Skip to page content

Composed: 1944

Length: 24 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd and 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd = E-flat clarinet, 3rd = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, gong, castanets, xylophone), timpani, celesta, harpsichord, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

Though Ullmann was a leading figure in Prague's musical life in the years before the Nazi occupation and often conducted orchestral concerts featuring his own works, he never actually composed a Symphony No. 2. The present work is a realization of Ullmann's Piano Sonata No. 7 by the composer and conductor Bernhard Wulff, who believes that the Sonata's manuscript represents a short score. Ullmann titled the Sonata "Theresienstadt Sketchbook," and its pages are covered with ideas for orchestration.

The Symphony is in five fairly compact movements, and its accessible musical language nevertheless avoids the trap of underestimating an audience's sophistication. The presence of a harpsichord in the orchestra - an instrument Ullmann used in his Terezín opera The Emperor of Atlantis - underlines the neoclassical feel of some passages, such as the opening movement, with its surface exuberance. The vivid second movement march is interrupted by fanfares which hail a glowering low brass theme from Ullmann's opera Der Sturz des Antichrist (The Fall of the Antichrist, 1935). By interrupting the march with a theme associated with the Antichrist, Ullmann alludes to the destructive effect of the Nazis on life in Central Europe. The ensuing sorrow-laden Adagio seems to lament what has been lost, while the Scherzo begins enigmatically, gradually becoming more contorted over its brief course. The final movement, a set of eight variations and a concluding fugue on composer Yehuda Sharett's setting of "Rachel" by the eponymous Russian-Jewish poetess, begins with a bare statement of Sharett's tune by clarinet, viola, and harp, instruments chosen by Wulff because of their associations with klezmer (clarinet) and King David (harp). The second variation transforms the tune into something akin to the Slovak national hymn, "Lightning over the Tatras," and, as the movement draws toward its climax, Ullmann also introduces the Hussite battle hymn "Ye Who Are Warriors of God," the B-A-C-H motive, and the chorale "Now We All Thank Our God," a defiant affirmation of the culturally rich, pluralistic Europe the Nazis so desperately wanted to obliterate.

- John Mangum is the Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.