Symphony No. 5 (grade 5)
Symphony No. 5 came to life in a somewhat haphazard and unusual way. It began when my friend, Don Miller, asked me to write a short piece for brass and percussion to be premiered at a concert celebrating the 75th anniversary of the band at the University of Missouri-Rolla. For this joyous occasion, I composed a fun, quasi-minimalist piece that, for much of its length, simply alternates harmonically between a Csus7 and C7 chord. Over the course of the work, a lyrical melodic line emerges, first in the trumpets, later developed in augmentation, and then climactically in the low brass, but in essence the piece is simply an extended dominant chord for 106 measures before a final resolution to F major on the last downbeat. I called it A Rather Noisy Fanfare.
We had such fun with the project that, after the premiere, Don asked if I might write a similar piece for his woodwinds and percussion, so I began to compose a scherzo using the same materials that comprised my earlier work. Since the Csus7 chord is also a stacked 5th harmony (Bb, F, C, G), that quickly became the foundation for the subsequent music. An initial harmonic progression is presented in the mallets that is based on parallel motion of stacked 5th chords and the melody that emerges simply reiterates the notes in those chords. As the piece progresses, many of the motivic and thematic ideas from the earlier fanfare began to find their way back into this piece, including the lyrical melody mentioned above, so the two pieces quickly became inextricably linked and I chose a title that would indicate that relationship, A Mighty Fast Scherzo.
By this time, it was clear that Don and I were heading toward a larger project. He changed teaching positions, moving to the University of Texas-San Antonio, but that did not stop him from commissioning a piece for percussion alone, which became the “slow movement” of what was now clearly becoming a symphony. This movement again draws on the use of the perfect 5th interval, but also prominently features the concept of metric modulation, gradually sliding from a tempo of quarter note=67.5 to 90 to 120 to 160, starting from a quiet and mysterious place and gradually building in intensity to a dramatic conclusion. Titled A Very Long Crescendo, this remains the only un-premiered movement from the symphony.
Finally, after years of commissions, Don invited me to write a piece for full band that could serve as a completion to the work. A Suitably Optimistic Finale emerges from the percussion-only third movement with an extended passage for the winds and brass alone, a chorale which is based, both melodically and harmonically, on the original Csus7 chord from the opening fanfare. A lighter, almost dance-like section follows, inspired by the melody of the chorale. This is followed by a central portion that reintroduces the lyrical melody from the opening movement, before a recapitulation of the lighter dance music and then a simultaneous, and climactic, presentation of the dance music and the opening chorale. The symphony concludes with a final reminiscence of the opening fanfare and a raucous coda.
My eternal thanks to Don Miller for his persistence and patience through all of those years to help create what is a most unusual symphony.