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Arthur Meulemans: "Symphony No. 4"

Symphony No. 4

  1. Poco agitato

  2. Allegretto scherzando

  3. Adagio

  4. Fanfare e Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Arthur Meulemans

Born: May 19, 1884, Aarschot, Belgium

Died: June 29, 1966 in Etterbeek, Belgium

Instrumentation: Wind Instruments and Percussion

Duration: 25 minutes

Composed: 1935

Among the fifteen symphonies composed by Arthur Meulemans, the fourth symphony is the only one he didn't intend for full symphonic strength. His first three symphonies were written for the Symphonic Orchestra of the National Radio Institute (NIR), the radio orchestra he conducted since 1931. This fourth symphony might have been in­tended for the Big Symphonic Wind Band of the Belgian Guides, the excellent mil­itary band led by Arthur Prevost since 1918. In 1923 this symphonic wind band had performed Igor Stravinsky's Symphonies d'instruments a vent in the Paris Salle Gaveau, and on 5 January 1924 the Belgian premiere in the Brussels Alhambra Theatre. Prevost was an advocate of the new music, presenting with his symphonic wind band an in­teresting repertoire of contemporary composers. Typical is the concert he performed with his orchestra on I September 1930 in Liege during the eighth Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music: the program combined compositions of Belgian composers such as Raymond Moulaert, Joseph Jongen, Jules Strens and Maurice Schoemaker with work by Ernst Toch, Paul Hindemith, Florent Schmitt and again Stravinsky. After the performance the journalist of The Musical Times praised: 'Captain Prevost has a splendid band.' It is our educated guess that Meulemans, who maintained good relations with Prevost, had in mind the Symphonic Wind Band of the Guides while composing his fourth symphony for wind instruments and full percussion, although this band didn't create the work.

To be sure, Meulemans started his fourth symphony in 1934 and finished the or­chestration on 17 March 1935. The work then remained for some years in the cartons until the Big Symphony Orchestra of the NIR created it under the baton of its chief conductor Franz Andre on 15 December 1939. After the creation the musicologist Marcel Boereboom wrote in De Standaard: 'In the symphony for wind instruments and percussion Meulemans ventured to tackle a difficult technical problem, viz. to preserve in their individuality the sound of woodwinds, brass and percussion, fusing these timbres into a balanced and yet light sonority at once sustaining symphonic re­verberations. Adding to this he wonderfully succeeded in avoiding any frictions or gaps, realizing everywhere a transparent clarity of line both sinuously frag­mentary and lyrically vast. Concurrently the composer manages to create a fluent and varied life in the four short and well-structured parts. The first part captivates us as a colorful mosaic; the allegro scherzando we call a gem; in the third movement the brass instruments sing intimately yet broadly and the fourth, in our opinion the most characteristic one, is a simple but finely sparkling rondo, bright and virtuoso m the use of instruments. Grand-sounding fanfares open and conclude.'

Only many years after the creation did the Symphonic Wind Band of the Guides at last include the symphony in its repertoire. As such this band under the baton of Yvon Ducene performed the work a few days before Meulemans' death. Four years later, on 15 and 16 January 1970, Ducene and the Guides recorded the work on an LP pro­duced by the Arthur Meulemans Society. The recording ends with a few explanatory remarks by the composer saying that with this symphony he had wanted to contribute to the emancipation of the symphonic wind band, as well as pointing out some sim­ilarities with the Trio for trumpet, horn and trombone composed in 1933.

An expert on Meulemans, Jan Van Mechelen, provided the following explanation with the record: 'A sonorous opening of the brass - a sensitive unison phrase of the horns. Presently the musical idea of this composition is clearly indicated: a dynamic and melodious element. Immediately taken over by the woodwinds it develops into a rich and varied playful of coloration and rhythm, each instrument playing a solo part and weaving the many threads of the orchestral loom into a wonderful pattern. The second part conjures gay movements out of the same theme. Quite timidly the dance opens, the castanets babble, the bells of the tambourine jingle into an amusing haba­nera; soon the whole orchestra joins the dance in a waltz tempo sweeping the old trombone into a bella sonorita. Then from the growing Adagio and from the melo­dious motif a sweet and intimate song develops broadly sung out by trumpets and the trombones accompanied by the deep warmth of the bass tuba. Just one moment the horns are given their tum in tender and delicate chromatics. At first the woods have been religiously attentive, but they can sing like everything that has breath, and to­gether with the brass they carry the theme in a grandiose song and counter-song to an intense height. The fourth part is dominated by imposing fanfares with percussion ending the composition. Meanwhile, however, right in the middle of this finale one hears, like a precious jewel, a brilliant Rondo, the theme of which is clearly recognizable, betraying the workmanship of a virtuoso of orchestration. This composition dates from the first years in Brussels, just before the great mass-plays: Credo (Brussels 1936) and Sanguis Christi (Bruges 1938), which owe much of their technicality to it.'

- Program Note by Jan Dewilde (translation: Jo Sneppe)

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