That thinking is very much in evidence in Beyond Autumn: ‘Poem’ for horn and orchestra (1999), a work that Gregory Hustis and the Dallas Symphony premiered in September 1999. The poem of the subtitle appears at the head of the score:
Beyond Autumn …
the willow’s mist
bathes the shadowed land,
in a distant past
Schwantner is the poet. ‘The poem provides the poetic impulse that suggests musical analogues’, he observes. ‘There’s a close affinity between images evoked by poetry and a wellspring of musical ideas that come out of those images. Certainly in the case of Beyond Autumn, I was also thinking about the nature of the horn and its capabilities. It’s an instrument with an enormous range of dynamics and expressive potential. On the one hand it can be heroic, powerful, bold and brassy. On the other hand, it has this extraordinary ability to be intimate, and to sound distant.’
Gregory Hustis believes that Schwantner has achieved all these qualities in Beyond Autumn. ‘Its message is strength, sadness and nobility’, says Hustis. ‘The biggest challenge is trying to capture the dramatic flavour. This is not, from a technical standpoint, the most difficult horn concerto ever written, although it requires considerable endurance and stamina. Schwantner asks for tremendous freedom. He is more concerned that the mood and expression come through rather than demanding a literal rendition of the notes as written. He is insistent with some of his themes. I think he encourages his listeners to be thoughtful.’
Hustis considers that the orchestra is a partner with the soloist, as is the horn section. Schwantner calls for the horns to be placed front stage left, where the cellos usually are. ‘The idea is to put a visual and sonic emphasis on the horns in general’, the composer says, ‘and more specifically on the soloist.’ He achieves the latter by placing the soloist offstage at the beginning of Beyond Autumn, and exiting to a recessional at the conclusion. Schwantner explains: ‘Even when the horn is among us, it is capable of this lontano sound. So, the piece starts with a brief introduction and the first horn utterance has the soloist play rather dramatically, but offstage, out of sight of the audience. You have this sense of distance built into the piece, which is a metaphor for one aspect of the horn’s personality.’
Schwantner describes Beyond Autumn as a single-movement arch-like rondo design, approximately seventeen minutes long. Serving as a musical fulcrum at its centre is a chorale introduced first by flute and strings, then lower woodwinds, including all the horns – the only time in the piece that the horn section and soloist play the same music. The composer considers Beyond Autumn to be a very direct piece in terms of its musical expression. Listeners may notice the frequent use of a minor sixth, the primary interval that permeates much of the piece, and particularly the soloist’s line. ‘Minor sixths have a very special quality when played by the horn, rather mournful, at least to my ears’, declares Schwantner. He points out that the piece is unlike a traditional concerto in that it has no substantial section of fast, virtuosic music. Rather, it is virtuosic in the control it requires to master long, extended lines, often in the horn’s high register.
Beyond Autumn was commissioned by the International Horn Society with assistance from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. It was premiered by Gregory Hustis and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and is dedicated to the memory of Jack Rossate, the composer’s father-in-law.
from notes by Laurie Shulman © 2005