COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 64

Symphony No. 6 (1976)

for Orchestra

  • Allegro agitato
  • Adagio
  • Grave – Allegro

Duration: 34 min.

Recording: Toccata TOCC0469

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Rosner composed his Symphony No. 6 in 1976, three years after its predecessor. The Symphony No. 5, Missa sine Cantoribus super Salve Regina, an orchestral mass based (as the subtitle suggests) on the plainchant Salve Regina, is a work of transcendent spiritual ecstasy, an apotheosis of Rosner’s unique adaptation of Renaissance polyphony. Its successor is largely the emotional and spiritual antithesis of that work—an expression of the rage and bitterness that were significant components of Rosner’s personality, musical and otherwise. Unlike much of his music, this symphony may be described as an example of the distinguished canon of American neo-romantic symphonies, as represented by such composers as Samuel Barber, Ernest Bloch, and Nicolas Flagello. The work is replete with so many striking events that a description such as that which follows can reveal only the broadest outlines.

The opening Allegro agitato is an overwhelming expression of emotional turbulence that offers virtually no respite during its ten-minute duration. Revealing only the most remote connection to traditional sonata-allegro form, this movement displays some of the most ferocious and explosive music Rosner ever composed. The element of tonality—often irrelevant to his music—is largely absent. The movement opens with a bold statement of a motif characterized by a chromatic angularity unusual for this composer, with prominent dotted-note rhythms. This motif immediately launches a free development that spins of several related motifs. Among the most significant features the ‘Scotch snap’ rhythm (a short–long pattern with accent on the short note), a stepwise rising-and-falling motif, and another stepwise motif that revolves chromatically around a pivot-note. These four motifs are the essential thematic elements of the movement and are subjected to extensive development. This development proceeds through sections displaying marked dynamic contrasts, until a running passage builds gradually to a cataclysmic climax in which all four motifs are combined, with additional emphasis provided by generous contributions from the percussion. This climax is followed by a moment of relief before the opening motive brings the movement to a powerful conclusion.

The second movement, Adagio, evokes a hushed atmosphere before presenting a mysterious introductory theme played by the cor anglais (English horn), answered by the harp, followed by the clarinet. This theme develops slowly, gradually building to the presentation of the emotional highlight of the movement, a mournful melody first suggested softly by a muted trumpet, then stated in full by the strings. A second section follows, with a subdued melody characterized by trills and other ornamentation. This melody bears a slight connection to the rising and falling motif of the first movement. As it develops, the melody builds to a statement of some grandeur before it subsides. Te introductory theme returns, first in the horn, then in the flute. A dynamic eruption highlights the introductory theme, now forcefully stated by the trombones, leading to a passionate restatement of the mournful melody heard earlier, building to a tremendous climax, extended considerably by a varied restatement of the introductory theme. As the climax recedes, the ornamented melody returns, bringing the movement to a hushed conclusion. Clashes of major versus minor harmony (one of Rosner’s favorite devices) are heard throughout this movement, as are striking orchestral effects that contribute to the evocation of a mood of hushed solemnity.

The third movement, the most complicated portion of the symphony, comprises several sections: Grave, Allegro, Grandioso, and Grave. It opens with a full orchestral statement of a stern, stately theme, rife with major–minor conflicts. A variant of this theme is played softly by the flute, followed by a further variant by the solo trumpet. An Allegro follows, transforming the opening theme into a rapid pattern that starts with only a few instruments against an agitated running pattern that functions along the lines of a counter-subject. As other instruments enter, the first violins and trumpet initiate a fugato that builds in intensity and volume. After some development of the material, the trumpets and lower brass follow with a canon featuring rhythmic augmentation of the main theme. The texture becomes more complex as additional elements are added, some in contradictory rhythmic patterns, as the fugal texture dissipates. Soon a more peaceful, flowing motif, hinted at earlier, is introduced by the cor anglais, followed by variants of both themes in the (French) horn, then trumpet, against a subdued background texture. These two themes are treated in alternation until the counter-subject reappears in stretto. Further development of all three ideas continues, leading to a grand return of the stately opening gestures, but with a remote variant of that theme, which increases in intensity until it stops abruptly. The final Grave section opens with a dramatic statement of anticipation, followed by an ethereal reminiscence of the various motifs of the movement. A series of strident, cataclysmic eruptions follows, in alternation with further hushed reminders of the previous themes in woodwind and brass solos. This alternation suggests a conflict between outbursts of rage and attempts at a self-soothing serenity. After a lengthy trumpet valediction, the symphony comes to a somber conclusion. (Notes by Walter Simmons)