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Symphony No 8, Op 131


My Symphony No 8 was commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic, composed in 2014, and premiered in 2015 at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, conducted by H K Gruber, to whom it is dedicated. The seventh symphony had been the culmination of my four attempts at a single-movement form. For the eighth I returned to the three-movement form of my sixth, but with the second and third movements slow/fast instead of fast/slow. The first movement has an Andante introduction, beginning with a descending phrase which is used in a varied form in all three movements, followed by a concise Allegro energico. A number of ideas rapidly lead to a more extended theme on the trumpets in a bright D major. This reaches a brief climax before a development section during which the theme tries but fails to restate itself in the movement’s opening tonality of G. A big crescendo over a pedal D seems to be leading to the re-establishment of G; instead the trumpet theme reappears as a ghost of itself on piccolo, beginning in C sharp minor and wandering through various keys until the return of the Andante introduction, now extended into a coda, and ending on the chord with which the movement began.

The second, slow movement is clearly in G minor and its tone is elegiac. It became a memorial piece for my friend Norman Worrall, a composer, a lover of music, and a Mancunian, who died while I was writing it. The central section is a fugue for strings before a powerful return of the opening section and a quiet, lamenting coda. In complete contrast, the finale opens in a carefree G major. It consists of four dance sections, each lasting just over a minute, all of them exuberant in tone. At the end of the fourth dance, a waltz, there is an interlude with a viola theme accompanied by downward glissandi on the violins, which was inspired by vapour trails in the sky over Deal on the Kent coast. The four dance sections then reappear in reverse order, the first three abbreviated and the last extended into a coda. At the very end, the theme of the first movement’s introduction is heard again, now free of tension, and in the last three bars the opening of the trumpet theme is played by a bassoon, quietly affirming the G major it had always been searching for.

While I no longer feel the need to defend my use of tonality, since it seems obvious now that non-tonal music has not replaced it, perhaps I should say something about my light-hearted finale, with its use of melodic ideas that some might think naïve. Of course I’m aware that I’m going very much against the zeitgeist, and that most major art today is pessimistic in tone—which, given the state of the world, is hardly surprising. Yet shouldn’t it still be possible to express feelings of delight, love of life, elation? They will inevitably be mingled with other, darker moods. But if we cannot contrast one with the other, then surely we are not fully human.

from notes by David Matthews © 2020


Matthews (D): A vision of the sea & other works
Studio Master: SIGCD647Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Hyperion sampler - February 2021 Vol. 1
FREE DOWNLOADHYP202102ADownload-only sampler NEW


Movement 1: Andante – Allegro energico
Movement 2: Adagio, con molto sentimento
Track 7 on HYP202102A [10'35] Download-only sampler NEW
Track 3 on SIGCD647 [10'35] Download only
Movement 3: Allegretto giocoso

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