Peter Mennin: Symphonies 8 & 9
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80371     Release Date: 1989-01-01

Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Christian Badea

Peter Mennin (1923-1983) worked almost exclusively in large, abstract forms, completing barely thirty works, of which nine are symphonies. His music is never light, frivolous, or sentimental, but it is not dispassionately intellectual, either. Rather, it is an attempt to convey the inner drama of his own soul by means of the finest craftsmanship of which he was capable.

From 1970 until his death in 1983 at the age of 60, Mennin completed only five works, but these reveal some significant evolutionary developments, substantive modifications of a musical language that hitherto had been remarkable for its consistency. The philosophical and emotional content remained unchanged, but the syntax had become far more terse and uncompromising.

These new developments are apparent in the Symphony No. 8, completed in 1973. Unlike those in most of Mennin’s other symphonies, each of its four movements bears an inscription, taken from the Bible, implying an expressive intent. The first movement, marked In principio, evokes a sense of stasis, perhaps suggestive of the beginning of time. In this movement, the gradual compression of polyphony, first hinted at in the 1960s, has finally led to the “verticalization” of linear ideas into seething, cluster-like chordal structures, orchestrated with uncharacteristic attention to sonority and texture. In the second movement, Dies irae, typical Mennin motivic fragments swirl wildly in frantic instrumental byplay enhanced by plentiful use of percussion, leading to explosive eruptions. The third movement, De profundis calamavi, is characteristic of the composer in its focus on somber linear polyphony, though not in its markedly reduced feeling of tonal center. The fourth movement, Laudate Dominum, conveys a tremendous sense of agitation, which finally culminates in a decisive tonal affirmation.

The Symphony No. 9 was Mennin’s penultimate work, completed in 1981. The outer two of the work’s three movements are in much the same vein as the outer movements of the preceding symphony. The first, Lento non troppo, opens mysteriously, with tremulous textures, before building in power and rhythmic energy to massive climaxes which then subside, allowing the movement to end quietly. The third, Presto tumultuoso is a representative Mennin finale, unleashing itself in a paroxysm of fury before consolidating its energy for a resolute conclusion. The most remarkable movement of the symphony, however, is the second, marked Adagio arioso. With a pure, elegiac melody, in uncharacteristically homophonic relief, it imparts a more ardently Romantic quality than the composer ordinarily allowed to emerge, even in earlier works. Although composed before the onset of the fatal illness that was soon to end his life, it is the sort of movement, appearing in a final symphony and suggesting a sense of profound grief borne with dignified restraint, that annotators seize upon as having valedictory significance. Perhaps not inappropriately, this was the music performed at his memorial service.

Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Peter Mennin: Symphonies 8 & 9

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Track Listing

Symphony No. 8: I. In principio-Sostenuto
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 8: II. Dies irae-Allegro con moto
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 8: III. De profundis clamavi-Adagio
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 8: IV. Laudate Dominum-Allegro vivace
Peter Mennin
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Folk Overture
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 9: I. Lento non troppo
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 9: II. Adagio arioso
Peter Mennin
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Symphony No. 9: III. Presto tumultuoso
Peter Mennin
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