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Arnold Bax Symphony No. 3

 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 368
Registered: Feb-04
OK, let's try this one, a very satisfying piece on first impression...especially the first movement which makes me want to air conduct. The work dates from 1929.

Here's a quote from Tim Mahon:

Struggling to find the perfect form for his symphonic output, Bax consulted Vaughan Williams on aspects of construction of the first movement. Interestingly, his colleague later used a theme from the close of this symphony in his own piano concerto. The most noteworthy feature of the Third is the composer's first use of an Epilogue as a closing statement, a feature that would come to be typical of all the symphonies which follow. In this case the Epilogue is a beautifully crafted reflection on the sea-related inspiration of the whole piece.

I'm listening to the London Phil/Bryden Thomson/Chandos 8454. Another very good alternative is the Lloyd-Jones/Scottish NO/Naxos 8.553608.

Thanks.
 

Gold Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 4564
Registered: May-04


Can anyone explain to me what the construction of an Epilogue amounts to?
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3460
Registered: Dec-03
Not me. However, I think that one was "crafted", at least according to Mahon. I am also wondering about a reflection on an inspiration.

Never mind the blurb. I throw my hat into the ring. Thanks, John S!
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 1248
Registered: Feb-05
I will listen this weekend.
 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 371
Registered: Feb-04
I think the first and original definition of 'epilogue' is "a speech delivered by one of the actors at the end of a play." Later it meant "a concluding part added to a literary work."

In music, 'epilogue' and 'coda' are interchangeable terms. That is, "a concluding section or passage, extraneous to the basic structure of the composition but added in order to confirm the impression of finality."*

So it seems there is no prescribed form an epilogue/coda must take. This add-on section can be related to the music that came before it, or not. Sometimes codas can take on a life of their own, as in becoming a second development (e.g. the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony).

Bax's epilogues seem to smooth the landing after a turbulent flight.

*Harvard Dictionary of Music
 

Gold Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 4569
Registered: May-04


So if they come at the beginning of a movement, they are secondary themes; but if they come at the end of the movement they are epilogues?


 

Gold Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 4570
Registered: May-04


And if it appears anywhere else in the movement, it is a coda? No matter how many times it appears in the movement?

That would make the epilogue the "P.S." at the end of the entire piece? Or at the end of a movement?


 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3464
Registered: Dec-03
I always thought "Epilogue" meant a bit more than "Coda", being usually a whole movement (usually the final one).

Also, "Epilogue" carries a literary term over to music. They are usually reflective, older-and-wiser sort of thing. So you get epilogues in romantic and later - never in classical, which has Codas.

I could be wrong.

Good examples - last movements of Vaughan Williams Symphonies 6 (perfect example) and 7.

[Off topic: Having five recordings, I am going to a real performance of RVW No. 1, for the first time, ever, later today. I thought of putting this on "Do you listen", it seems relevant, but the thread has some genre and location intolerance. Precisely the subject of the texts, ironically. Any interest in yet another thread, on "A Sea Symphony"..? ]
 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 372
Registered: Feb-04
As I said earlier, epilogue and coda are interchangeable terms. One guy's epilogue may happen to be grander that another guy's coda or vice versa. But for general definition purposes, they are the same. And whatever you call it, it's always at the end.

John, you may be right about the Romantics latching on to the term 'epilogue', but codas have existed well into the 20th Century.

If a coda-like thing starts a piece, it's called something else, like "prologue" or more commonly "introduction." Like codas, introductions can be any form and even have their own thematics.

A great example is the first movement of Beethoven's 7th, where there is an introduction and a coda on either end of a classic sonata form. Both the intro and coda have their own themes.

Thus we have the
Introduction---theme D

Exposition---with themes
A1
A2
B
C
and a repeat of
A1

Development---which concerns itself with mostly theme A1

Recapitulation---a restatment all the themes in the exposition

Coda---theme E

Both the introduction and the coda are not inconsequential, being over 60 and 50 measures respectively.

JV--I think your analogy of coda/P.S. is very good...both the letter writer and the composer can't help but add an afterthought to the main message.

[John, I've purchased the Naxos Sea Symphony and would like to read your comparison of that and the live performance. Have fun!]
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3468
Registered: Dec-03
John,

That is really helpful, thanks. On occasion I try to pin down a definition of "sonata form", think I've got it, but when I come back, I can never fit specific examples. This is even on the basis of understanding "binary", "ternary", and a lot of fairly esoteric (nowadays) terms describing earlier forms. However, I will give it a go with Beethoven 7, 1st movement. Thanks!

There is so much to say about The Sea Symphony, John. I will certainly try, and try to keep it down to readable sized posts. It is difficult to be objective. What I may do first is try to listen to the repeat broadcast, in order to compare with my vivid memory of the real event.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3470
Registered: Dec-03
I have purchased the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Bax Symphony No. 3, on Naxos. Also made a slightly irrational purchase of a sixth version of "The Sea Symphony". It is by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; I sort of bought it out of gratitude for their wonderful concert. Also, it is on "Classics for Pleasure". Also, it was on special offer. The Naxos "The Sea Symphony" seemed to be sold out, at least on CD.
 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 376
Registered: Feb-04
Had to special order the Naxos Bax 3. I should have it in less than a week. Meanwhile I will content myself with the Bryden Thomson on Chandos. One critic panned it saying Thomson "uses slow tempos, takes a loose and meandering view of these episodic works that causes them to be disjointed." He likes the Naxos, however as "David Lloyd-Jones leads the excellent Scottish orchestra in a reading that is radient and lyrical, and paced exactly right."

