Writing Symphonies

Moderator: kcleung

How many symphonies have you written?

1-5
3
16%
6-10
1
5%
11-15
0
No votes
15-20
1
5%
none
14
74%
 
Total votes: 19

ZacPB189
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Writing Symphonies

Postby ZacPB189 » Mon Aug 18, 2008 2:58 pm

Me, I'm a symphonist (and Tpt/Hn player). Who else here has written a symphony or more? I've got 8 in the bag and am despratly trying to write a 9th that's as desent as my 8th... :D
Last edited by ZacPB189 on Sun Sep 13, 2009 7:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
ZacPB189

Tr~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~:)

Yagan Kiely
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Postby Yagan Kiely » Mon Aug 18, 2008 3:27 pm

You'll be very hard pressed to find anyone with more than 2 I'd say, most haven't written one. I wrote one a while ago, but most of my orchestral pieces now are one movement. Still, they do last 15-25 minutes.

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Postby emeraldimp » Mon Aug 18, 2008 11:52 pm

Does a 2-minute-long first movement count?

Vivaldi
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Postby Vivaldi » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:30 am

Also, what constitutes a symphony? Can it be by linking unrelated movements or works into one symphony? Or do every individual movements have to have some sort of structure as in the classical symphony? Or can the structure be more flexible and expansive as in late Romantic (eg. Mahler) symphonies?

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Postby Yagan Kiely » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:51 am

If you call it a symphony, it is a symphony. I remember a 'symphony' for piano trombone and soprano (or something similar). In any remotely conventional sense, that is not a symphony, but it is still called one.

I don't appreciate this overly flexible definition, but I can't do much about it.

If you give something to much freedom, it starts losing it and the situation turns into chaos. Classifications are there for a reason, and if you extend every classification to include anything, it defeats the purpose.

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Postby Vivaldi » Tue Aug 19, 2008 9:54 am

I agree, the more the extension, the more the "symphony" in a classical sense loses its identity.

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Postby Lyle Neff » Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:24 am

If I'm not mistaken, "symphony" was used by medieval theorists to label parallel organum. There are the "Symponiae sacrae" of Schuetz, etc; and Bach's title for the three-part inventions uses the term "sinfonia."

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Postby Yagan Kiely » Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:46 am

The difference is, that the meaning changed to something else, now it is changing to be anything.

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Postby jsnfmn » Tue Aug 19, 2008 5:01 pm

So, the meaning changed to something else, and it is still changing. I would be rather annoyed with music and any art in general if its concepts and definitions remained static over time, especially over such a vast period as you are suggesting (even Haydn and Mozart played around with the standard form). I would currently, personally define the term "Symphony" as a significant musical statement, nothing more, nothing less. For each composer, that is going to mean different things, and so you can learn a lot about a composer simply by what compositions they decide to give this title.

Also, classifications come after the fact, and should not be used to dictate to you what you can and can't do. Can you imagine what the state of music would be if the only pieces written were only allowed to follow all of the harmonic and voice leading rules in any standard text? Just about every piece ever written would have to be modified to fit that definition.

Also, I don't know if this was the symphony that you were thinking of, but Ustvolskaya's fourth symphony is for Trumpet, Tam-tam, Contralto and Piano and is very short. I have played it and would certainly rate it as a significant musical statement and deserving of the title.
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Postby Yagan Kiely » Wed Aug 20, 2008 12:47 am

I would currently, personally define the term "Symphony" as a significant musical statement, nothing more, nothing less.
That isn't defined though, that basically means 'anything'. Classifications can change, but to change it to anything is to get rid of the classification.

I have played it and would certainly rate it as a significant musical statement and deserving of the title.
If a symphony is a significant musical statement, so is a sonata, concerto, song or opera. Which means we have no classification system, anything can be called anything and we lose al meaning.

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Postby jsnfmn » Wed Aug 20, 2008 10:36 am

That isn't defined though, that basically means 'anything'.


When applied to everyone, it may seem like it could mean everything, but when applied to a specific composer, it will most likely have some kind of specific definition in their mind. What you have to realize is that words and "classifications," to use the term you seem fond of here, simply do not have fixed definitions, but more of a cloud of associations formed around them, that is going to be different for everyone. How would you define a chair? A rock? Think of the millions of different objects that could be specified by either of those words, and then try to come up with a definition that would encompass them all, and eventually you'll realize that you can't. To try to do the same for such an amorphous concept as a "Symphony" is even more disastrous. Why would you want to constrain yourself by what others have defined a symphony as? You need to discover what it means for you, and when you have written a work that satisfies those conditions, that's what you're going to call it. But I don't really see the point of getting so riled up about people who have a different conception of what a symphony is than you have.
Last edited by jsnfmn on Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Vivaldi » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:09 am

So therefore the definition and classification of a symphony is quite subjective and open to different interpretations?

