Symphony [The Stages of Life]
Duration: 28 minutes
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (2nd = alto flute, 3rd = piccolo), piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, percussion, harp, piano, and strings
First performance (World premiere): April 29, 1993, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting
Commissioned by The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in The Library of Congress for Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Symphony[The Stages of Life] (1991-92) is the third in a series of large-scale, multimovement orchestral works with metaphorical subjects. Here, my thoughts about the primary periods in human life grew out of considering the ways in which two masters viewed themselves in self-portraiture. Though Picasso was less interested in self-scrutiny than Rembrandt, I was able to find characteristic portraits that each had done of himself in youth, middle years and old age. I lived with these paintings over many months considering their nature and trying to absorb what their depictions might share. Their youth seemed to me phenomenalistic, notably less concerned with individuality than with the glow and assertiveness of its time. Maturity - strikingly, both artists' most characteristic mid-life portrayals are in stark black and white - appears as a time of self-absorbed commitment to a calling, to craft as identity, but there is also a dark undertow at work. In age, tranquil resignation intersects with an almost deranged inability to contain all that life can bring to bear on any individual.
Because there are so many facets to the way we live our lives, so many possible perspectives, I decided to add two short intermezzi between the three large movements. The first, Presentiment of Death, quotes from Sibelius' Swan of Tuonela, while the second, Recollection of Childhood, draws on Schumann's Kinderszenen. The pitch materials of the entire symphony flow from two series, one extrapolated from the Sibelius, the other from Schumann's "The Poet Speaks." I composed, in all, six thematic sections - two of them, in fact, are the aforementioned intermezzi - and everything stems from these seminal statements. Three influence the first movement (Youth), which is sectional and rapid; two the third (Maturity), which is more moderate in tempo, a focused continuity. The last movement (Age) interweaves all six thematic cells in a slower, contrapuntal summation that is nevertheless marked by the willful categoricalities of advanced age.
There is much to be said, I believe, for the idea that art - especially in our inchoate times - should concern itself with the larger themes and the longer view. In a 1989 string orchestra work, Whispers Out of Time, I allowed myself for the first time the license of shrouded quotation (in this case, from Beethoven and Mahler). I was much attracted by the fashion in which the quoted materials suffused the mood of those I had devised within their shadow. In Symphony[The Stages of Life], my aim has been to inform the music of youth with the elegiac innocence of the Schumann pieces and the encroachments of age with the somber reflections of the Sibelius tone poem. While Symphony[The Stages of Life] remains, of course, a personal perspective, the scope of my subject here suggested, again, the relevance of our rich musical tradition and its responses to enduring human concerns.
- Roger Reynolds
[written in Borrego Springs in 1991-92]