COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 78

Symphony No. 7, “The Tragedy of Queen Jane” (1982)

for Orchestra
  • Prelude
  • Masque
  • Clarion
  • Dirge

Duration: 26 min.

Recording: Albany TROY548 / Laurel LR-849 (#4 only)

Premiere: 1999; Altoona SO; N. Palmer

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In 1981 during dinner with a bridge partner, the discussion turned to theater. A full-time lawyer and part-time producer, he told me of the play The Chronicle of Nine, by one Florence Stevenson, concerning the life of Lady Jane Grey and her nine-day rule of England. Wine having been poured liberally that evening, I blurted out “that would make a nice opera,” and I actually followed this instinct despite no hope at all that point for a production. (The Chronicle of Nine)

Of course, the tradition of a suite or symphony taken from an opera is venerable. It was easy to compile such a piece, although it does somewhat alter the dramatic sequence. The first movement is the Act I prelude, and contrasts eerie string harmonies with angry, perhaps frightening, brass interpolations. The second movement appears in the opera as wedding music in Act I, and is something of a mini-suite in itself. The third movement is a la battaglia and corresponds to the prelude to Act III. If the ending (as in Strauss’s Don Juan) seems unexpectedly subdued, the skirmish described ends very badly for Queen Jane’s forces. The finale is actually the Act II prelude of the opera, where it serves as the preceding king’s funeral music. In this setting, however, it may be thought of as a dirge for Jane or the symbol of the English crown in general. (Notes by Arnold Rosner)