Part 1 A. The Prologue: Lento moderato
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 1: L'istesso tempo
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 2: Poco più mosso
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 3: Largamente, ma mosso
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 4: Più mosso
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 5: Agitato
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 6: Poco meno mosso
Part 1 B. The Seven Ages. Variation 7: L'istesso tempo
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 08: Molto moderato, ma movendo
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 09: Più mosso. Tempo di Valse
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 10: Più mosso
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 11: L'istesso tempo
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 12: Poco più vivace
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 13: L'istesso tempo
Part 1 C. The Seven Stages. Variation 14: Poco più vivace
Part 2 A. The Dirge: Largo
Part 2 B. The Masque: Extremely fast
Part 2 C. The Epilogue: L'istesso tempo – Adagio/Andante – quasi cadenza – Lento molto
A: The Prologue – four mixed-up characters in a Third Avenue bar try to sort themselves out: Quant, son of an Irish immigrant; Malin, a medical intelligence officer in the Canadian Air Force; Rosetta, a buyer for a big department store; and Emble, who is in the Navy. A very soft duet for clarinets is followed by a scalic descent on the flute acting as a ‘bridge into the realms of the unconscious’.
B: The Seven Ages – a four-fold discussion, ‘reasonable and didactic in tone’.
The seven variations, without a common theme, arise from aspects of previous sections.
1: A lyrical piano solo ending with the scalic descent on the harp.
2: Interactions between piano and orchestra.
3: Cantabile strings without piano.
4: A miniature scherzo in five-time (3/8 + 2/8).
5: A clarinet initiates a restless agitato.
6: A wistful piano solo.
7: Woodwinds lead into a long scalic descent from the piano.
C: The Seven Stages – seven more variations representing a dream-odyssey which symbolizes the inner journey of the four characters in various relationships leading to a ‘hectic but indecisive close’.
8: A heavy passacaglia – a regular six-note figure in the bass.
9: A waltz related to the passacaglia theme, which increasingly dominates.
10: The piano leads off into rapid seven-beat figures (4/4 + 3/4).
11: The piano leads in a fugato.
12: A light moto perpetuo, mostly piano.
13: The piano retires and the passacaglia theme enters like a chorale.
14: The piano returns to dominate the ending.
A: The Dirge – expressing the feelings of the four as they take a taxi together to Rosetta’s apartment and lament the lack of a father-figure to disentangle their problems. The piano introduces the dirge with a rising Bergian twelve-note row. Bernstein described the middle section (mostly piano solo) of this ‘strangely pompous lamentation’ as of ‘almost Brahmsian romanticism’.
B: The Masque – now the group at the apartment is ‘weary, guilty, determined to have a party, each one afraid of spoiling the others’ fun by admitting he should be home in bed’. This is a brilliant jazz-derived scherzo with an enchanting accompaniment of harp, celesta and percussion.
C: The Epilogue – the party has purged the four characters of their past and they now look towards faith as ‘something pure’, symbolized by the sound of a solo trumpet preceded by a distant piano in the orchestra playing echoes of the jazz masque. Then the tone becomes serious: a kind of chorale with interpolations, a piano cadenza recalling earlier themes, more distant piano, followed by a slow affirmation. Originally the piano was left out of the epilogue, apart from the one solo chord at the end. But in 1965 Bernstein revised this section to keep the piano involved. The opening duet for clarinets, the third variation and the main theme of the Epilogue all come from earlier works (see Leonard Bernstein by Humphrey Burton, 1994), but the overall conception behind this symphony about the individual desperately trying to make sense of his/her own destiny is a recurring theme in Bernstein’s life and work. Here, in tandem with Auden, he embodies the dilemma in a unique way.
from notes by Peter Dickinson © 2000