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Seóirse Bodley (b.1933): Symphonies Nos 4 and 5
Seóirse Bodley was born in Dublin in 1933 and studied at the Royal irish Academy of Music and at University College, Dublin, spending the years from 1957 to 1959 in Stuttgart with a postgraduate studentship from the National University of Ireland. In Stuttgart he studied composition with Johann Nepomuk David, returning to Dublin to take up a lectureship at University College and from 1984 to 1998 serving as Associate Professor. He has coupled an interest in contemporary trends in music with a study of Irish folk-music and of traditional Gaelic singing. He is active as an orchestral and choral conductor, and as a piano accompanist.
Symphony No.4 was commissioned by the Orchestra Sinfonica dellEmilia Romagna "Arturo Toscanini". The first performance was given by that orchestra at the Teatro Farnese in Parma on 21st June 1991. The conductor was José Ramon Encinar.
The music combines elements that have been present previously in my work at different times: elements of Irish music, both in more obvious form and also as an influence in shaping the melodic style; sharp dissonance; irregular forming; developing variation. (This last is especially important here as the form is often quite fluid.) Unusually for me I here made my first references to classical form in an orchestral work in many years. Clearly the movements are not in any of the classical forms as such, but the style of the third movement could be related to the classical scherzo and the finale to the rondo, in a very general way in each case.
The first and second movements share some of the material; so do the third and fourth. But in addition to this obvious sharing of material there are other less obvious cross-references between the movements. The opening motif in the cellos is important in both first and second movements as is the second cello motif, which forms the basis for much of the material in the second movement. After the slow introduction to the first movement, the music of the following Moderato develops gradually from the opening idea of the section with a contrasting mixture of elements of Irish music, sharp dissonance and developing variation. The music progresses in a continuous flow, avoiding rigid dividing lines and using only very little sharply focussed recapitulation of material.
The slow second movement begins with the first cello motif from the preceding movement, which appears in muted solo trumpet. The second cello motif from the first movement is also very much in evidence in this movement. A violin solo develops the melodic material. The solo violin is even more important here than in the first movement, and it carries much of the melodic development of the ideas. In the central part of this movement the second cello motif from the first movement assumes particular importance, though at the climax it is the Irish type of material that briefly predominates. The opening trumpet motif returns again briefly just before the end.
The third movement is a quasi-scherzo out of which ideas develop that are to be significant to the course of the final movement. After the initial three-times repeated flourish that opens the movement, the main theme gets going with an idea that continuously develops until the rhythm begins to dislocate towards a march rhythm that finally emerges fully-fledged as a rather nervous march for brass. However this is not allowed to predominate and the main scherzo-type material takes over until ousted by a Molto moderato section that refers directly to the opening of the main Moderato of the first movement. The continuing development of the scherzo material hesitates a little in the direction of the march idea but otherwise develops in its own way (yet with some passing reference to the Molto moderato.)
The last movement begins with the march idea first heard in the third movement, again in the brass. This, along with some other material, forms the introduction to the main Allegro theme first heard on the violins. This is a rhythmically irregular idea that varies greatly in the type of metre used and in the placement of the accent. The march idea interrupts the development of this idea, which, however, gains the upper hand again.
As the music subsides to a low held cello note, a new if quiet voice cuts across the main material of the movement. A flute plays an Irish-style melody. This causes some disruption. The irregular theme manages to get going again, only to be cut off by the march. The irregular theme recurs disguised as a fugato that never gets really going and as a very brief adagio, but is overcome by the final series of irregular forte chords that end the work.
Symphony No.5 (The Limerick Symphony) was commissioned by the Limerick Treaty 300 committee and was first performed in 1991 in Limerick as part of the Treaty commemorations. The sieges of Limerick and the events that surrounded them and the subsequent treaty were complex and involved political matters that had international ramifications. I subtitled this symphony The Limerick Symphony to reflect in some way the human background to the historic events at Limerick. Intentionally there are no guidelines as to the exact content of each movement; the listener has to make the connections himself. Nevertheless I imagine that these connections will not be too hard to make...
The symphony is on a fairly large scale with five movements and in general makes use of elements of Irish traditional musical style. These are integrated into the music rather than used as a means of setting up a musical conflict. Extensive use is made of developing variation with the musical form evolving as the music progresses rather than using blocks of contrasted material. There are also a number of ideas that appear in different movements.
The first movement begins with a slow introduction that hints at some of the ideas from the subsequent Allegro and also introduces the main idea of the final movement. The Allegro itself begins with motifs that are uneasy and agitated, gradually moving towards a sense of more peaceful resolution. This points towards the peace of the second movement where the mood is serene and the orchestration light and delicate. The third movement is vigorous, agitated and restless, with both timpani and brass playing major rôles. A sense of conflict is as inherent in the ideas here as peacefulness was in the second movement. The fourth movement is built around a continuously evolving elegiac melodic line. Like the second movement this is lightly orchestrated. In both the slow introduction and the following Allegro the last movement draws on an idea heard originally in the introduction to the first movement. Here the mood is lively and vigorous, ending in a positive manner.