As a fan of those large scale compositions called “symphonies,” you have arrived at a crossroads. You can easily identify Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by the first four notes (da-da-da-DAAAAH!), you are familiar with a handful of tuneful symphonies by Haydn and Mozart, you’re thrilled every time you hear the “fate motif” hammered out in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, and maybe you recently bought a recording of the four symphonies by Brahms.
Congratulations! You’re well on your way to becoming an aficionado of the symphony. So, now what? Which road should you take on your symphonic journey?
You need not worry, since there are no wrong choices and any direction you chose will likely lead you to some extraordinary music! This new series called “Symphonic Sidebars” will give you a good place to start. It’s a guide to symphonies that are somewhat out of the mainstream, possibly from some composers whose music you might not have heard before.
To begin, let’s briefly explore a symphony from a composer you are more likely to associate with ballet music: Igor Stravinsky.
Three years before he composed the ballet score for “The Firebird” and a mere six years before he turned the musical world upside down with the ground-breaking sounds of “The Rite of Spring,” Stravinsky wrote a rather conservative, romantic symphony. It is his first published work and his first work for full orchestra. It also could easily be mistaken as having been written by Stravinsky’s mentor at the time, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In fact, Stravinsky dedicated his Symphony in E-flat major, opus 1, “to my dear teacher.” Some of the muscular sounds might remind you of another famous Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky. Yet, in spite of its conservative, romantic and very Russian style, and especially if you have heard some of his famous ballet scores, you can hear in this energetic symphony that Stravinsky has already begun to stretch his wings, and will soon soar beyond the romantic period and into the 20th century.
Recommended: Stravinsky – Symphonies, Fairy’s Kiss, Ode. Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Alexander Gibson, conductor. Chandos Records, CD #2408