Symphony No. 1, “Symphonic Aphorisms” (2007)


I. Funeral March: The Order of the Burial of the Dead
II. Scherzo
III. Intermezzo: Remembrances of Things Played
IV. Homage to a Belly-Dancer


Symphonic Aphorisms is composed of four movements and based on the idea of the aphorism as a flexible and serviceable form for the concise expression of ideas. This idea of the aphorism was exploited by Goethe in his Maxims and Reflections and, to radical effect, by Adorno in Motifs or in the Minima Moralia. The aphorism may be added to the many forms, including the essay, that, having their foundations in prose, have inspired musical forms.

The first movement takes its name from the Book of Common Prayer and my reading of modernist, particularly T.S Eliot’s, interpretations of the funereal rituals that the Order of the Burial of the Dead puts forth. The movement contains elements of the traditional funeral march as well as aspects of concertante writing in the dialogue between the string soloists (who feature in the middle of the movement) and the rest of the orchestra.

In the second movement, which is a scherzo in character and title, the slow pace, sobriety, and elegiac character of the first movement is dispelled in favor of a quick, sarcastic scorrevole which, in its rushing stepwise gestures, is not unlike a courante movement from a dance suite. The third movement functions as an intermezzo. Titled “Remembrances of Things Played” after Proust and, later, Said, the movement invokes the immediate musical past: that of the modernism currently embodied by Babbitt, Boulez, Perle and Schuller among others. Although the third movement is not an attempt to mirror the personal styles of those composers, the flute “cadenza” (with Tam-tam and Claves) remembers the sounds of Le marteau sans maître.

The form of the fourth movement: “Homage to a Belly-Dancer”, can best be characterized as a modified Tahmila. The opening material, as in a traditional Tahmila, presents a motivic exposition of the maqam: in this case, flute line which modulates from octatonic to maqam Hijaz. This movement sees the use of the Darabuka for the first time in the piece. As a percussion instrument, the Darabuka is very commonly used in the accompaniment of belly-dancers and is often an integral member of the Arabic orchestra. The “call and response” relationship between the Darabuka and the rest of the orchestra as well as the recurrence of the opening material at the end of the movement further link this music to that of traditional Tahmilas. The presence of the Darabuka is also used, along with the general orchestration of this movement, to, at times, evoke the sound of the takht: the type of Arabic orchestra that most often compliments Belly-Dancing. The subversive use, and transformation, of these traditional musical devices was inspired by the music (and friendship) of the senior Egyptian composer, Halim El-Dabh to whom the movement is dedicated. The musical materials of Homage to a Belly-Dancer also take, as their point of departure, Said’s description of the Belly-Dancer Tahia Carioca in his essay of the same title.

— Mohammed Fairouz (2007)

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