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Sir Arthur Drummond Bliss

Sir Arthur Drummond Bliss Composer

A Colour Symphony, Op.24, F.106

Performances: 4
Tracks: 16
  • A Colour Symphony, Op.24, F.106
    Year: 1921-22
    Genre: Symphony
    Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
    • 1.Purple: Anante maestoso
    • 2.Red: Allegro vivace
    • 3.Blue: Gently Flowing
    • 4.Green: Moderato
A Colour Symphony, dedicated to legendary conductor Sir Adrian Boult, was British composer Sir Arthur Bliss' first major work for orchestra. Completed in 1922, it shares the full-blooded Romantic style of his teachers at the Royal College of Music in London (Charles Stanford, Gustav Holst, and Ralph Vaughan Williams), but is laced with a more progressive twentieth century edge. No less a musical figure than Sir Edward Elgar encouraged the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival to commission the work, along with pieces by two other promising young English composers: Eugene Goossens and Herbert Howells. Its premiere in Gloucester Cathedral in 1922, conducted by the composer, was marred by a badly prepared performance. Some, including Elgar, found it disconcertingly "modern." Bliss revised large portions of the symphony in 1932, and it is that version that is popular today.

Bliss found his inspiration for A Colour Symphony in a book about the symbolic associations of the primary colors in heraldry. The four movements, episodic in nature, each characterize a particular color. The composer contended that the intent behind the work was to evoke or imply certain feelings and moods rather than to dictate a specific program or scenario. This work is marked with vivid orchestration and a tuneful accessibility. The first movement, "Purple" (Andante maestoso), captures the noble dignity Bliss associated with "...Pageantry, Royalty, and Death." A feeling of ceremony is established through a processional-like quality, while the martial aspect is reinforced by bold trumpet fanfares. "Red" (Allegro vivace) embodies fire, energy, and impetuosity. Exciting contrasts exist between a lilting lyricism in the strings and brilliant passages in the brass. These latter moments bring Igor Stravinsky to mind. "Blue" (Gently flowing) is the most introspective and perhaps most evocative movement. The composer referred to the obvious association of this color, "...Deep Water, Skies...." Indeed, its imagery and tonality border on the impressionistic. The final movement, "Green" (Moderato), is the most "modern" sounding with its angular melodic line that initiates the first of two fugues. Bliss described the color green as "...Hope, Youth, Joy, Spring, and Victory." Again, there are moments of Stravinsky-like vitality and ritualistic repetition, similar to his Firebird ballet. After a somewhat academic opening, the movement launches into a triumphant affirmation. A second fugue section leads to an explosive climax featuring six thundering tympani, eventually ending on an almost jazzy sounding sixth chord.

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