Symphony No. 2

Anthony Powers (1953)

Symphony No. 2 1999

3333 - 4331 - timp.perc(2) - harp.piano - strings
Duration 
27
Genre 
Commissioner 

My Second Symphony was written in 1998-99, originally to a Millennium commission from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2002.

This symphony is in three main movement-sections, with an introduction and coda, that play without a break and last about thirty minutes. It has its origin in two of my then recently completed works, "Fast Colours" and "As Shadows to the Sun". The former is a scherzo for chamber ensemble whose musical material found its way back into early workings of the symphony and seemed to need different treatment and further development; the latter is an a capella choral setting of sonnets and madrigals by Michelangelo. Some music from this piece is used in the symphony but perhaps more importantly the texts yielded an image that describes the process of the work and dominates, in particular, its later stages. To paraphrase Michelangelo: within a block of marble is the finished sculpture, just as within the body is the soul. The release of the figure from the stone demands chipping and hammering, and thus destruction as an indispensable part of creation.

The introduction is marked Luminous but with shadows. This music forms the goal of the whole piece and its luminosity has to be rediscovered and fully achieved only in the coda. Meanwhile the shadowy element prevails and leads into the first movement-section. This is a modified sonata structure involving high contrast and combination of mood and tempo from the darkly turbulent and dramatic to the tenderly lyrical, differences that the rest of the symphony seeks to accommodate if not resolve. In thematic terms a twisting chromatic figure first heard on tuba and contrabassoon, later varied by horns, then again by trumpets, is set against an important three-note phrase (rising 4th, falling 2nd) heard variously and in many different contexts, though initially within the tuba/bassoon line.

The second movement-section is an orchestral version of the main sections of "Fast Colours" and in symphonic terms forms a scherzo as well as further developing earlier ideas. A number of episodes are framed by a short tutti marked Brilliant, dazzling. From this emerges the slow third (and final) movement-section; here the Michelangelo image becomes central. Under the hammer and chisel of the rest of the orchestra the strings unfold long, singing lines that in their increasing intensity and elaboration eventually lead to the rediscovery of the music from the introduction, now fully formed and revealed, with a climactic final statement of the symphony's main thematic figures.

Anthony Powers

Performances 
June 2002: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Rumon Gamba
3
Flute
3rd alto flute doubling piccolo
3
Oboe
3rd cor anglais
3
Clarinet
3rd bass clarinet doubling Eb clarinet
3
Bassoon
3rd contrabassoon
4
Horn
3
Trumpet
3
Trombone
1
Tuba
1
Timpani
2
Percussion
glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, guiro, 2 suspended cymbals, sandblock, 2 woodblock, bass drum, bongos, 3 tom-tom, tam-tam)
1
Harp
1
Piano
doubling celeste
(Esc)