This descriptive portrayal of the Sixth Symphony is given so that one may get an esthetic progression of the piece as felt by the composer.
The work is in four movements and is scored for large orchestra. The first movement evokes a mysticism, an apogee of wonderment. The music flows, the long lines undulate. The orchestration is exotic, the mood euphoric. There are three main gestures, the first enigmatic, the second decisive, the third joyful and sensuous. The first theme is truly a beginning: of daylight, the first chapter of Hardy’s “Return of the Native,” the view northwest over the Sea of Galilee at sunrise. The second them is energetic, with wide leaps and irregular rhythms. It fairly bursts with vitality, optimism, acting as a counterpoise to the long lines that have come before and will shortly return. The third theme is in two distinct parts, both lyrical, each scored distinctly to capture its special flavor. The first part of the third theme (introduced by the tenor saxophone and viola) is rich and flowing. Once it was written, I found myself forever humming the second
part of the third theme so that when I came to orchestrate it I decided to eerily suggest the human voice in the guise of the Ondes Martenot. The setting under this melodic line is a steady rhythmic pulse, drone-like, insouciant, creating a moment of peace and love. These three moods dominate the movement. Each will evolve in its own characteristic way. There will be repetition, variation, a gradual climactic growth, and in the movement’s final measures, tenderness and repose.
The second movement begins with a series of four short ideas, each aborting before it is established. Again and again the ideas struggle to form their own identities. Only the consecutive nature of these disparate ideas form a chain of intelligibility. There is a sense of hopelessness, of sighing, of disconnected words spoken to ease one’s burden. Yet the potential for realization is not completely exhausted and, as if with one mighty, though gentle effort, a bittersweet phrase finally emerges. Tinged with sadness the song is sung, gently, tenderly. There is a recall of those fleeting images, a stillness envelops, broken only for an instant by a flash of light and then the quiet fades to nothing.
The third movement flies like the wind. It crackles with energy. It is by turns terrified, jaunty, angry, sardonic, ominous. There are two ideas, both rhythmic. One off the beat gives a sense of urgency, of controlled terror, running this way, running that way, desperately trying to get out… with the second idea the emphasis is on the beat, jazzy, full of twists and turns. Pulsing with anger, black humor, it reaches a thunderous climax and then quickly as with the passing of a violent storm, vanishes. The aftermath: silence.
The fourth movement juxtaposes two highly contrasting ideas. The first theme introduced by the brasses, chorale-like, is slow, resolute, tragic. The second theme, a pastorale, swaying, sweet, pliant, is introduced by the flute and the harp. As the movement proceeds through time each will become increasingly distorted. At times they are heard simultaneously, at times they are heard apart. Underneath, throughout it all, a three-note motive intones its dogma, one that is unchanging until the music reaches toward an even stronger statement. The three-note motive then expands as do all the other elements as it strives to reach a height not yet reached. At its height, eight chords strike out suddenly, abruptly, staggering, slowly calming, and leading us into the final chapter, one that is gentle, quietly reflective with subdued acceptance.