Symphony No. 4 for Brass and Orchestra (1980)
Symphony for Brass and Orchestra (Symphony No.4) was written in 1980. It was begun in January and completed on November 23. The commission came after Ernest Fleischmann heard my Fifth String Quartet as performed by the Sequoia Quartet in Los Angeles, and subsequently Maestro Giulini studied some of my orchestra scores. The Symphony is in three movements. The opening brass statement is the work's dominant musical structure, and all of the ideas flow from this initial theme. In its broad outline, this theme suggests both tonal and atonal qualities. Indeed, the work as it evolves moves in and out of tonality with an ease that accepts both worlds and defines a larger one-one that conceptually suggests that the aesthetics of tonality and atonality can inhabit the same compositional plane.
The second movement juxtaposes a tonal line delineated by the tuba and bass trombone and a serial line taken by the clarinet. As the two ideas alternate they become, in time, one. These polarities are constant throughout the work: Density-transparency, angularitysmoothness, and intensity-repose. At the climactic moment in the third movement, order, which has been a dominant characteristic, is interrupted by near chaos. The first movement is by turns dramatic, insistent, playful and anticipatory of lyricism, which in the second movement will emerge full-blown. The opening statement asserts the majesty of the brass. An insistent ostina to figuration underpins the Allegro section which is controlled and precise, with minute rhythmic shifts. What follows is texturally transparent, with the flutes gracefully and playfully erasing the angularity that preceded it. A fourth moment, harmoniously rich, projected by the cellos, forms an almost elegiac center in the midst of what is essentially a pulsating and driven movement. The second movement's three principal themes are concerned with differing kinds of lyric expression. The first is harmonically conceived, the second, linearly, and the third, contrapuntally. The final measures of the movement reduce the three ideas to their essential qualities, and their close juxtaposition joins them together. In the third movement, the brass are divided into two antiphonal groups. At the beginning, the scherzo-like quality is its main characteristic. The short motivic cell is balanced by a long arching line. These two elements dominate the movement, which will at its climax recall the initial theme of the first movement.
— Ezra Laderman