Broadheath Music

Contemporary Classical Music by Frank Wilhoit

Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 31 (2015-16)


This symphony was composed largely in 2015 and completed early in 2016. It is in five movements, played without pause:

The first movement (Largamente non troppo lento, D minor, 3/2 - 2/2) has the function of a sonata-form exposition. The horn theme at the beginning will not return until near the end of the work, but the minor ninth with which it begins recurs in many different contexts, as do the fidgety accompaniment figure and the shape of the countermelody in the strings. A slow brass fanfare leads to the second theme, which has a middle section based on ascending triplet figures. The closing section builds the minor-ninth motive to a climax on the dominant of F.

The second movement (Molto vivace, A minor, 3/4) is a scherzo in sonatina form, beginning with a chromatic fugato. The contrasting theme is based on a major/minor arpeggio. The exposition ends in a mood of almost silly cheerfulness, but the corresponding portion of the recapitulation steers the music directly off a cliff.

The third movement (Adagio, B-flat major, 4/4) is compelled to start completely afresh, after some of the wreckage from the end of the preceding movement has been swept up and carted off. The strings begin trying to reason from first principles, but are interrupted by the woodwind, who are fascinated by a motive beginning with four repeated notes. A stately processional march passes through, temporarily distracting everyone, until the serious business re-intrudes with a wrench. The strings and winds are, however, no closer to agreement.

The fourth movement (Alla marcia -- Tempo di valse -- Tempo di Cakewalk, F minor, 2/2 - 3/4) makes another fresh start with a fast march based on the repeated-note motive. This transforms into a waltz, still based on the four repeated notes, which traps itself in ever more dissonant harmony. The march returns in the form of a cakewalk, whose forced F-major gaiety relapses into the minor, subsiding into a spooky echo on a solo string bass and three flutes.

The final movement (Tempo del comincio, D minor, 2/2 - 3/2) returns to the material of the beginning and reassembles it in a different order. Starting in F with the rising triplets from the middle section of the second theme, it builds to two statement of the head motive of the second theme: one in loud, dissonant harmony, the other cadencing very quietly in D. This turns aside to the brass fanfare, now in the remote key of A-flat, but quite suddenly falling through the floor back into D minor for the recapitulation of the full horn theme, exactly as at the beginning, but now harmonized with a huge, slowly climbing D-minor scale. This brightens into D major for a moment, but then the countermelody grows to a huge explosion that subsides onto G for the coda. A slide on the trombones moves to A and the remaining loose ends come together in a hellish blaze of D minor, grinding down to the last moment against E-flat. The overall effect is supposed to be one of universal collapse and devastation -- a Symphonie pour la Fin du Temps. (Pretentious, much?)

Copyright © 2015 Frank Wilhoit