As 1995 was drawing to a close, I confessed to a friend of mine that I had just completed a symphony I would never have dared to write some twenty-five years earlier. It was not only tonal, I declared, but also triadic! He, in turn, reminded me that several respected artists, including Glenn Gould, predicted decades ago that some kind of a return to tonality was inevitable.
Personally, never compelled by the orthodoxies and popular trends of any given time period, I didn’t see it as a change, but rather as a manifestation of a personal growth and stylistic evolution over many years. While in my other works I attempted to restore elements of melody, in this work I also chose to revive speed as a driving element in the context of an extended form, thus countering the academic mainstream of the day.
The symphony, nearly thirty minutes in duration, is in five movements played without interruption. Although quite seamless, the movements are full of contrast and provide a mix of relentless energy, lyricism, dramatic conflict and, as always, a touch of humour and irony.
The first movement sees the orchestra primarily as a group of soloists. It presents two lyrical themes (one in the clarinet and, subsequently, the violin solo, the other in the trombones), which recur later in the symphony.
The second movement gradually takes on the character of an aggressive scherzo, a presto with a distorted Polish folk song carefully camouflaged and irregularly accented, which winds down again into a generally meditative third movement.
A long and brilliant trumpet solo opens the vigorous fourth movement which also introduces a flexatone (an instrument sounding rather like a toy) among a series of humorous outbursts. After a powerful climax played by the full orchestra, the fifth movement gathers the material of the entire symphony and brings the drama to its ultimate resolution in the sweeping gestures of the coda.
The title is not intended to programmatically offer a storyline, but rather is an indication of evocative moods related to my memories of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, brothers Grimm, and the legends of Poland, Russia, and Norway. It can even be said to offer a comment or two on some gigantic figures from our musical past, among them Wagner, whose Ring of the Nibelungs was also founded in Nordic legend.
The Symphony of Nordic Tales was jointly commissioned by the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra London, with the financial assistance from the Canada Council.