Ernst Levy. Eleventh Symphony 15 Apr 2010


(Original program notes written by Ernst Levy for his 11th Symphony composed in Chicago in 1949)

With the exception of numbers 6, 10, and 12, my symphonies are all in one movement. I felt it was necessary to evolve new forms embodying  the dialectic idea of the sonata, and it seemed to me that in order to accomplish this I had to begin by expressing the dialectic idea within a single movement - pour the sonata into a melting pot, as it were, for the sake of discovering new morphological crystallizations.
In a program-note for my 5th symphony ("Pult und Taktstock", Universal-Edition # 5/6, May-June 1926), I wrote:..."However, I believe the writing of sonatas in one movement to be  transitional form,  and I feel  that by necessity one will have to revert to several parts in works of vast dimensions"... In making this statement, I had in mind not only the practical difficulty of sustaining attention while listening for a considerable length of time to an uninterrupted flow of music. For the suite-principle is not simply a means to secure respite for players and audience. Before and above that, it is a very strong form factor - one of the elements in a series that leads away from naturalism towards spirituality. Supposing a hypothetical sonata in four movements and then imagining the same work being fused into a single movement, it will be noticed that a step has been taken towards naturalism, towards the aesthetics of the Wagnerian drama, or, horrible dictu, towards the movie film. Only a strict morphological discipline will counteract such a tendency, and the undertaking is not without a danger from the pitfall of formalism. It is indeed a long way towards the ability to develop the sort of identity of "content and form" characteristic of works deserving the qualification of "classic'". Now, inasmuch as such a result can be reached, the first part of my statement - namely, that the one-movement form is transitional -I should no longer defend, though on the other hand it remains true in respect to the unfolding of new conceptions concerning the application of the more-than-one movement principle.
I hold, then that the single-movement sonata (symphony) may stand in its own right beside that in several movements.
The main feature of a sonata, the one inherent in its concept, is that of a "becoming", of a "development". We are, so to speak, "not the same" at the end of such a work as we have been at its beginning. On the contrary, the impression gathered from true polyphonic pieces like a fugue is that of a "being" rather than of a "becoming", such an impression being produced through a certain disregard for time as an aesthetic factor. Now there are many ways of expressing the sonata-idea. It is, for instance, possible to convey a dramatic idea through a succession of short pieces, over the arrangement of which presides the concept of terraces, I have tried to embody this in my Sixth Symphony, which consists of 21 pieces, and bears the self-explanatory title "Sinfonia strofica".
No such simple designation would fit the Eleventh. True enough, the parts are clearly articulated. But, in the first place, they are generally too important by themselves to be called strophes, and they are not connected - or disconnected - in the manner strophes would be. Also, while some rely indeed solely on their position within the whole for the manifestation of a certain point reached in the development -a lyrical piece may convey dramatism depending on when it occurs: - a repetition or recapitulation means something quite different from an exposition: - importance of musical "topology": - some are essentially dramatic, in the sense of the classical "development". Again, while the established parts of the drama may readily be detected in the work, they are however subordinated to the development-concept inherent in the topological idea, itself a result of a particular motion-form. In the present case that form may be described as a to-and-fro motion, or as a circular motion from starting point to starting point - always keeping in mind the inadequacy of such comparisons. The piece aesthetically most remote from the beginning of the symphony is the slow movement for drums and trombones. Performing the familiar, but not altogether legitimate translation of time-concepts into space-concepts, we may call it the central piece. Again in the same space-view, we should say that the work unfold symmetrically from the middle, strictly as regards the members immediately flanking the central piece, loosely as regards the other members, where the entirely different meaning experienced by following "the same road in opposite direction" is "built into the music", to the effect of accentuating and expounding the topological phenomenon.
That, in as few words as possible, is the overall appearance of my 11th symphony, together with the ideas that molded it, and their historical connection.
The foremost task in getting acquainted with a new work is to obtain a view of its total shape, and to grasp the idea that made the shape. This is not easy, as the listener has to build up a vision of the work as a whole, while listening - a taxing experience both for memory and imagination. Hence the possibly most urgent "first aid" is offered by a sweeping morphological exposition, facilitating the listener's task by anticipating its result. It is hoped that the preceding notes fulfill that purpose.





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