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About this Piece

Composed: 2014
Length: c. 28 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (3rd & 4th = piccolo), 4 oboes (4th = English horn), 4 clarinets (3rd = E-flat clarinet; 4th = bass clarinet), 4 bassoons (4th = contrabassoon), 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (crotales, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, triangles, suspended cymbals, Chinese cymbal, gong, guiro, temple blocks, wood blocks, log drums, timpano, bass drums), piano, harp, organ, strings, and solo soprano


First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: (world premiere)


Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by Edward Halvajian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. The score is dedicated to Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


I have wanted to compose a symphony for organ and orchestra since I first started to write music at the age of ten. Thanks to the kindness and support of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I was not only able to realize this dream but to sketch a good deal of the organ part at the console of the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, exploring its wonderful array of unique timbres. In casting the piece as a symphony with organ, it was my aim to use it as an integral part of the orchestral fabric, a fifth choir contributing special colors in the way only it can.

Played as a single continuous whole, the Symphony is nonetheless in three large sections, the first of which begins with a roiling progression of dark chords that brings a musical world into being. There follows a series of themes, the first presented by the organ, the second by two oboes, and the third by the cellos, which reappear in various guises throughout the work.

The middle section begins with a high, quiet chorale for the strings and then yields to a scherzo-like movement featuring the organ in its highest register. Gradually, new ideas enter that seek t push aside the initial theme. What has begun with a certain degree of lightness and innocence becomes more restive, and even violent. A brief respite appears in a calm theme for the quartet of trumpets, but the growing upheaval reasserts itself and brings the section to a brief fortississimo conclusion.

The final section is an aria for soprano, a setting of Federico García Lorca’s “Sleepwalking Ballad” in the beautiful English translation by the late Irish poet Michael Hartnett. Lorca’s poetry is especially notable for its beguiling combination of vivid depiction and surreal imagery. This poem tells of desire, recklessness, and loss. One commentator has interpreted it as a vision at the very instant of death. I have placed it here as both a commentary on and a working out of the drama set forth in the two previous sections.

– Stephen Hartke