The Mahlerian dimension of Rott’s symphony is striking, and its Wagnerian and Brahmsian debts are obvious, but over and above such features the work has a clear and distinctive character of its own, not least in the way it is structured. Rott seems to have been anxious to rethink how a large-scale multi-movement work could be put together, and he came up with some interesting and innovative answers. Although at first sight the work appears to conform to the standard four-movement plan, the conventions are continually subverted. The first movement is a curtailed sonata-form design which acts as an introduction concerned mainly with presenting and elaborating the first theme (which makes cyclic returns in the Scherzo and at the end of the finale) and the home key. The slow movement begins in A major, but ends not with a return to its opening material in that key, but with a completely new chorale-like theme in E major (this too will play a crucial role at two points in the finale). The Scherzo expands the traditional ternary form by constantly postponing the expected recapitulation of the opening section after the trio; more and more thematic ideas are added to the swirling contrapuntal development, generating an extraordinarily insistent forward momentum. The finale dispenses with familiar symphonic models almost entirely, but in some respects comes close to a design sometimes employed by Mahler, with two extended slow sections flanking a central passage of faster music. This central section is designed as a sort of prelude and fugue; the theme may be borrowed from Brahms, but the design and some of the textures owe much to the composer’s background as an organist, and particularly to his love of Bach’s music. The gradual infiltration of the cyclic theme from the opening movement during the work’s closing pages is one of Rott’s most ingenious and imaginative inventions.
Mahler offered a perceptive critical evaluation of the work: ‘It is true that [Rott] has not yet fully realized his aims here. It is like someone taking a run for the longest possible throw and not quite hitting the mark. But I know what he was driving at.’ Despite the half-assimilated influences and the traces of inexperience, it is indeed possible to grasp what Rott sought. The fertility of his musical imagination, his concern to control music in an innovative way on a large scale, and the emotional power and sincerity are unmistakable and surely compensate for any momentary uncertainties. In the face of such an achievement one can only wonder what more Rott might have accomplished had his career not been so tragically short.
from notes by Paul Banks © 1989