Symphony No. 1 in D minor, "The Gothic" (1919-1927)
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Gothic Symphony is the largest symphony ever written - larger even than Mahler's Eighth (Symphony of a Thousand). It is the first symphony by British composer William "Havergal" Brian (1876-1972), a contemporary of Granville Bantock, Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton. Over the course of his long life, Brian composed 32 symphonies - 8 of them while he was in his nineties. For most of his life, Brian's music was neglected and fell into obscurity, apart from two fruitful periods when he received wide recognized: before the First World War, when Thomas Beecham championed Brian's music, and for a short time in the 1960's when his many symphonies were rediscovered. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that much of his oeuvre has slipped back into obscurity since then.
The Gothic Symphony lasts just under two hours and requires extravagant forces:
- Percussion: 2 sets of timpani, 2 bass drums, 2 (preferably 3) snare drums, African long drum, 2 tambourines, 2 triangles, 6 pairs of large cymbals, gong, bird scare, thunder machine, small chains, xylophone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, chimes in E-flat
- Keyboards: celesta, organ
- Voices: solo quartet (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), 4 mixed choirs, children's choir
- Four offstage brass bands—used only in the fifth and sixth movements and each comprising: 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, 2 tubas, 1 set of timpani
- Strings: 2 harps (preferably more ad lib.), 20 first violins, 20 second violins, 16 violas, 14 cellos, 12 double basses
The first part of the symphony is purely orchestral, while the second involves multiple choirs in a setting of the Latin hymn "Te Deum." Brian worked on the symphony for eight years and submitted it to the Columbia Gramaphone Competition in 1928, but it lost the top prize to Kurt Atterberg's Sixth Symphony. The first movement of Part I is in extended sonata form, with a lively figure in D minor as the first theme, and a calm violin melody in D flat major as the second theme. Following the development section, there is no formal recapitulation, but rather a final coda. The second movement is a solemn march, almost funerary in character. The third movement is built up from a Brucknerian recurring ostinato, introduced by the horn section, and it leads up to a xylophone cadenza culminating in a march that brings the tonality back to the key of D minor. Part I ends with a D major chord. Part II of the Gothic is notable for its use of Renaissance polyphony, polytonality, dissonance and medieval compositional techniques. The orchestra is expanded and the choirs and brass bands are brought in. In the three movements of Part II, the text of the Te Deum is treated sometimes tenderly, sometimes raucously, sometimes homophonically, sometimes polyphonically and with many other creative approaches. In the end, the choir closes the work softly in the key of E major.
Soprano: Eva Jenisová Alto: Dagmar Pecková Bass: Vladimir Doležal Tenor: Peter Mikuláš Chorus-master: Pavol Procházka Conductor: Ondrej Lenard Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bratislava Slovak Opera Chorus Folk Ensemble Chorus Lucnica Chorus Bratislava City Choir Bratislava Children's Choir Youth Echo Choir
Kullervo is an early tone poem of symphonic proportions by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), scored for large orchestra, male choir, mezzo-soprano and baritone. The work deals with the tragic legend of Kullervo, setting portions of the text of the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. According to the legend, Kullervo is the son of Kalervo and Untamala, the last surviving member of her clan. His uncle Untamo feuded with Kalervo and exterminated the entire clan, save for Untamala. As an infant, Kullervo is heard muttering threats of vengeance against Untamo, so his uncle tries to kill him. Kullervo only survives by virtue of his innate magical powers. Eventually, the young Kullervo is sold as a slave to the shepherd Ilmarinen. After years of servitude, one day Kullervo angrily casts a spell on Ilmarinen's cows, which turns them into bears that kill the shepherd's wife. Kullervo promptly flees the scene and embarks on a quest to find his family. He finds that some members of his tribe survived, but his sister disappeared and probably died. Kullervo then leaves on an errand for his tribe, and on the way he meets a beggar-girl, whom he ravishes. It turns out that this is his long-lost sister, and when they discover this, she commits suicide. Kullervo returns to his tribe with the bad news and decides to redeem himself by exacting revenge on the wicked Untamo. The sky-goddess Ukko supplies him with a magic sword, which he uses to kill Untamo and his entire clan. When he returns from this bloody endeavour, Kullervo finds his own family massacred as well. In anguish, he asks his magic sword to take his life. The sword answers affirmatively and Kullervo falls upon it, ending his own life.
Mezzo-soprano: Lilli Paasikivi Baritone: Raimo Laukka Chorus-master: Matti Hyökki Conductor: Osmo Vänskä Sinfonia Lahti YL Male Voice Choir