Symphony No. 1: Short Symphony


Symphony No. 1: Short Symphony


for large orchestra (1991)

  • Premiere: 19 April 1991  / The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  / The Philadelphia Orchestra / William Smith
  • Instrumentation: 3(III=picc,alto)3(III=corA).3(III=Ebcl,bcl).2.dbn-4.3(I=picc,cornet).3.1-timp.perc(2)-harp-pft(=cel)-str 
  • Duration: 23'

Program Note

I. Allegro molto
II. Adagietto
III. Brillante

The first movement of Symphony No. 1, marked Allegro molto, was begun in January of 1985 in New York City while Hagen was studying at Juilliard with David Diamond and completed in July of the same year in the Berkshires, at the Tanglewood Festival, where the composer was a fellow. The sprawling sonata-allegro form of the first movement, the spacious symphonic gestures, and the complex orchestral textures all derive from Hagen's familiarity with the works of the mid-Century American symphonists. The material with which the movement begins is based on the opening gesture of the first movement of Hagen's Prayer for Peace, written in 1982 while he was still a student at the Curtis Institute and introduced at that time by William Smith and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The treatment of that material, however, is in this context quite elaborate, and warmly neo-romantic in tone.

A video montage accompanyingg the Adagietto.

The second movement, Adagietto, is a loving, soulful essay celebrating the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The movement was composed nearly three years after the first movement, after a reading by the Houston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Niklaus Wyss of the first movement of the symphony. Hagen states, 'I was sensitive to the need for simplicity after the textural density of the first movement, and needed to move inwards emotionally.' The ideas in this movement, which was completed on 1 February 1988, may be traced backwards to a movement in Hagen's quintet for flute and strings entitled The Presence Absence Makes, composed simultaneously.

A large-scale symphonic rondo, the finale, Brillante draws its material from a memorial symphony the composer introduced as a student with the Orchestra of the Curtis Institute in November of 1983 and immediately withdrew once it's humane function was fulfilled. Completed on 28 September 1985, the finale violently juxtaposes and superimposes three ideas — a chorale which, during the course of the movement gradually evolves into Ein Feste Burg (Hagen was raised a Lutheran), a melody based on a setting of Theodore Roethke's poem The Waking by Hagen's colleague, Norman Stumpf (in whose memory Hagen wrote the withdrawn symphony) and the spasmodic opening gestures from Hagen's Prayer for Peace. The symphony's coda begins as extended glissandi begin in the lowest registers of the orchestra, sweeping slowly upwards. The harmonic rhythm gradually slows until, the harmonies frozen in place, the work ends with a final sigh of rising strings.

William Smith and the Philadelphia Orchestra introduced the completed symphony on 19 April 1991 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

William Smith, Associate Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1976-1993.

William Smith, Associate Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1976-1993.


...shimmeringly appealing ... celebrating the orchestra's strings, sometimes pitting the solo violin, sometimes a string quartet and sometimes the inner circle of players against the mass of strings. The second movement is a soaring string work, mainly for violins and violas, which offers a sonic respite midway through the bright instrumental writing. The final movement, in which a fistful of ideas take place at once, impressed with its energy and its sweeping glissando at the end.

— Daniel Webster, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/20/91

The adagietto from Hagen's Symphony No. 1 [played by the Oakland Symphony conducted by Michael Morgan] was a broad-lined piece for strings that was altogether lyrical. He kept one long unison melody for the violins going along viably for what seemed a couple of minutes, gradually matching other lines to it, all in the middle high string range.

— Robert Commanday, The San Francisco Chronicle, 3/3/90

The adagietto is a spare, unmannered, elegiac essay for strings, tinged with the atmosphere of faraway hills and cloud-streaked skies.

— David Gere, The Oakland Tribune, 3/3/90