You are here
Length: 41 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (2nd, 3rd, and 4th = piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd = E-flat), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, percussion (anvil, 2 bass drums, brake drum, chimes, crotales, field drum, finger cymbals, flexatone, glockenspiel, marimba, metal plate with hammer, police whistle, ratchet, 3 roto-toms, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, 3 temple blocks, 3 tom-toms, triangle, vibraphone, whip, xylophone), harp, piano, mandolin, and strings
The spirit of Samuel Barber in this concert goes beyond his own composition. John Corigliano describes his own early style as a "tense, histrionic outgrowth of the 'clean' American sound of Barber, Copland, Harris, and Schuman." But there are also echoes of Barber's lyricism in this intensely personal work. 1989 was a low point in the AIDS crisis, and Corigliano did not shy away from the topic. As he noted: "Berlioz, Mahler, and Shostakovich, among others, have been inspired by important events affecting their lives, and perhaps occasionally their choice of symphonic form was dictated by extra-musical events." Without imitating any of the three, Corigliano drew on aspects of their legacies - Berlioz's luminous orchestral colors, Mahler's deftly-placed quotations, and Shostakovich's unflinching monumentalism - to enlarge his expressive palette. The result is a muscular romanticism that both confronts and transcends its theme.
Corigliano wastes no time in clearly setting the emotional boundaries of the first movement - nor in clearly communicating their relationship to its title: Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance. The opening series of gestures is angry, veering nearly out of control before settling into a mood of subdued introspection. Phrases from an Albéniz tango drift in from an offstage piano, creating nostalgia through both musical substance and spatial distance. The expressive pendulum makes wide swings between rage and remembrance - sometimes abruptly, sometimes gradually - to shape the entire movement. Particularly remarkable is the occasional silence, which transcends its musical context to serve as a reminder of the gaps left by AIDS.
Dramatic, even erratic mood shifts also characterize the second movement, Tarantella. Its characteristic rhythm is obsessive - by turns overlapped and alternated with a lyrical idea; a solo clarinet makes prominent contributions. The third movement - Chaconne: Giulio's Song, is organized by a repeating twelve-tone theme Corigliano recorded with cellist Giulio Sorrentino when the two were in college. (Two years after this Symphony, the composer wrote a choral work based on this theme. A line in the text celebrates "Giulio Sorrentino, cellist: You were the radiance of my youth.") Corigliano uses the warm interiority of the cello to create a tender atmosphere within which the restrained presence of the chaconne theme often seems to hover just at the edge of consciousness. Late in the movement, the orchestra builds in intensity and dynamics to a series of blows, becoming first a march, then a run before dying away. Like the Albéniz tango in the first movement, the sound of chimes anchors the piece in the real world. The Symphony ends with a brief epilogue, in which delicate chamber-like woodwind and string combinations evoke a private conversation. It must have been tempting to end with rage, but instead the ending slips off quietly into what we hope is a more benign future.
- Susan Key is a musicologist and frequent contributor to Los Angeles Philharmonic programs, specializing in American music.