Symphony No. 4 'Strange Time' (2019-2022)

for wind ensemble

composed July - September 2019, rev. 2022

*2022 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards - Honorable Mention

23-25 minutes in 5 movements

Grade 7 on the instrumental grading scale

Premiere: UNT Wind Orchestra; Dr. Andrew Trachsel conducting - October 25, 2022

Movements:

I. Passages ofTime
II. The Divide Between Light and Dark

III. Toward the Event Horizon
IV. Time Frozen
V. Out ofTime

 

Instrumentation: 

3 Flutes (all double piccolo),Oboe, English Horn, 3 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon, 4 Saxophones (SATB), 3 Trumpets, 4 Horns, 3 Trombones, Euphonium, 2 Tubas, Double Bass, Timpani, 4 Percussion, Celesta, Harp, Organ

Percussion 1: Sizzle Cymbal, Suspended Cymbal, Bass Drum, Large+Small Tam-tam

Percussion 2: Triangle, Splash cymbal, Large tam-tam, Bass Drum

Percussion 3: Vibraphone, Glockenspiel

Percussion 4: Marimba, Crotales, Chimes

Program note:

When I was a student at SMU, I was quite suddenly commissioned by Dr. Jack Delaney (director of bands) on the following terms: no instrumentation limit and no time limit. I decided that I wanted to compose a large-scale work using an expanded wind ensemble (with harp and organ, two tubas and an English horn and contrabassoon in the woodwinds) that reflected my interest of time travel and space/time phenomena. It's something that I have been fascinated with for a while and curious as to whether it would work in a musical context. The first thing I had to do was my research. I remember when I was younger reading books such as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and Jon Scieszka's series Time Warp Trio, which then inspired me to research paradoxes such as the Predestination Paradox and the Grandfather Paradox. The idea that one little action you take in the past can alter the future significantly appealed to me, and piqued my curiosity.

I embarked on this composition to create a piece that was in the same vein as a David Maslanka symphony and intended as a companion piece to his own fourth symphony, while at the same time reflecting my own unique interests and voice.  I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Maslanka briefly in February 2017, when he shared with me his philosophy and perspectives on the humanity of music, which changed my entire approach to composition and music making. In a way, this symphony is a 'thank you' to Dr. Maslanka for inspiring me.

 

Then came the composition of the piece. I knew that I wanted to depict a journey into a space time continuum complete with a trip into an event horizon. I wanted to challenge the very idea of the perception of time and reality in a musical setting.

 

My symphony is set in five movements played continuously without pause. The first, Passages of Time, begins with a murmuring line in the woodwinds, which continues as the brass enter with a solemn fanfare, depicting the time traveler. This chorale is heard in four out of the five movements, and acts as the catalyst that affects all the musical events around it.

 

The second movement, The Divide Between Light and Dark, contains contrasting sections of brightly colored and darkly hued music. Here, we've arrived in the time space continuum and are looking at contrasting universes.

 

In the third movement, we take a trip Toward an Event Horizon. The feel of this music is frantic and energetic, as it doesn't know whether it wants to speed up or slow down. As a result, some instrumental voices push ahead in the texture; others fall back. In theory, when one approaches an event horizon, the person observing the subject entering it sees them slow down before they come to a complete stop. However, to the subject entering, they are actually speeding up. So how did I represent this in the music? Near the end of this movement, the music has the sensation of speeding up but the conductor's beats slow down until the music comes to a complete stop. Most unusually, this movement contains a battle between two Tam-tams (gongs).

 

The fourth movement, Time Frozen, isn't conducted at all. The erratic nature of the third movement and steadily building brass chorale from the first movement has pushed the music over the edge and into a void. As this music is completely aleatoric, I encourage the musicians to improvise to give the music a sense of timelessness.

 

In the fifth and final movement, we're Out of Time. After the timelessness of the fourth movement, we return to order but less rigid and more freely. The brass chorale returns again twice, this time quieter and tranquil before the music fades into abyss and we're left with the return of the murmurings of the first movement. This fades into a calm woodwind chorale with solo celesta flourishes, and finally ends with a distant organ to ponder the journey that we've just been on. In the vein of Mahler's 'Das Abschied' (from Das Lied von Der Erde), It reminds us that time is fleeting and comes to an end eventually.

-Compiled by Dave Strickler, elaborated by Quinn Mason

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Symphony No. 4 'Strange Time', rev. 2022Quinn Mason
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