Symphony #2
by Ronald Hannah

Duration: about 21 minutes

     If a composer labels a work "#1", one might expect more such works from that composer, right?. For years my "#1" Symphony (subtitled "Jasmine") had languished alone in my oeuvre. Now, at long last, guilt and conscience have won out, and Jasmine has a companion, much different from its predecessor! Whereas the first consists entirely of folk tunes from China, Symphony #2 is largely original. True, it quotes a folksong in the second movement, but its unusual rhythm and setting are entirely me.

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     It's difficult for me to write about this my second symphony - surely the music must speak for itself? Ideas and themes that come to mind initially get transformed as I write, so that what finally emerges is often different and unexpected. In the case of the first movement that is exactly what happened: what I had intended to be a happy, if thoughtful, romp, turned inself into something much bigger and darker. The orchestra churns and rages in places where I had intended only rough humour. It has been described by one hearer (ok, there has only been one at the time of writing) as "Spooky", even "Evil" at one point. My intent was merely "Dramatic, yet reflective of the age in which we live". Is this age spooky and evil? Many would say so, and I wonder if that was somehow at the bottom of my thoughts.

    The second movment, as mentioned, quotes a Canadian song dating from the time of the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837 (though if you Google it, you might find it attributed to Leonard Cohen!). The song is called "Un Canadien Errant", or, "A Wandering Canadian", full of the pathos and loneliness of exile, and set to a lovely melody. I am that wandering Canadian, having roamed a good part of the world, but not en pleurant (ie. while weeping, as the song says). No, my wanderings have been, if not joyful for I have seen both wonders and horrors, but filled with a thirst for adventure and with the learning that people are the same everywhere.
     Against a quiet chordal accompaniment in the strings (and a gently swaying rhythm in alternating 6/8 and 2/4 measures), a solo trumpet sings the sad song, joined later by a poignant solo violin. It is full of the longing that is inherent in the song itself, though my personal longing is not so much for my homeland but for better times to be found in this spooky and evil world.

     The third movement was intended to be a kind of perpetuum mobile, and it actually hung together as I wrote! Indeed, it starts with frenetic motion and somehow maintains it, well, it settles down a little toward the end but one can still hear the activity trying to assert itself. It was a study in such activity, and it will be a challenge to any orchestra, but I know that players exist who will make it sound easy. Even beneath broad melodies, the activity burbles along, giving everyone something busy to do. I am proud of this movement, and I truly wonder sometimes where this kind of inspiration comes from.

     The orchestra is as follows, and to obtain parts please visit the Canadian Music Centre or send me an email (below).

  • 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 clarinets in Bb
  • 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns in F
  • 2 trumpets
  • 2 trombones
  • 1 bass trombone
  • 1 tuba
  • 1 harp
  • 2 percussionists
  • 1 timpanist
  • Strings