The Passings Symphony

"The title The Passings Symphony came to me after completing the piece. Although the work was composed entirely without programmatic reference, well into the second movement I became aware that the piece was taking on more significance than simply the 200th passing of Mozart - the occasion for which it was commissioned. After all, writing a piece for this memorialization provides an interesting challenge. The composer must avoid celebratory music as it would limit the piece to performance only on related holidays. As well, I saw the approach of rewriting Mozart a futile approach at best. Finally, my feelings for Mozart two hundred years after the fact were not of the depth required to write music such as a Requiem. My approach, therefore, was to concurrently consider three unrelated yet significant 'passings' for the occasion. First, and most obvious being the Mozart passing. Second, in the back of my mind throughout composing the work was the knowledge that this was to be my first major performance in the town of my origin since my father's tragic passing in an airplane. The final passing of commemoration tonight is that of Jean-Louis Le Roux from his tenure with the San Francisco Chamber Symphony. "Passings" as it relates to this piece should not be thought of in morbid terms but rather as a state of transition leading from one point to another.

My approach to the first movement was to simplify my own language without writing a music which fell into the "neo-ism" trend which is currently fashionable. The piece opens with a 22 measure introduction utilizing the popular Mannheim School "premier coup d'archet"(rocket theme) which so impressed Mozart on his visit to Mannheim; this technique is used almost "tongue-in-cheek" in his Paris Symphony. The orchestra used in The Passings Symphony is also identical to that used by Mozart while in Paris with the exception that I utilize a much expanded percussion section. Mozart while in Paris was impressed with the size of the orchestra available to him as well as the ability to use dramatic dynamic contrasts as were used in Mannheim. This is manifest in my own piece by many fp and subito dynamic indications. Other Mozart techniques incorporated into the music of the first movement are the use of grace note figures, trills, double-dotted rhythms, and themes based on the triad. I found it interesting that the systematic use of all four of these techniques are traditionally avoided in the twentieth century, perhaps because they belie an introspective feel. I also emphasized repeated notes and generally avoided long sustained or slurred passages to get a little of the "too many notes" feel which is responsible for Mozart's wonderful sense of momentum. It must be stressed, once again, that all of these techniques were used only as appropriate for my own voice.

The second movement contrasts the first and takes to the task of reflecting upon the "passings." While the first movement is an allegro, the second movement has the tempo indication of quarter note equals 63. I make no attempts to relate my music to that of Mozart's in the second movement."


David Lieberman

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