frank stemper

Symphony No. 4 (PROTEST)

for Guntram Simma and the Collegium Instrumentale Dornbirn                                                                                         First Performance, June 2021, Austria

for full orchestra — 16 mins.

Musically, Symphony No. 4 unfolds in three continuous movements:
     I. Tension is produced by dramatic chords, some abrasive and some beautiful, framing a bugle call.
    II. Three consecutive attempts to lighten the tension from Part I with rhythm, percussion, and tune:
          1. a linear continuo, featuring a short tuba/piccolo duet;
          2. a silly repeating mantra, initiated by plucked strings;
          3. a more complex motor driven texture — conveyor-belt music.
          However, during Part II, gestures from Part I sneak in, creating an internal conflict, which overheats and stalls, leaving us back where we started. 

          As if hopelessly giving in to a higher reality, a reality that needs to be addressed, Part III returns to the tension of Part I.
   III. Recapitulation and conclusion of Part I, with string solos supported by a “rattling” orchestra.

When I compose, something always seems to be on my mind that infects the music, influencing the pure sounds with concrete realities.   As we know, Music is the most abstract of the arts.  It is perhaps the simplest and most visceral method of human communication. However, Symphony No. 4’s pure sound is transcended by members of the orchestra, who occasionally put down their instruments and shake baby rattles.  Although rattles are a normal sound heard from the percussion section of the orchestra, it seems different when nearly the entire orchestra is “rattling,” as if the orchestra is trying to tell us something.  In addition to this, the members of the orchestra often make more blatant contact with the audience, e.g. by whispering, making eye-contact, speaking, breathing, etc.  Such direct contact mingles with the music in, for me, a disturbing way.  My private listening world is forced out of its isolation, making me aware of both the musicians and the other members of the audience as people.  Fantasy and reality become one.  It upsets the pureness of the music.

But then there is the rattling.  Along with the eye-contact and whispering, etc., the orchestra seems to protesting.  It is me.  I am protesting.  I am protesting for the children who are just beginning their lives.  We all should be.  After all, what kind of world are we leaving for them?  A polluted world.  A world that is constantly at war.  A world where mass killings by armed maniacs, especially of school children, are assisted by unresponsive lawmakers.