3333 – 4331 – harp – piano/celesta – timp.- 4 perc. – strings
duration: 24 minutes
Commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony
Premiered by the Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern conducting (March 4, 2011)
II. white on blue
V. stars, stripes, and celebration
American Symphony was inspired by the 2008 presidential election, where both parties asked the people to embrace change and make a difference. I was both excited and honored about ushering in this new era in our nation’s history, and for the first time, I truly understood what it meant to be American.
Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 is the quintessential American symphony, composed in 1946 – one year after World War II ended. I believe Copland wanted to bring beauty and peace into the world during a time of great turmoil. Quite serendipitously, I heard Copland’s 3rd three nights after President Obama was elected and, seeing that our country and world had needs similar to those of Copland’s time, I was inspired to make a difference. I set out to write a modern American symphony that paid homage to our past and looked forward to a brighter future.
While not a patriotic work, the symphony reflects a respect and responsibility for the great potential of our nation and a hunger to affect positive change. It is about our collective ability to restore hope within ourselves and our neighbors, both here and around the world.
Cast in five movements, American Symphony is approximately 25 minutes in length. This work would not have been made possible without the support and guidance from Frank Byrne, Janine Salinas, Robert Spano, Michael Stern, and my father, Steven Schoenberg. The work is dedicated to my family.
Movement I is a fanfare, which introduces material that will be explored in the last movement. It is built on major and minor 3rds that travel in parallel motion throughout, while constantly modulating upward. I wanted to create a succinct, swift, and uplifting prelude that projects the emotions that will be captured at the end of the journey. The final climax of movement I ends with the strings playing a harmonic cluster that fades into the beginning of movement II.
Movement II begins attaca and is conceived as an atmospheric movement. Movement II marks the start of the symphony’s emotional journey by capturing the struggle, pain and need for change. It features the flute playing a mysteriously chromatic, yet tonal, solo that hovers above pedal tones played by strings and winds. Approximately half way through, a chorale is introduced, and eight chords are played and repeated three different times before the movement ends. These eight chords are later developed in movement IV. The end of the movement introduces major triad chords in their most open form (e.g., C-G E) that move in parallel motion. This acts as a bridge to movement III.
Movement III also begins attaca and is the only movement that follows a traditional form. It is written in rondo form (ABACADA) and is built on major triads that play a rhythmic motive. I call this “happy music.” Influenced by electronica, my goal is to create a strong pulse that resembles club-like beats.
Movement IV pays homage to great American composers such as Barber and Gershwin. It is an adagio movement that acts as a prayer, with the chorale heard in movement II becoming the main compositional material for the entire movement. This movement features solos by oboe and clarinet, with subtle interactions provided by the flute, vibraphone, horns, bassoons, and trumpets. This movement is dedicated to those lost in 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and all victims of violence and war.
Movement V is the longest movement, and is essentially conceived in three larger sections: Stars, Stripes, and Celebration. The first section, Stars, contains a spiraling motive (i.e., an ostinato that transforms itself throughout the section) played by violins and orchestrated with winds. The flutes enter, playing a melody that reminds us of the opening melody in movement I. The section continues to evolve and becomes more rhythmic with added brass chords, before winding down to a chordal section introduced by the horns and celli. Stripes is announced with a strong driving pulse and a rhythmic motive played by the winds and strings. The form of this section is perceived as ABABC, where the A sections represent the initial material represented in the winds and strings. The B sections can be perceived as a classical interpretation of electronic dance music in 30 seconds. A chord progression that is built on quartal/quintal harmonies (Perfect 4ths and 5ths) with an aggressive series of arpeggiating 16th notes will be heard. The C section expands on the running 16th notes found in section B, but this time they are running more linearly. These fast running lines played by the strings will be interacting with a number of rhythmically jagged and angular chords built on major and minor 3rds from movement I played by the brass and winds. This C section acts as a bridge to Celebration. In this final section, the running parallel 8th notes in major and minor 3rds return, and a soaring melody is soon announced. The melody continues to grow until it fades away into the final episode. The violins are playing an 8th note ostinato, and new rhythmic layers are slowly being added to create a canvas of sound that is harmonically open. The final sounds played by the horns and brass represent the culmination of the musical journey, and aim to express further optimism and hope. The symphony ends suspended in mid air to remind us that even though we are making positive strides to being a better America, we are still searching. Although this American Symphony has come to an end, the journey that we take as human beings continues to move forward.