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Postby Yagan Kiely » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:27 am

How would you define a chair?
Well, no one in their right mind would accept a computer keyboard as a chair, but if it is applied to a special person it could be. This is counter productive and destroys language, it isn't useful and it confuses the situation. Imagine every physical object having the possibility of being called a chair, it wouldn't make sense. Same thing with call a symphony anything. Why limit it to symphony. I want to write a Piano Sonata for Solo violin and chamber orchestra, but it means something to me to call it that.

simply do not have fixed definitions
They might not have fixed definitions, but they do have general definitions. Calling a lied a symphony is ignoring any definition completely.

Why would you want to constrain yourself by what others have defined a symphony as? You need to discover what it means for you, and when you have written a work that satisfies those conditions, that's what you're going to call it. But I don't really see the point of getting so riled up about people who have a different conception of what a symphony is than you have.
If you want to make it a 'personal' name, give it a name that isn't used for other things. From 1760-now with the exception of the few who try desperately just to be different, the definition of a symphony is general but it is still a piece for orchestra.

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Postby jsnfmn » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:37 am

Vivaldi wrote:So therefore the definition and classification of a symphony is quite subjective and open to different interpretations?


Quite right, let's take some specific, well known cases of pieces that I think most would agree are "Symphonies" but with which we would find it difficult to come up with a single definition to encompass them all (for now I'm limiting these to what would be considered numbered symphonies, so fewer arguments can be made against it, so no Manfred Symphony, no Battle Symphony, no Poem of Ecstasy, etc., I'll even leave out Webern's Symphony for purity of argument):

Beethoven - Symphony Nos.6 and 9
Schubert - Symphony No.8 the Unfinished
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Saint-Saens - Symphony No.3 "Organ"
Schumann - Symphony No.3 "Rhenish"
Franck - Symphony in d
Mahler - Symphony Nos.2, 3, 7, 8, and Das Lied von der Erde if you consider that a symphony
Sibelius - Symphony Nos.4, 6, 7
Shostakovich - Symphony Nos.2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14

There are of course many more, but these would probably be among the best known and most played counter-examples. And this list doesn't even include anything from before Mozart/Haydn when the definition was even more amorphous than it is in this thread claimed to be now. And keep in mind that it wasn't until very late Mozart and really Beethoven that the final movement of a symphony had any kind of conclusive weight. And then there was the transition again in Beethoven from Minuet to Scherzo in the middle fast movement.

All I am trying to point out here is that this is not so black and white as we would like it to be. Like any classification or definition, it is not simply a matter of something is or something isn't, it is more of a continuum. And even more interestingly, this continuum is not the same for everyone as it is built up out of your own experiences and ideas. Many of these experiences are common for many people, and thus our conceptions of the vast majority of concepts are very similar for the most part. But say if I listen to 20th century music to the exclusion of everything else, and someone else only listens to Haydn and Mozart, we are going to have very different ideas of what a symphony is, and I don't think that that is somehow wrong. Of course, we are all somewhere between those two extremes, but the idea is the same.

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Postby jsnfmn » Wed Aug 20, 2008 12:04 pm

Yagan Kiely wrote:the definition of a symphony is general but it is still a piece for orchestra.


I think you just made my argument for me :)

Seriously though, what about works that include chorus? Or a quasi-soloist like an Organ? Are some of Mozart's and Haydn's early symphonies for orchestra, or can an orchestra have no flutes, no clarinets, no trumpets, no timpani? Can it include a continuo part? Can an orchestra be just Strings, or does it need some woodwind, or brass? What about a concert band, can they play symphonies too? Is it still a symphony if it has been arranged for piano?

I understand your frustration, but definitions and classifications are more complicated than you are making them out to be. While we probably wouldn't consider a computer keyboard a chair, what about a rock? Or a rock with a flat surface to sit on, a surface for my back, and surfaces for my arms? What about a chair being displayed in a museum? I can't sit on it.

What I am trying to get across here is that a Symphony is not a Symphony because it fits some specific definition, but because in my time on this Earth, I have heard many symphonies, and it feels right to me that this piece I am writing should be called a symphony. The composer is the only one who can make this decision, and we as listeners can attempt to posit why they called it a symphony and then we will add it to our cloud conception of the symphony as a whole, and that will inform what in turn we would call a symphony should we write one. The best example of this is this entire conversation. We both obviously have very different ideas of what a symphony is, so why does one of us need to be right?


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