quotas of drama and emotion. I tried to make it more direct, with simpler ideas and textures and clearer orchestration, and nearly everything stems from a woodwind phrase at the beginning. This recurs as a connecting “leitmotif” at various points, and the various subsections are based on it too. I like my music to have a strong narrative, and think I work much like a novelist, with my characters being the themes and motifs, and here there are five main sections forming a journey – slow and thoughtful, fast and increasingly dramatic, slow and expressive, fast and mostly perky, and lastly a coda drawing on earlier material.
I have always been drawn to the sea, and “Night Voyage” is very definitely a sea piece. It was born on a winter’s evening as I stood by the Mersey river in Liverpool; to the West, a patch of orange lit the darkening sky, seabirds called mournfully, and I watched a large grey freighter slipping majestically out to sea. Where was it heading and what would befall it? My ship takes an imaginary journey; first there is the optimism of a new adventure, but soon we meet a violent storm. As the storm subsides land is sighted and we arrive safely at dawn, battered and bruised, but intact – if chastened. There are obvious parallels with life here; this is really a tone-poem depicting a journey through an emotional crisis to a resolution of a sort.
The theme of journeying is carried through to my 7th Symphony. Like the 6th, the music is continuous but this time falls into six main sections, or “phases,” all founded in various ways on the rising whole-tone scale heard at the very start. I had in mind a long challenging journey; you can imagine the ascent of a high mountain, or something more psychological – fortunately music can hardly ever be specific and surely one of the joys of listening is that everybody brings their own life experiences to bear.
Phase one is slow and thoughtful, which you could regard as waking from sleep and pondering the task ahead. A far more active phase follows, mostly optimistic with hints of something heroic. With phase three we enter a mysterious, foggy world with the blurred outlines of mysterious shapes. Phase four, by contrast, is relentlessly rhythmic with a steady pulse, becoming ever more dramatic; the idea of struggling against formidable odds was uppermost in my mind. A short break in tension follows, a prelude to a return of the optimistic music heard in phase two. Again this subsides and the thoughtful, quiet opening music returns briefly. This proves to be preparation for the final main section, with its confirmation of A Major, and the summit. At the very end, we hear the quiet rising scales from the opening, this time high in the violins; is this exhaustion? Or perhaps a hollow victory? You decide…
- Symphony no 6 22.56
- Night Voyage 12.00
- Symphony no. 7 27.40
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by Christopher Gunning
Total playing time 62.56
Sample Music Clips
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