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Ernst Bacon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Symphony No. 2 (1937)
G Schirmer Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Programme Note
Ernst Bacon Symphony No. 2 (1937)
February 5 1940
Illinois Symphony Orchestra
Ernst Bacon, conductor
Studebaker Theatre, Chicago, IL

"Bacon's Second Symphony was written in the same year that he became acting professor of music at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Just prior to this appointment, Bacon had for two years (1935-37) been the supervisor of the Federal Music Project in San Francisco, where he conducted the WPA (Works Progress Administration) orchestra.

"Three of the symphony's four movements (all except the scherzo) project an angry vehemence (Bacon having expressed admiration for Beethoven's ability to evoke this quality), and each of these three movements contains a thematic transformation of the work's opening statement (with Bacon conscious of his Lisztian precedents). Some of the score's expressive directions may give listeners an idea of the work's atmosphere: indications such as 'piercingly,' 'disrespectfully,' 'brittle,' and 'impudent' are found.

"The second movement (scherzo) incorporates allusions to two American folk songs, 'On Top of Old Smokey' and 'Chickens a Crowin' on Sourwood Mountain.' These folk songs, far from being hidden in the texture, are allowed a certain prominence by the composer...

"The slow movement contains quotations from the composer's song, 'Eden' (to a text by Emily Dickinson), composed years previously, while the final movement (fugue) exhibits certain jazz influences, almost certainly products of Bacon's friendship with Ray Stoll, who led the WPA jazz orchestra in San Francisco..."

Bacon, 90, had written an engaging symphony starting in a gaunt threnody-like theme before turning down the path toward a jazzy symphony, somewhere between symphonic Gershwin and Broadway Bernstein. By mid-first movement the central theme had become sharply syncopated, moving to a cocked-hat, finger snapping, big band swing. In a rare turnabout, the Scherzo was the most serious movement, building on two folk songs. The fourth movement provides a full fledged jazz fugue, building up momentum toward a perpetual motion until Bacon realizes he has made his point, and BAM! Suddenly it's all over.
Paul Hertelendy, Mercury News, 1988,01/01/0001
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