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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Chamber Symphony (1989)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Sub Category
Chamber Orchestra
Year Composed
14 Minutes
Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Chamber Symphony (1989)
Cleveland Chamber Symphony/Edwin London
16 April 1989; Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights, Shaker Heights, OH

I. Calmo-animando-calmo
II. Arioso
III. Vivo

Composer note:
Chamber Symphony, a commission from the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, was composed between March 7 and 26 of 1989. The premiere took place on April 16, 1989 with that orchestra conducted by Edwin London. The work is in three movements in the traditional format of medium fast—slow—fast. The instrumentation of eight woodwinds, four brass, five strings and harp allows for many varied and contrasting timbre groupings, not only as discrete, separate “consort”-like groups but as mixed tone-color ensembles.

Soft muted sustained sounds serve as an introductory setting for the first movement. But as the mood is soon enlivened by faster tempos, denser and more contrapuntal textures, the movement continues in this somewhat mercurial fashion, alternating quiet moments with more hectic passages. Various instruments have prominent solo passages (piccolo, flute, brass trio) until the movement subsides in a quiet coda-like recapitulation of the introduction.

A soft piccolo run opens the second movement, like a curtain being raised. A lengthy horn solo ensures, followed by a violin solo with sustained organ-like accompaniment of woodwinds. The horn’s theme is developed in contrapuntal canonic fashion, leading to a stern unison passage for the whole ensemble. A quiet passage for bassoon and bass clarinet duet, softly shadowed by cello, bass and harp, leads to the movement’s final moments in which a repetition of the run — this time bringing the musical curtain down — closes the movement.

The fast third movement bursts forth with a lively, bouncy scherzo-like motion, which undergoes various instrumental and rhythmic transformations. A more subdued horn solo leads a quiet middle section. The bassoon and bass clarinet duet of the second movement returns, this time played by two bassoons. English horn and bass clarinet join to make a four-part low woodwind quartet. An exact recapitulation of the first part of the movement is suddenly interrupted by slower broadly sustained chords, ending in a quiet cadence. The coda, returning to the bouncy scherzando motive, brings the piece to a brilliant and fortissimo close for the whole ensemble.

— Gunther Schuller

  • Ensemble
    Cleveland Chamber Symphony
    Gunther Schuller
    GM Recordings:
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