It will be interesting to compare the two. So far, I rather like the Thomson, and the symphony.
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 1301
Registered: Feb-05
Since I didn't get a chance to listen to Bax this weekend I will try again next weekend. I believe that I will listen to Naxos instead of the Chandos.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3475
Registered: Dec-03
I shall not have time to listen until next weekend, either. Should we have an embargo until, say, Sunday, John...?!
 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 377
Registered: Feb-04
Sounds good to me.
 

Silver Member
Username: John_s

Columbus, Ohio US

Post Number: 383
Registered: Feb-04
Here's another Bax symphony, and what a difference from the last one, especially the first movement. It begins with a solo bassoon in high register (Stravinsky again?) stating the main theme. At least the first twelve notes are, not the whole solo. The theme is really six notes, which are repeated immediately with a slight rhythmic variation.* It's not much longer than the theme for the first movement of the 6th Symphony, but it is much more suitable for Baxian flights of fancy--and as a result the whole movement is far more agreeable to this listener. Even though this movement is episodic in nature, the thing hangs together better and just makes more sense than the 6th first movement.

There are some exciting moments throughout the opening movement. For example, after the opening section, the first allegro introduces a churning same-note figure in the woodwinds giving a platform for some powerful low brass playing. This repeated same-note rhythm (dotted quarter/eighth--triplet--dotted quarter/eighth--dotted quarter/eighth) evolves into a second theme, first stated formally by the strings (at the 4:11 mark on the Naxos disc). Now, there's plenty for an inventive guy like Bax to work with. Another high point is the quiet fugato (at the 12:53 mark) from the main theme, that sounds very much like the fugue from Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta." **

As with the previous movement, a solo instrument introduces the theme for the second movement. The movement is beautiful, and I gather Bax lovers cite this as some of his best music. It could be called a 'nocturne', so peaceful is its nature. It calls to mind walking down a tree-lined lane on a perfect summer day....with some fleeting moments of tension.

The first half of the third movement could be called a scherzo, at least in a general sense. It is a playful dance atmosphere full of lots of rhythmic and melodic ideas. At points there's a feeling of a modern Irish or Scottish 'jig'...if such a thing exists. Anyway, the famous 'epilogue' slows things down (at 6:45). This epilogue could be called a fourth movement and it is also beautiful, but no more so than the second movement. It is famous, apparently, because it was the first Bax symphony to have an epilogue and because Ralph Vaughan Williams borrowed some thematic material from it for his Piano Concerto.***

Finally, this is a very satisfying orchestral work, and I suppose it's easy to understand why the Bax Third is considered by many to be his best. It was a pleasure to hear, and I look forward to hearing it again.


* I have a small problem with the (Naxos) program notes on this point. "[The first movement] offers a mysterious opening bassoon melody that slowly unwinds, its first three notes later to assume unifying importance." To me, this (and the next nine notes) is virtually the main theme of the entire symphony, not just a 'unifier.' This theme is quoted and developed extensively in the first movement and is recalled more than once in the third, including at the end of the work.

** The Bartok piece might seem worlds apart from this symphony, yet there were only a few years separating the two world premieres: the Bax 3rd was 1930 and the Bartok was in 1937.

*** The RVW Piano Concerto was written for Harriet Cohen, Bax's long time girlfriend.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3557
Registered: Dec-03
Thank you, John. That is interesting and informative. I, for one, will add whatever I can.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

LondonU.K.

Post Number: 3591
Registered: Dec-03
Well, I have finally got to it. I can't add much to JOHN S's learned post. Yes, Nos. 3 and 6 are completely different.

It seemed to me there was some influence in No. 3 of both Vaughan Williams and Holst. I couldn't hear Stravinsky at all, except the superficial resemblance of an important solo bassoon passage. It was not as high or chromatic as the one in The Rite of Spring. About all they had in common was that it was a bassoon.

I was reminded of VW's third symphony in several places, especially a horn arpeggio which I think had a natural minor seventh like the trumpet "Bugle call" figure in VW 3. The latter was first performed in 1922 so it would have been understandable for Bax to quote something like that very evocative figure in a piece written in 1929.

There were some alternating chords that reminded me of "Neptune" from "The Planets".

Anyway, these are pieces I am much more familiar with, so the similarities could be entirely in my imagination.

I enjoyed it and will listen again, hopefully having something more to say.

Thanks for the introduction, JOHN S and Art!

----

BTW Yesterday, I posted the folowing on "Do you listen". This is not really relevant. Apologies if you object, JOHN - if you do, I can easily start another thread. However, I am feeling a bit defensive about "classical" music on this forum, at present. "The Planets" is an original, and a masterpiece, I think everyone agrees.

Today's CD review had an hour on all available recordings of The Planets - currently thirty-five.
...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio3_aod.shtml?radio3/cdreview

There is also not much point in directing audio buffs to a Real Audio stream, either, I realise that. Many of the issues about recordings came up in the comparisons made in that programme. The single recommendation "caused a few raised eyebrows" at the BBC, the presenter said.

Good thing, too!
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 1441
Registered: Feb-05
I'm sorry guys but I just haven't been moved to listen to Bax lately. I am currently listening to a couple of recent Naxos releases, Earl Kim's Violin Concerto and William Alwyn's Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2.
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