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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

JOHN VEALE'S THIRD SYMPHONY

Dr David C F Wright

I am probably the least suitable person to write about John Veale's Symphony no. 3 since it is dedicated to me.

His previous two symphonies had left the composer with the conviction that he still had something to say symphonically and, to some extent, this symphony represents a synthesis, in a structural sense, of the previous symphonies and other earlier pieces. But, it has to be said, that composing another symphony was to satisfy the inner creative need! He regards this latest symphony as a sequel to the previous two.

He began it in 1995 and completed it in 2003. It took a long time to compose because John was having treatment for cancer including surgery and enduring various other problems and because he agonises over his work and takes time to perfect it. A good composer does not really enjoy composing but such work alternates between compulsive agonising and euphoric spiritual purgation.

As with all of Veale's work there is an inner strength, a pulse, an awareness both of life and of the world since his music is vital however irreducibly modest and minimal it is, which is probably the real function of the arts.

His previous big orchestral work, ‘Demos Variations’, represents a detached observation of humanity. The Symphony no. 3 suggests an involvement with humanity. John is a humanitarian objecting to the immoral and illegal war in Iraq and other similar conflicts and of all of man's inhumanity to his fellows.

The symphony is scored for three flutes, the third doubling piccolo, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, double bassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, three percussionists (cymbals, tenor drum, bass drum, tam-tam and xylophone) harp and string orchestra. It runs into 103 pages of score and lasts about 17 minutes. It is diatonic and lends itself to the key of D. It plays continuously.

The opening is marked Vivace commencing with a timpani figure (bars 1 to 7) which constitutes the backbone of the symphony. In the finale, which begins with a fugue, the opening timpani music is recalled in fragments under the exposition of the fugue thus giving the work a cyclic element, and is the evidence of the inner strength of this composer's music. It is the pulse, the heartbeat of life itself since music has got to be a living thing not a corpse. There are three main themes, bar 7 to figure 1; secondly, bar 7 after figure 25 to bar 10. This theme is prefigured at bar 5 after figure 2 and passim thereafter; thirdly, bar 5 after figure 20 with flutes, cor anglais, clarinets, violas and cellos, initially as a counter-theme but thereafter becoming a theme in its own right.

These themes are set out as musical examples at the end of this discourse.

The music is hugely enjoyable and predominantly cheerful. The orchestration is noted for its clarity, as usual, and it is never overblown or bombastic and never succumbs to pomposity. There are moments of tenderness and of controlled excitement. The three sections, two vivaces with a slow andante in the middle, are well integrated and the music has an effortless flow.

It is a fine symphony vastly superior in many ways to symphonies which are played regularly and available on commercial recordings.

"Copyright David C F Wright 2003. This article or any part of it must not be copied , quoted, used in any way , stored in any retrieval system or downloaded without obtaining the prior permission of the author. Failure to comply could lead to action at a law."

see also John Veale Biography by David Wright



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